by: A. Lee Martinez. DFWWW Member since 1995
Writing isn’t as simple as putting down words on paper. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and at times, it feels like everyone thinks they can. If we’re talking about sitting in front of a keyboard and typing until you have a few pages, then, yes, everyone can do it. There’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.
Asking why is that difference.
Let’s stick with fiction for the moment. Much of this applies to non-fiction as well, but it’s easier to focus on one right now. Fiction is, generally, a series of scenes that string together to form an overarching story. All basic stuff, you might think, but you would be wrong.
The Why (capital W from this point on) is Why this scene must exist in the first place. Your initial answer will probably be wrong. You will no doubt think of story points and character motivations and getting the plot moving to its next stage. That’s important stuff, but it is NOT your Why.
The Why is all about what we’ll call emotional intention. I should be feeling something in your scene, and that feeling should be what you want me to feel. New writers (and even experienced writers) can be so invested in moving the pieces on the board and pushing the plot forward that they forget that writing fiction isn’t about conveying mere facts.
“John woke up in the morning. He went to the store. He bought some eggs. He came home and had breakfast.”
That’s a boring story. Not just because it’s a boring story but because there’s no emotional weight to it. Even if we change it up by adding a zombie apocalypse or messy divorce, it still doesn’t have any intention.
“John dragged himself out of bed. He trudged to the store and bought some damned eggs. He cooked them alone, in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why here is obvious. John is having a bad day. He’s tired. He’s barely motivated. And I, as the reader, know that this isn’t a happy scene or funny or exciting. It’s sad. I may not know the details, but the weight is there. The intention isn’t screaming, but it is palpable.
“John jumped out of bed. He ran to the store, treated himself in some extra large eggs. Singing their song, he cooked the eggs in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why is completely different here. It’s full of positivity and energy. John is still alone. We still don’t know anything about Her, but we don’t need to. We sense the emotional weight of this scene just by how we choose to tell it.
Nobody cares about the details. Characters are not playing pieces on a board, and stories are not a series of checklists. They are about emotional intention, and, yes, even ambiguity is a perfectly acceptable goal for a scene if done on purpose.
So don’t write what happened. Write Why it happened, and that Why should almost never be because John ran out of eggs.
I attend the DFW Writers Conference to mainly help like so many others. I've worked the pitch session for some years. I tell bad jokes to the overly nervous writers waiting to pitch their works to agents and editors. And I usually catch a class or two. I didn’t attend to pitch anything, just hang with friends and maybe talk to an agent or two about the industry if the opportunity presented itself.
Then at the mixer I caught a glimpse of
Shilo Harris, a war veteran who had been burned over thirty-five percent of his body, walking towards me. I'd seen his picture on the website. Since I've led such a sheltered life in regards to traumatic injuries, and being shy by nature, I was nervous. How should I act? What would I say? What should I talk about, and more importantly, what shouldn't I talk about?
As he got close to the table where I stood, I nodded and said a timid hello. He stepped up and introduced himself with a firm handshake. The joy of being alive filled his voice and shone from his face as we talked for over an hour about his service, family, fishing, how he's helping vets. Nothing seemed off-limits. He made me feel like we'd been friends for decades.
The next day as I watched him saying goodbyes at the conference, it was obvious I wasn't the only person he made feel like a friend.
It's amazing how he's overcome such tragedy, such severe injuries. How he's so optimistic, so happy, so exuberant. How he's helping others, especially vets.
Back at the hotel, as I waited for friends, someone poked me in the back then hid on the opposite side like a kid. I turned and there he was, Shilo Harris smiling. He introduced me to his three sons, all good looking boys. We talked for a several minutes, then he was gone.
How many speakers would do that to someone they'd met once? And how many people has he met on tour? To him I wasn't just a blurred face in the crowd. I was a friend
This year's DFW Writers Conference brought something unexpected: the blessing, honor and privilege of meeting Shilo Harris, a hero, an inspiration, a man who helped me see past the physical. Serendipity brought us together, aligning an unfathomable number of events, events neither one of us could control, events as simple as a long drink line, events as complex as securing conference keynotes.
I admit, I'm not a deep thinker. I seldom reflect and I avoid philosophy. I also tend to live in the moment. Things happen then I forget and move on. Essentially, my field of view is narrow, like I'm wearing blinders.
That said, where do I take this from here?
Will my meeting Shilo Harris be like the exercise equipment in the corner of the room, pushed aside, collecting dust, or will I use the meeting to improve myself, like so many others he's touched, helped, given hope? More importantly will I try to escape my comfort zone to become more like Shilo Harris by helping others inside and outside of the writing community? Is anyone truly changed by meeting someone once? If there is a desire, an emptiness, a hunger in their soul for change, to overcome.
The DFW Writers Conference and the DFW Writers' Workshop have helped expand my comfort zone and brought many new friends into my life. A multitude of writers' workshops and conferences are built on mutual support, friendship, helping others, being helped. How much we help and how much we are helped depends on us.
Can I change? Most definitely. Can we change the world? You bet. How do we do it? By charging out of our comfort zone, taking off our blinders, and taking action.
I pray that my path will cross Shilo's again and that I will become a better person for having met him.
To learn more about Shilo Harris go to http://www.shiloharris.com/
-- Eric Dixon, DFWWW Member Since 2008
Not every monster started as human.
