Andrew Pyper Workshop

WCDR writing workshop days are the best. The great thing about having a close-knit, enthusiastic writing community is that every workshop is like “old home week.” Half the fun is seeing friends, colleagues and writing group members. Today’s session, led by Andrew Pyper, included CANSCAIPers Lena Coakley, Heather O’Connor and Bill Swan, members of my writing group Critical Ms. including Ruth Walker, Susan Malarkey and Shannon Overend (and yes, Bill Swan), my lovely Moose Factory travel buddies Naomi Mesbur and Barbara Hunt (and yes, Ruth Walker again), and at least a dozen other friendly, familiar faces from the WCDR and the Ontario Writers’ Conference planning committee.

It was so much fun, we hardly needed Andrew Pyper to show up. But don’t worry — he did. And boy, did he ever make it worth our while.

I’ve heard Mr. Pyper speak before. It turns out he’s a chronic planner, a man after my own index-card-loving heart. I’ve had novels published that take up fewer pages than his outlines. He must put just about that level of preparation into his workshops, because he always has valuable things to say. I like it when speakers keep the information coming as fast as I can type. This speaker always does.

Today’s topic was ‘Taking your story from good to great.’ I won’t share too much from the lectures, but I had a couple of lightbulb moments that seem worth noting. The first was the idea of ‘aboutness.’ The idea is that a book can contain many key questions, but can only really be about one of them. Mr. Pyper suggested writing a logline of the book and sharing it widely, to help figure out where the magic of the book is — the essential, living core. More than that, the logline is helpful as a sort of compass, to keep the writing on track.

He also talked about the main plot points of the novel. I’ve read a lot about plot structure, and even heard Mr. Pyper speak on it before, so what he said wasn’t really new to me… but sometimes you need to hear the right thing at the right time. I realized that the end of ‘act one’ in my book, the point of no return, comes earlier than I thought it did… and as a consequence of that, I need to make the moment bigger.

He also suggested imagining the opening and closing images of a movie made out of the story you’re writing. That was a useful exercise in thinking about the focus of the story and the tone that I want, and more specifically, the way I want the reader (and the writer!) to feel at the end of the book.

Ruth Walker tells me that if I enjoyed Andrew Pyper’s workshop, I might want to consider Writescape’s Falling Leaves retreat this year. I will definitely think about adding that to my writing-event calendar.