Au Contraire workshop – From First Draft to Final Version with Jeena Murphy

The first thing Jeena asked us to do was to tell the group about the work we are currently editing in 25 words or less. This was incredibly helpful for me. I got 24 for WtWTCH? “I’m writing a superhero chick-lit about Shelley, whose super power is that she can see the worst possible outcome of her choices.” Nice.

We did some exercises in this workshop too, so my notes are sparse. She put headings up on the windows and got us to stand in a spectrum from the people who write by getting a bunch of random scenes and forming them into a story to organic shitty first drafts and those who plan and structure everything before you start writing. I stood right on organic shitty first draft because that’s how writing works for me. I’ve tried the random scenes thing with Kiki and ended up with a disconnected, episodic story. The planning thing is what stopped me from writing for so long because I just can’t work that way. It was really interesting talking to my buddy in organic shitty first drafted-ness about how we work and what we’ve learned. Sharing stories about the creative process is really fun, it turns out.

In terms of knowing when a story is done we talked about how you stop when you feel like it’s done which isn’t terribly insightful. Getting to the climax and then ending, etc. We all agreed that you ‘just know’ when the story would end.

Jeena had these points about revision and getting to the final version:

What is going to make or break your story? Work to your strengths.

You must get feedback. A fresh pair of eyes is essential. When you ask for feedback you have to be very specific about what you want back from people.

Know your writing style (see above) and work with it. Give yourself a break, don’t tell yourself you have to work another way.

We then brainstormed in pairs about aspects of good writing. Me and a lovely lady I have forgotten the name of worked on ‘Pacing’, writing down ways you know that the pacing is good. Then we all went around the room making notes of what we believe we can do well under each kind of thing. This gave us our strengths and weaknesses, which is pretty exciting.

Here’s my results based on that exercise:

Structure: Good at the ‘shape’ of a story (climaxes and ebbs), ensuring things make sense chronologically, plot hooks.
Bad at having a seamless flow (maybe?), making sure the internal logic of the story is consistent.

Pacing of story: Good at fast paced action and can’t-put-it-downedness, no scenes that achieve nothing, creating a physical reaction in my readers (I hope!) and absorbing the reader into the story by making them care about the characters.
Bad at varying fast and slow paces and knowing when it’s good to be slow.

Description: Good at an appropriate level of detail to the scene (sweet FA if lives are in danger), keeping description from interrupting the story and making the details given relevant.
Bad at cutting out adverbs and engaging all five senses.

Themes: Good at keeping them subtle or making them obvious if it supports the story.
Bad at knowing if there is the right level of theme in a story. I’m also bad at knowing what my themes sometimes.

Characterisation: Good at making it fit the part, creating believable, realistic characters and having them be credible.
Bad: my characters may be too similar ans the characters may be taking over the story rather than serving it. (I’m not convinced that the last point is necessarily a bad one, but other people seemed to be all ‘keep your characters under control! The story is all!’ which is not what I do at all.)

Plot: I’m pretty confident in my handle on story arcs and shapes, so I think I can pull off twists, strong beginnings and endings, conflict and keeping the plot tight – really restricting the tangents.
Not sure on my abilities on cliffhangers and having a plot that matches the themes…

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One thought on “Au Contraire workshop – From First Draft to Final Version with Jeena Murphy

  1. Another great write up of a writing wrokshop. Next year I shall not get sick! I shall book babysitters well in advance and stay healthy and cram in as many workshops as possible 🙂

    This post reminds me of several points I just read today in a first chapter critique by Clarissa Draper on her excellent blog. I found it worth having a look at from both a critquing and writing point of view.

    http://clarissadraper.blogspot.com/2010/09/book-critique-6-shimmering-angels-by.html

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