In this anthology of eleven original tales - ten by DFW Writers' Workshop members - the undead are never quite expected. From sinister feline mummies to ravenous zombified cars and any and all things in-between, the living dead have returned from their graves, junkyards, and even the war torn skies to haunt the lands of the living. With stories horrific, funny, and weird, Strange Afterlives has a little something for everyone who has ever wondered what terrible secrets could be lurking in that rotting tree or broken toy.
Edited by former DFWWW board member and "a pretty cool guy (according to his mother)", A. Lee Martinez, STRANGE AFTERLIVES is available on Amazon for $0.99.
Buy it now see firsthand why you should join the workshop, if you haven't already.
Stories included in this anthology:
Mouse Trouble by A. Lee Martinez
After the Invasion by Russell C. Connor
Seated Woman with Child by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Roots by Brooke Fossey
The Late Mrs. Buttons by Sally Hamilton
An Undercover Haunting by Kristi Hutson
GImme Shelter by David C. Whiteman
01001110 by Nik Holman
The Runner by John Bartell
Night Witch by Shawn Scarber
The Scavenger Hunt by John Sanders Jr.
STRANGE AFTERLIVES will terrify and amuse. You may never look at a rusted automobile the same way again.
And be sure to join us any Wednesday night at 7:00 pm at The Simmons Center in Euless to see how DFWWW authors keep producing wonderful stories like the ones in this anthology.
"The NORTH TEXAS TEEN BOOK FESTIVAL strives to connect our reading community, adding dimension to the reading experience through diverse author panels and dynamic discussions in a safe and fun environment."
Visit Rosemary and Jenny and the rest of your favorite YA and Middle Grade authors for a day of panel discussions and book signings*.
(* Click to see the festival's signing policy.)
Dial Penguin will release Jenny’s book, Tracked, in May of this year. We’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival, and it turns out we’re not the only ones.
Huffing Post recently listed Tracked on their shortlist of the most anticipated YA debuts for 2015. Catch the article here.
And while you’re waiting until May to get your hands on the goods, watch the book trailer and join Tracked’s official crew. Jenny has swag, exclusive content, and prizes for the team…one we’re proud to be a part of.
We’ve been busy, both growing and writing.
So, what’s our future look like? Bright. Very bright. Don’t stare directly at it. But, you can safely check us out in a recent Writer’s Digest’s feature. Consider it a solar filter or a pinhole projector. It’s a peek at what makes DFWWW so amazing. And if you haven’t got the time to read the whole article, passing by any mirror will also do the trick.
Without further ado, here is - THE - DFW Writers’ Workshop feature in Writer’s Digest: What Makes Writing Groups Work.
A huge thanks to all of our extraordinary members, past and present, for making us a thing.
As some of you may remember, last year one of our very own was crowned. Now, DFWWW member Tex Thompson swings onto the other side of the ropes to judge, along with a distinguished panel that includes: Jonathan Maberry, Katie Grimm Margaret Bail, Sarah Negovetich, Brittany Booker, Candace Havens, Lydia Kang, and Tiana Smith. (For those who just can't be bothered to click on the links, that's a list of some industry elite. Agents, authors, editors, and the like. Fancy stuff.)
Wondering about the rules of WRiTE CLUB?
- You MUST talk about WRiTE CLUB – Spread the word
- You DON’T talk about WRiTE CLUB – Once the bell sounds for round one, keep it quiet.
- If someone taps out, WRiTING is over.
- Only two people to a WRiTE.
- Two WRiTE’s per week.
- No shirts, no shoes…well, actually, your WRiTE attire is up to you.
- WRiTES will go on until Aug 18th.
- Anyone can WRiTE, but you have to have your submission in by May 31st.
With guidelines like these, how can one resist? To get the finer details, visit DL Hammon's site.
We can’t wait to see you in the ring!
You could win a $10,000 fellowship with the first 50 pages of your manuscript, and here’s how:
The James Jones Fellowship Contest is put on by Wilkes University, and even the runners up get a nice cash prize and recognition. To enter, you’ll need a track record of being unpublished, a novel-in-progress, $30, a postage stamp, and some moxie. March 1, 2014 is the deadline.
If you're a DFWWW member, chances are you have 50 pages lying around waiting to earn its keep. If entering gets you writing, then you can't lose!
More details can be found at the following link: http://www.wilkes.edu/pages/1159.asp
photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read
In the near future, you can catch her at the YAK Fest (Young Adult Keller Book Festival) on January 25th. It will feature over two dozen YA authors, including our very own Jenny. Details can be found on the website, and it looks like it will be a fabulous event.
If that date doesn’t suit you, then swing by and see her speak on Monday, January 27, from 7:00 to 8:30 at the Richardson Public Library. The Texas Writer’ Guild of Texas is hosting her, and she’ll be talking about finding and strengthening your writing voice.
If all else fails, and you can’t make any of those offerings, just swing by her blog and read her latest musings. This will have to hold all of us over until her book’s much anticipated release!
From Thursday through Sunday there will be open mics, workshops, special readings, and a continuous stream of all things poetry. All registrants are given a ten minute time slot to read their own work. (Go to the slam if at all possible!) Fellow attendees, numbering in the hundreds, are from both coasts and across the pond. The cost is $45 or, for students and retirees, $30.
Register before Jan. 15th to submit up to three poems for consideration for the formal anthology, di*verse*city. If one is selected, it will be considered for possible prizes as well. Watch the website- www.aipf.org -for more information.
[Underage? Check the "youth" tab on the site. Poetry doesn’t discriminate.]
Email DFWWW lifetime member Del Cain at del.cain(at)sbcglobal.net with any questions. If you ask them nicely, he might even answer you in a haiku.