Jilly: What I Learned at Gollanczfest

Good writing craft workshops are like London buses—you wait for ages, and then three come along at once. Today I’ll be finishing up my second workshop in as many weeks: the fourth and final day of Robert McKee’s legendary Story. It’s an add-on dedicated to Love Story.

All being well, I’ll report back on my Four Days of McKee next weekend. Today I promised to report on my takeaways from Gollanczfest (click here for my previous post about the event.)

Firstly, and most importantly, I had a fantastic time. I made a note to self that it’s worth attending some kind of writing-related event at least once or twice per year, simply because it’s inspiring and energizing to spend time with other writers.

Last weekend the writers were all about sci-fi and fantasy, so the talk was of worldbuilding, dragons, AI, dystopia and space opera. The discussions around process were entirely familiar, likewise the challenges of plot structure and character building. It felt strange that nobody made much mention of community or relationships. Love wasn’t even on the radar, though everyone I spoke to was polite and encouraging (if a bit baffled) when I said my book was relationship driven and had strong romantic elements.

It was valuable to be reminded of something I already knew—that every writer has to find her own process, and to be willing to experiment, change and adapt that process. We heard from diehard plotters, extreme pantsers and all manner of variations on each. There were authors who write entirely in coffee shops, those who must face a blank wall, and those who use a corner of the dining table or hop around the house. Those who write to music, those who avoid lyrics, and those who find music a distraction. Longhand writers, dictation freaks and Scrivener-philes. Overwriters and under-writers. Authors who write strictly in sequence and those who jump around and join the dots later. Fast writers and slow ones. The only thing they had in common was that they continue to suffer from the same struggles, blank moments, plot holes and confidence dips as the rest of us.

I did also pick up a few specific tips that I thought I might find useful:

  • If you’re stuck for ideas or momentum, warm up by taking a page or a paragraph from a writer you admire. Begin by copying it out, but then change it, shape it, add your own ideas and give it your spin. Feel what their writing is like, and then turn it into yours.
  • If you feel your characters are getting a little same-y, consider using Dungeons and Dragons dice to set up their attributes. You’ll challenge yourself and get more variety.
  • Building a Character, Constantin Stanislavski’s book for actors, is also great for writers. (This reminded me that at RWA Damon Suede recommended another theatre book, Marina Caldarone’s Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus).
  • One of the biggest challenges in creating a series is to maintain consistency of tone. I double-underlined this as it’s something I’m wrestling with right now.

So…that was my weekend with the sci-fi and fantasy gang. I’ll report back on my time with the screenwriting crowd next weekend.

7 thoughts on “Jilly: What I Learned at Gollanczfest

  1. Like you, I get a lot of motivation and inspiration from attending writers’ workshops. My local RWA chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers (COFW) brings in great speakers, so I get at least a mini-workshop most months.

    • I really enjoyed my writer’s cruise. I definitely felt recharged and re-energized afterwards. Our local RWA chapter meets on Tuesday nights, which is absolutely horrible for me. But even getting together with a few like-minded writing friends for a weekend-long write-in can help reinvigorate everyone.

  2. Sounds like a lot of fun, Jilly! I got a kick out of the Dungeons and Dragons idea to build characters. It would be fun to try to build out Phoebe’s world using that technique! It’s interesting, though, that the other attendees weren’t that interested in developing relationships and community for their books. You’d think that would be a given for the sci-fi/fantasy world, not that I read science fiction.

    So the Story workshop with McKee is all over, too? Looking forward to that roundup next week.

  3. Oh! I always wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons! I thought it’d be a blast, but I just never had a group of like-minded people who wanted to play. (In my hometown, a lot of my friends belonged to religions that thought D&D was the gateway to devil-worshipping.)

    Even plain ol’ dice have a lot of possibilities. LOL, when I was a pre-teen, I read a lot of books about magical systems and did a lot of solitary stuff. There was one book about fortune-telling that had a chapter on dice divination. There were about 20 questions, and then the following pages had 20 answers on each one — headed by a certain dice combo. It was a library book, and I can’t remember a darn thing about it except maybe the font. But it certainly would be possible to assign each of your characters a number, and to make a list of possible actions, and use your dice as input-devices. Naturally, if your stomach turns at your “results”, you just roll the dice again until your gut is happy.

    I really like the idea of taking the bones from one writer’s scene, and putting my own flesh and dress on it. It sounds really relaxing! One doesn’t have to plot; one just plays with the characters and words. And then once one gets in a relaxed state of mind, one dives into one’s own world and finds plot to write about.

  4. Well, at least I know I’m not crazy for wanting/needing a different desk layout than I currently have…it seems everyone writes differently, but essentially does what works for them. I think (even after 5 years) I’m still figuring that out.

    I’m looking forward to your reporting after McKee!

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