If you missed part one of my interview with independent book editor Lorin Oberweger, click HERE, then come back. Lorin not only has nearly two decades of experience in the publishing industry, she’s an expert at honing in on what writers want–what they need–and offering workshops tailor-made for them. She’s also a ghostwriter and award-winning author, so have no doubt she knows what she’s talking about. We’re thrilled she took time out of her busy schedule to talk about who might benefit best from workshops, the best workshop exercise she’s seen–which is can’t miss!–and more.
Part 2: Interview with Lorin Oberweger
Q: What are the most common problems you see when reviewing the works of workshop participants? In what ways can these things be fixed?
LO: I could, and probably should, make a list, but I’ll tackle just two of the top issues I see at workshops: 1) the lack of understanding of scene structure and purpose in a novel; and 2) the lack of dramatic, observable action in a story, in favor of loads of exposition (the dreaded “telling” instead of “showing”).
With the first point, I’d say the most helpful approach is for a writer to educate him or herself on scene structure. Somewhere out on the “interwebs” here, writers can find an article I wrote on the topic. Just put “Lorin Oberweger, scenes” in Google or your search engine of choice. That’s a start. But plenty of instructors have written much more extensively about scene structure, and their work is pretty easily found as well.
The guiding principle is that a scene should be in one character’s point of view, should be centered around the pursuit of some goal on the character’s part (preferably an observable one, which is related to the character’s main goal for the story), should feature some form of opposition to that goal, and should resolve itself in such a way as to move the story forward, at least until one reaches the end! There are, of course, other critical factors, such as location, swings/shifts in tension, etc., but those are some basics.
With the second issue—exposition instead of observable, dramatic action—again, this is something that writers need to investigate more fully on their own. Basically, one needs to watch for narratives that are driven by SUMMARY rather than action that can be observed in the writer’s inner eye.
An example: “Tom and Lucas had been best friends for years and felt comfortable with each other. They were almost like brothers.”
This is TELLING the reader something, feeding him or her information in summary. It is informational, but there’s not much there for the reader to mentally observe. While some of this is fine, even necessary in a novel, too many writers relate their entire stories in this fashion, with information, summary, and little action and imagery to really help readers feel invested and immersed.
A less expository approach might be something like: “Lucas came into Tom’s room and flopped onto his futon. Helping himself to a handful of french fries from Tom’s dinner, he grinned and said, “So, what’s the plan tonight, bro?”
Obviously, this is a pretty imperfect example, but one learns, via the ACTIONS of the character, as well as the dialogue, something about their relationship. The writing is more visual and lively and makes us feel more a part of the scene.
Q: Can writers at all stages of their career benefit from workshops, or are they generally best for unpublished and beginning writers? How can intermediate and advanced writers evolve through a workshop experience, if at all? [Read more…]