main character in my work-in-progress is a high school girl who hopes to attend
college as a harp major. Yesterday, I went to Harp Day at Michigan State University. It's a recruiting event to attract prospective harp majors to
the MSU College of Music and also a chance for local harpists to get together. Attendees
can sign up to get a lesson with Dr. Chen Yu Huang, take a master class and
participate in Harp Jam. I went as an observer.
I had a chance to hear
two of MSU's freshman harp students perform. It was like my character came to
life and played for me. I chatted with a high school student from Grand Rapids
who hopes to attend MSU as a harp major. "You're writing a book about
me?" (direct quote) I asked several young players why they chose harp as
an instrument, and their answers were close to what I’d written for my main
The Master Class
provided ample material for the harp lesson in my novel. The revised version
will likely come to next month's critique group. I enjoyed the variety of music
students brought to the master class. I was impressed by the students’ talent
I also got to hear the
fabulous Modern Harp Quartet. If you click through the website, you can hear
excerpts from several of their pieces.
I came home inspired,
perhaps more as a writer than a harpist. But that’s what I am, a writer.
first few drafts of a novel generally result in a large conglomeration of
words. Here is a quick and easy way to initiate revisions.
a short description of each scene.
what work the scene does.
showing how characters react to their world
a foundation for an upcoming event
or releasing suspense
or destroying relationships between characters
a red herring
or thwarting the protagonist
or thwarting the antagonist
ratcheting up the tension
creating a turning point
If I missed something, please tell me in the comments. If
you can’t identify what work a scene does in about two seconds, the scene
probably has to be cut. Go
ahead, re-read that scene. Try again to answer the work question. Any luck?
this point I often come up with excuses: It provides backstory. It has a great
description. It’s funny. Bah.
you want a tight novel, every scene has to work for a living.
the first day of the workshop, Emma led us through a discussion of first pages.
I was confident about my opening when I walked in. Since then, I’ve rewritten
it at least six times, and it’s not done yet. The second day was devoted to
voice. Emma gave us worksheets and exercises to help us discover the unique
voices of our characters. I have worked through the questionnaire for every character in my novel. I learned much about the people
who have lived in my brain for over a year now. The third day was devoted to
world building. How hard could that be? My characters live in modern day
Michigan. Again the workshop and worksheets pointed out many ways I can enrich
my novel. The fourth day was all about revision. I plan to leap into these
techniques during my upcoming writing retreat with The World’s Greatest
Critique Group. The last day was questions and answers, but not until we delved
into the inner reasons why we wrote our stories.
of all, I spent a week at a beautiful place, got to know nine fantastic
writers, and had the privilege of being tutored by a genius editor who knows
how to get authors to dig deeper and find new meaning in their writing.
I ate some lobster.
to Krista Dondero Rausin for generously sharing her photograph. My camera is
broken, so I have no pictures of hydrangeas, lighthouses or sailboats.
This blog has been neglected. My photography has too. I've been writing a lot (revising actually), riding my bike and playing my harp. I am now supposed to use two fingers and the thumb on each hand. Sure. Tomorrow, I embark on a grand adventure! First, I fly to Boston to spend the Fourth of July with Jeremy. On Sunday, I take the ferry to Martha's Vineyard for a workshop called The Art and Craft of Children's Book Writing, led by Emma Dryden. I'm very excited and a bit nervous. Certainly, I will learn much. I hope to post some pictures when I get back.
protagonist of my work-in-progress has a giant, impractical dream. She wants to
attend the Julliard School as a harp major. Will she get there? Probably not,
but my character will become a harp major at some college or conservatory. Many
of the students I tutor dream impossible dreams as well.
I worked on my manuscript, I realized I didn’t know much about the harp, so I
contacted a local harpist and asked if I could hire her as a consultant. She agreed and told me I should take harp lessons
as well. She offered to lend me a small folk harp for practicing. In the two
lessons I’ve had so far, I’ve learned far more than I expected.
a progress report:
would have been better if I’d learned to read bass clef as a child. I’m getting
rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is often recognizable.
when I see notes on the treble staff, my fingers still feel imaginary clarinet keys. (I
played clarinet for about ten years.)
arthritis in my left thumb makes it lazy.
and his friends love to remind me to practice.
importantly, I’m learning which questions to ask my teacher to improve my
you’ve fought your way through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook or heard
Donald Maass speak, you know what I’m talking about. The Maass Moment is when
the protagonist goes beyond burning bridges; he sets himself adrift in a
burning boat. All is lost.
Thomas Wolfewrote in You Can’t Go Home Again, “Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild,
filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but
so have we.” There is no going
back. The character and his world have changed.
a Maass Moment is hard. The writer should not (in my opinion): Spring
the Maass Moment on an unsuspecting readership. In the workshop I attended in
January, Donald Maass led us through a series of steps where the protagonist
continues to undercut her goal until she comes to the point of no return. (Click
here for Charlie Barshaw’s awesome review of that workshop.) Allow
the protagonist achieve the Maass Moment by being drunk and disorderly. Sure,
people do that in real life, but the novel is much more effective if the crisis
occurs through emotional strain rather than debauchery. Let
the character off too easily. By nature, I’m a peacemaker, so my characters
tend to resolve conflicts. I go through the steps outlined in the workshop and
rewrite each appropriate scene. But I note the page. The following day, I
revisit that scene, and make it worse, forbid the characters to kiss and make
up, make them to say hateful things, and force them to do the unforgivable.
Then I revise again. And again. I never make it bad enough on the first few
the character has lost everything, she is free to do what was impossible