Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Weaving and Threading

Recently I read a book by an author I had not previously read.  The back cover had hooked me with its summary of the story, so I anticipated a good read.  I read four pages, flipped through to confirm that the writing was the same throughout, and returned the book to the library.  What turned me off?  The writer had missed the lesson on threading and weaving.

What is threading and weaving?  It is the process of incorporating backstory into narrative - those story elements which are important to the plot but not central.  The histories of the characters which make them who they are, past actions and events, information which is the readers need to know but not in entirety – all of these comprise backstory, and there are ways to incorporate them well.  The use of dialogue, emotion, hints and innuendos, short passages of exposition, flashbacks, character musings and recollections are some ways to reveal backstory without bogging down the story.

The writer of the book I stopped reading had begun her story with a woman walking a dog up toward an old English inn.  In the first three sentences we learned the reason why she was headed toward the inn.  Then, however, the writer stopped the story to write for three pages about the history of the inn.  By the time she came back to the story line, I had forgotten all about the woman and was confused when suddenly she was named with the action of her walking continuing.  In the next section of the chapter, the writer introduced us to a secondary character, only to discontinue the plot in favor of several pages on how costuming had changed over the years.  Less than ten pages into the book, and I had learned nothing about the characters and plot and was wondering exactly what the inn and costuming had to do with the story.

Rule number one of writing:  You don’t want your readers to flounder!  Especially not at the very beginning of the story.  Readers need to be grounded in time and place, introduced to the main character or whomever is narrating, given something to form a connection with, and a sense of a story beginning.  If action isn’t already happening, the reader should feel that something will happen soon.

Backstory should further the story.  Be careful of explaining. Find another way to embed the information other than telling. Be aware of insider verses outsider perspective.  An outside narrator may comment in ways characters inside the story may not.  Be open to using other tricks, such as diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, etc… Be alert to lumping information; it should be incorporated in bits and pieces, not all at once.  Be mindful of timing.  When information is introduced it should fit the narrative circumstance.  Finally, be willing to edit.  When in doubt, cut out the backstory and see if it affects the story negatively at all.

Paula Castner is a wife, mother of three, and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, playwright, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at pajamalivingwriting@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Seven Bridge Sessions

Writing and the Spiritual Life
With Reverend Robert Johansen

Saturday, May 21, 2016
10:30 a.m.  – 12:30 p.m.
Thayer Memorial Library, Dexter Thayer Room

In this workshop we will sample contemporary spiritual writing drawn from several genres, explore qualities that make writing spiritual, and compare and contrast spiritual writing with other types of writing. The workshop will also include writing exercises to help each participant explore his or her own spiritual experience and how it might be incorporated into other types of writing. 

Bob Johansen currently serves as Minister of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster. He describes writing as spiritual practice—paying attention to the movement of the Spirit within us, between us and around us.  Bob has worked for over twenty years as an ecumenical spiritual director in the contemplative tradition of the Shalem Institute, has twice been chosen to participate in the Collegeville Ecumenical Writing Workshops at St. Johns Univeristy in Collegeville, Minnesota, and was awarded a Lilly Grant for Clergy Renewal in 2010. He is the author of over 60 articles on faith and spirituality published in The Gardener News; his work is included in Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen’s Words That Sing: Composing Lyrical Prose (Zion Press, 2012).

Please join us for this free event.

For more information on this program, or on SBWC, please contact us at 7bridgewriterscollaborative@gmail.com.

Monday, May 2, 2016

New Reading Series

Common Stories is a local author series celebrating the work of new and established writers from the New England region and beyond. Held Upstairs @ The General, in Harvard, Massachusetts, Common Stories invites authors and readers to come together in an historic, cultural venue for literary evenings featuring readings, discussions, food and friends.  

Operating in partnership with the Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative, Common Stories will hold their inaugural event on June 24, 2016, from 7:30 - 9:30 PM, with the multiple award with winning authors, Nancy Werlin, Kristin Cashore, and Annie Harnett, who will read from their work, answer questions, and be available afterward for books sales and signings.

Nancy Werlin is the author of nine young adult novels in the genres of realistic fiction, fantasy, and suspense. Her novel The Rules of Survival was a finalist for the National Book Award, her novel The Killer’s Cousin won the Edgar award for best mystery, and her novel Impossible was a New York Times bestseller. She lives with her husband in Melrose, and is currently working on a suspense thriller to be published in 2017. Visit her website at nancywerlin.com for more.

Kristin Cashore wrote the New York Times bestsellers Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue, all of which have been named ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Graceling is the winner of the 2009 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature, Fire is the winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, and Bitterblue  is a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book. Graceling is currently scheduled to be published in thirty-three languages. Cashore currently has a realistic YA novel and a cross-genre YA novel in revisions. A native Pennsylvanian, she now lives in the Boston area.

Annie Hartnett's debut novel RABBIT CAKE is forthcoming from Tin House Books in 2017.  She was the 2013-2014 winner of the Writer in Residence Fellowship for the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Annie's stories and essays have appeared in Salon magazine, Indiana Review, Unstuck magazine, and PANK magazine, among others. Annie has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Alabama, and has received awards and honors from the Bread Loaf School of English, Indiana Review, and McSweeney's. Annie teaches classes on the short story and the novel at Grub Street, an independent writing center in Boston, and is currently at work on her second novel.