Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Why does this story need to be told?"

Good question, huh?
Think about it, and I'll get back to it....

I've embarked on my fifth, maybe sixth writing class with Val Hobbs last night. It's an eight week session, then after the holidays, she begins again. And, unless I plan to go to a conference, I usually sign up for another round. I love it. The rituals, the pace, the writers, the discussions and especially Val herself.
The writers in the class are accomplished. Many I have known for quite a few years. Everyone brings a new viewpoint or suggestion to a piece. This is, after all, what we're there for.

With writing, the learning never stops. My husband knows this. Not once in the past four years has he said, "Really? You're taking another class?" I'll admit, at times, that's exactly what I say to myself. But the truth is, you never stop learning. Even Val herself said so last night. She explained that there are only a few things to teach about writing but our filters change as we grows as writers, and so, we hear the same things differently each time.
So true.
How many times have we all heard show, not tell? It's the first piece of advice I read when I was starting out, and it's still challenging to master.

My critique group did a challenging exercise last week. We had to come up with a one sentence premise for our WIP that indicated genre, conflict our MC faces and a hook. Not easy. We also had to list what our MC desired, what her strengths and weaknesses are and what her view of the world is. It was a great exercise. Since I did a lot of groundwork before starting my novel, I felt I knew the answers to these questions.


Last night, Val presented us with two more questions, that in my opinion, were tough. She asked, "Regarding your WIP, who needs to tell this story and why does it need to be told?"
Let me tell you, answering these two questions can leave a writer very depressed. Perhaps it's not enough to know what your characters strengths are...or how she struggles with daily life...there is something deeper that we need to seek out. That something special that makes a promise to our reader that the book will be worth reading.

So that's my current goal. To listen very carefully for the answers to these questions. I've taken the guilt out of it, not feeling too bad that my book isn't earth shattering. In fact, it probably won't ever be, but, it'll be her story...and for that, I need to keep going.

Do you know why the story you're working on needs to be told???


  1. I'll have to think about it!

    You are so right about hearing different things each time we hear the same thing. That's why you can never go to too many writing classes!

  2. Patty,

    Miss you AND Val very much! So jealous you are in her class again. Here's my two cents....[unsolicited as they are]:

    "Regarding your WIP, who needs to tell this story and why does it need to be told?"

    So often we are told that stories/pitches/queries/synopsis should not be didactic. For me, at least, I need the first draft to just tell the story that is my story--the MCs story. Therefore these questions while getting at the heart of the story can sorta creep into the narrative and give a didactic feel if we aren't careful. But, they are GREAT questions and important for the author to know.

    And, heck, it's OK if the reason you are telling the tale is entertainment. We need that in this world. So..while the questions are big, don't lose heart. Sometimes we are too close to our own work. Sit with these questions for a while and the answers will come, for certain.

  3. Who is Val Hobbs and where is the class? I'm willing to drive to Santa Barbara once a week for a good class!! Please fill me in!!

  4. Val is the author of over a dozen MG and YA novels. She is starting a new 2 hour class in January. 1st hour is writing exercises, second hour is critiques. I've been attending her classes on a off for two years. She's fantastic.
    Ceck out her brand new blog

  5. Thank you!

    I was just reading my SCBWI journal and I noticed she's doing a workshop in SLO so I'll have to sign up for that, too!


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