Sunday, June 27, 2010

2nd Annual Writers' Cramp Retreat - Part 1

What I'm reading right now: Odd Hours by Dean Koontz 

I've read numerous books by Dean Koontz. He, like Stephen King, have received an unfair assessment by many. They both have been called horror writers. Although they have written in that genre, (Koontz claims to have never written in that genre--that's for another post,) they are both much more than that. Odd Thomas, our hero protagonist, is my favorite Koontz character. His approach to life and response to his unique gift make him a memorable, if not unlikely, hero. If you need an introduction to Koontz, start with the Odd Thomas series.


The 2nd Annual Writers' Cramp Retreat

About four years ago, I decided to look into the craft of writing. One of the first things I did was join the League of Utah Writers. I'd taken a couple of writing classes through the Continuing Education courses offered by Davis County. The classes were taught by Adam Olsen who, at the time, was the President of the Bountiful chapter of the League of Utah Writers.

I started attending the monthly meetings held at the Bountiful Davis Art Center. As luck would have it, or perhaps providence, a local writers' group was looking for some new blood. They'd lost a few of their regular attendees, so they sent an email to the League, who forwarded it on. I received this email and decided to take a chance. In retrospect I realize how fortunate I was then. I had little to offer in the way of experience, other than a few short pieces and a desire to know more. They tenatively listened to what I had to offer and gave me a chance to contribute to their little group, The Writers' Cramp.

For over four years now (hard to believe it's been that long already) my Thursday nights have been wonderfully occupied. This month, June 11-13 we held our second annual Cramp retreat. This one was in St. George. It was a fabulous three days.

Each member of the group (we are up to 9 now--although a few couldn't make the trip {sad face}) came prepared with a workshop to present as well as a few activities that only writer nerds like ourselves could enjoy.

We knew we were in the right place when we found this:

Part 1 - The Food

The first matter of business was to shop for food. We had delicious homemade meals, including to-die-for Rosemary Peasant bread, as well some great treats:

Part 2 - Guess Who

Our first activity was to present pictures of each others' characters and see if everyone could guess the character. Some were of known actors others were not. We had a great time presenting our idea of each others' characters. Now, you might ask, what sort of writing value is there in that? We've been together long enough that we know each others' main characters so well that we have our own idea of what they look like. The cool thing is these ideas are not so much based on physical characteristics as described by the author, but behaviors, attitudes, and motivations. It was interesting to see how similar many of the images we each had were--indicating the impression each character had made on us and thus highlighting the talents of the writer. Here are some pictures:

Part 2 - Stephen King

Workshops: I presented a workshop on Building a Character Bible. This was originally done by Scott Savage at the 2010 LDStorymakers conference. He graciously sent out the presentation to anyone who asked. Another workshop was done on Stephen King's On Writing. Prior to reading On Writing, I'd read two other SK novels, and that was many years ago (Thinner and The Eyes of the Dragon.) After reading On Writing, I realized how talented SK is as a writer. He is so much more than I ever realized.

Cory presented this workshop and shared some of her favorite insights from On Writing. We all got comment on what she presented then, we each went around the room and talked about the scenes that each other had written that just grabbed us and never let go. How amazing it was to hear other writers talk about the different scenes, and aspects of my writing that led to those scenes, that struck a chord with them, that resonated with them, I can't begin to express. I also appreciated the chance to directly tell these other writers/friends how much I admire their work. Here's a few shots from that session:

Part 3 - A peasant king, a gifted prescient youth, and a vampire hunter all walk into a bar...

At what may be considered our pinnacle of nerdiness, was the Character Draw. We each selected three of our own characters, wrote them down on slips of paper, and dropped them into a hat. Then, we each drew three characters out of the hat, the only caveate being we could not have our own character. Based on these three characters, we had to create a story. Again, you may ask what value would this exercise hold? Well, we couldn't just write a story with that character's name, the story had to stay true to the character's profile, attitudes, and backstory, yet we had to weave them together in some sort of coherent tale. I think this takes tremendous understanding of character development and creativity. We drew the names on Saturday night, just before bed, then had a couple of hours the next morning to compose.

These pictures are us preparing, then reacting, to the crazy and exciting tales our own characters endured.

As indicated in the title of this post, this is but one of two parts; come back soon, more greatness awaits.



Marion Jensen said...

Just when I thought I couldn't get any more jealous... :)

Chris Todd Miller said...

Oh, what we could have done with your characters! The possibilities! Next time, my friend.

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