Thursday, November 19, 2009

Singapore Slings in Raffles Long Bar

Rob Parnell

The best part about getting away to foreign climes is the way it can help adjust our perspectives. When we see through different eyes, we grow - and this can only help our writing.

Once in a while we all need to get away from the everyday routines we fill our time with. We need to experience new things, taste new foods and walk in new locations.

The aspect of Singapore that struck me most was the sheer volume of people - and the fact that they all seem to be out shopping in the middle of the night!

Robyn will tell you that I spent the evening after the Art of Story workshop rhapsodizing over the crowds - and admittedly, the potential market for any new business, including my own.

There again, as a writer, I don't get out much. We spend our time locked away in our little house in Morphett Vale, flexing our mental muscles, rather than interacting with a lot of 'real' people. We work hard basically - but much of our lives happen in our imaginations!

It was nice to be tourists for a while. And yes, we drank a Singapore Sling in Raffles Long Bar, because when you go to Singapore, you're supposed to. But at $27 each, we probably wisely only stayed for one!

The Art of Story Workshop

The workshop started at 9.30am with 40 of us ensconced in the 5th floor Imagination Room in the high-tech tower of the National Library building in Victoria Street.

We began with an examination of mindset and how having a healthy objective viewpoint can help when you're looking for ideas. Indeed the whole process of writing consistently - i.e. every day - can be greatly enhanced by improving our mental outlook.

We need to feel confident about our abilities - and suppress our more critical self - to write without fear and allow inspiration to come through.

One of the issues we explored was that inspiration can be in some ways 'forced' by cultivating the writing habit. The more you write, basically, the more inspired you become.

After the Break

Next we looked at what to do with ideas when you get them.

It's fairly well accepted that without good characters you probably don't have a story worth telling. And that to try and force a plot on to characters is to get things in the wrong order.

You need characters first. You need to know them well - in your own mind - and be able to examine their agendas. Because it's usually the clash of character's agendas that defines and determines your story's plot.

The beauty of working this way is that you don't necessarily have to have a story idea first. You can let your characters tell you their story - and it is then your job to merely transcribe the events your characters dictate through your writing.

I showed some slides at this point that graphically show how this method of story creation works - and explained how many bestselling novels had used the same principles to create apparent 'masterpieces' like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Answering some of the more literary minded in the audience, I also showed that the same principles applied to the 'classical' writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickins and Tolstoy.

At which point, we broke for lunch.

Monsoon Season

The rain came down hot and heavy on our way back from lunch at a cosmopolitan Chinese cafe, where the food was delicious and the tea divine.

We got right back in to the meat of the Art of Story: structure.

I explained how story is structure - and that how a writer goes about building a plot is what defines his or her ability and eventual success in the marketplace.

Plotting is important, as is conflict and drama. Your writing style too has a part to play but it is story structure that shows agents, publishers and producers that you know what you're doing.

Through a series of ever more (seemingly) complex diagrams I showed how good story structure is achieved. I revealed that there really is such a thing as a literary 'template' on which to hang every great story.

This is in no way formulaic - far from it - but, once you understand the principles of good story structure, it is possible to take an average idea and transform it into something that is universally recognizable as effective and satisfying, often even profound.

By way of example, I took various novels suggested by the audience and broke them down to their structural basics and showed how the principles of good story structure were alive and well in all great writing and commercially successful literature.

Tea Time

The rest of the day was taken up with an examination of how the modern writer has a responsibility toward his or her reader - with the accent on the marketplace, which has certain mores and conventions that writers need to be aware of, and write within.

There's a difference between writing for the market and writing for oneself - and the focus of my teaching is generally on writing to achieve success. There seems little point in writing to offend or confront your audience if the end result is a failure to connect.

In our media driven culture, our effectiveness as writers is judged by our ability to sell books - this is the ultimate test of our talent - and really the only thing that is of interest to our publishers.

We might still hold to some romantic notion that we write for ourselves - huddled in a freezing garret, pumping out words that are wrenched from our souls. But the fact is, to achieve any measure of paid success, this is probably not something we should aspire to.

Modern successful writers live in nice big houses and cultivate a responsibility towards their art and craft - they have to - because without respect for their audience and a morally sound and objective mindset, their writing will most often fail to impress.

Quite apart from the obvious: if you don't sell books, your publisher is not going to be very happy!

Game Over

At the end of the workshop I was amazed by the positive feedback and the desire by everyone to stop and chat. The students were all very sweet and enthusiastic.

Then again, I found out later that the day of the workshop was actually "International Kindness Day" in Singapore. It occured to me that maybe people were just being nice!

Whatever, Robyn and I had a wonderfully stimulating time.

And we'd love to do workshops more often. (Heavy hint to anyone out there with a spare classroom!)

Keep Writing!
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write
Post a Comment

The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!