I've been attending David Farland/ Wolverton's Novel Rewriting Workshop in St. George, Utah this week. According to Dave, "[i]n this intensive five-day workshop, you'll learn how to revise your plot, rewrite and strengthen the prose in your chapters, and how to pitch your novel to agents and editors." It's all that and more.
A bit about how the workshop is set up. Before you can attend the seminar, you need to send Dave the first 100 pages and an outline of your novel. If you are accepted, you are then sent the first 20 pages and the outlines from the attendees' novels, and a list of writing books you need to have read before the seminar to get the most out of it. You need to read and comment on ways the other stories and outlines can improve from good to excellent. Daily sessions starts at 9am and run until 3pm. During the time, we share our comments on the stories, and Dave talks about an aspect of editing, rewriting or the business. He gives us homework which was designed to make us use the concepts discussed in that day's session.
You can't have a thin skin. While no one is mean, they do give their opinions about what worked or didn't work for them in your story.
I brought the manuscript for The King's Falcon. It's a fantasy story I've been irregularly working on for a long time. I knew I had what I called a "pacing" problem, but couldn't figure out how to resolve it. What do I mean by a pacing problem? The first third of the novel is very character driven. This means that while things happen, there isn't a giant battle scene in the first half of the novel. I wasn't meeting my audience's expectation of what and when action occurs. The threat of war doesn't appear until page 100.
In addition to feedback from the 10 other attendees, Dave gave me detailed suggestions on how to improve the story generally, and editing notes on the 100 pages and outline. While it wasn't surprising how insightful many of the comments (made equally by attendees and Dave) were, the suggested fixes were often not all that complex. We all have weaknesses in out writing. It hurts to have them pointed out, but once they are, we can being to heal and improve our writing. One suggested change will take a lot of time to implement because it added a new level to the story. The rest of them were as simple (and complex) as set the scene up better, and provide more detail when describing a character.
The nightly writing exercises allowed me to immediately implement the suggestions and get feedback on the revised sections. One exercises was to describe a static item like a building in active terms. Now, we've all heard about the writing exercise where aspiring writers are told to spend 5 pages describing a brick wall. We did none of that. Dave had several ways of bringing life to an immobile object. Once these techniques were pointed out to me, I knew what to do to enrich my storytelling, and how to find these weak spots in my manuscript.
On Wednesday, we had movie night. We watched a popular movie and dissected the story-telling elements. Again, it was amazing to see the complexity layered onto a story that, at first blush, didn't appear to reference other movies. Yet, over the course of the fantasy genre film, we found references to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Roman Circus and Colosseum, the Bible, reality TV shows, the fay and other fairy legends, and politics. So much for the movie telling a "simple" story.
Attending the workshop will turn out to be one of the turning points in my writing career. The sections I've already rewritten are much stronger. The friends I've made are already dear. If you're looking to take your writing to the next level, I whole-heartedly recommend Dave's Novel Rewritng Workshop.
Now it's time to get back to revising.