Surrey Saturday Morning

Surrey Saturday Morning.

You thought I forgot where I was, didn’t you?

I scarfed down my Frosted Flakes (thank you Lisa for the variety pack) and we zoomed down to the café to meet the gals. Well, I did. Lisa had to be at her table bright and early so she took her protein bars and abandoned me to my own devices. I had coffee with the ladies. We discussed the various workshops and where we were going. One of the joys of going to a conference where you can visit with people like this is running these strategy sessions.

Alexander always planned his campaigns to follow the harvests and, while that may be sound advice for armies, planning our campaign based on food or lack thereof didn’t work. The hotel had really good food so we couldn’t bribe agents and editors with culinary delights. I do intend to bring a supply of Texas Trash with me next year, though.

We all had to depend on our writing with the agents and editors, but that left the workshops to divide and conquer. Socially, it might be more fun to attend classes with friends, but you’re so busy listening and taking notes that doesn’t much matter. What does matter is trying to cover as many workshops as possible so we can compare notes later.

Here was the Saturday morning list.

Getting Social Blogging

Prescriptions for Plodding Plots.

Stick to the Facts Ma’am.

Legal Thrillers on Trial

Publishing from a Writer’s Point of View.

Book to Screen, Ask the Experts

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Writing.

The 90-Minute Novel

Writing for Children About Difficult Issues

Surviving Historical Fiction

Now do you see why it’s so important to do some studying ahead of time? There are so many good workshops it’s hard to decide which one to attend.

I decided to go to Hallie Ephron’s class, Prescription for Plodding Plots. I originally intended to go to the Historical Fiction class, but Hallie so impressed me at the panel, I opted for her. Plus, another lady was going to Historical Fiction so I was going to swap notes. It was very good and I quite enjoy her as a teacher. She has been forgiven the brief forays into the political battlefield because they were brief and she was such an excellent teacher.

Here are part of the notes in the Do-Over section.

These were points about revision.

The first part was a very standard, logical bit of advice.

Create “save as” and “out file” for the manuscript.

Print manuscript and let it rest as long as you can.
Give it to the beta readers.
Re-read it yourself from beginning to end.
Work from large to small and then go back and work from small to large.

Look at the big picture such as narrative voice. Is the story engrossing and readable? Look at the arc of the main character. Themes. Shape of the story.

This was familiar ground as Barbara Rogan taught something similar in the Next Level Workshop. We have to step back from the story and look at it in bits and pieces. Kind of like the Bookwormed exercise.

Find the voice of the characters and make sure they are there in each scene. That is to say the pov character in each scene should be distinct. You are filtering what they think, see, feel through them so make them strong and distinctive. One scene, one narrator.

How many POV characters do you have? Too many dilute the story.

This is something I have struggled with as I have a lot of POVs. I’ve just had to be sure I am sticking to one as much as possible in any section. That’s one reason I have lots of small chapters. I just felt they needed a complete break. Plus, since I am hopping from one character to another, the stories are often happening in entirely different locations and the roads just haven’t converged yet. I tried whittling it down to just a very few POV, but it didn’t work. The story has to be told from the different angles. Even at the end, the final battle is first told from the pov of Gentyl. Then it shows the battle from the enemy soldier’s pov. Then it wraps up with Gentyl.

Story analysis.

Your character has a goal.
They suffer setbacks in reaching the goal.
Stakes are raised.

Check your pacing by using a scene-by-scene outline.

Another thing she did was graph the scenes to show how tension should be rising. Step, step, step, step, reversal and crash, step, step, step, reversal and crash, etc.

Highlight leisurely, descriptive etc with one color, rising momentum with another and action and conflict with another. Stand back and look at how it’s structured.

Other uses for outlining scenes include:

Chronology check
Cluttered days
Snowing in summer
Tracking plots and subplots.

Again, this was similar to what Barbara Rogan taught us. We have to take our stories apart and make sure all the pieces fit properly.

When you dive down or focus in, look at your scenes, characters, settings and subplots.

Barbara was very adamant about subplots, they, like your main story have to have a beginning, middle and end. Jack Whyte compared the shape of the plots and your novels as somewhat cigar shaped with thinner ends and hefty middles. If you have to cut your story in half because of word count, make sure you also reshape the story so it isn’t just a blunt cutoff at the end.

Very important! Where does your story begin, not where does your novel begin. For me, this was especially true. The story begins with Aegis getting killed, but if I start there I have a brutal battle and then we don’t hear from him again until 2/3’s through the story. The story’s correct beginning, I believe, is with the far rider delivering the news of his death, which sets things in motion to turn Gentyl’s life upside down.

Weed out the pov slips. Pump up the action with stronger verbs and replace bland verbs. Make the descriptions vivid.

Eliminate distancing verbs.

She watched the colt, trying to eat grass.

The colt spread his legs farther apart until they trembled with the effort. His tiny blonde beard wriggled when he smacked his lips in anticipation and at last he pulled off a bit of grass. He gnawed and gummed at the stems, but eventually gave up and went back to nurse. That, he had mastered.

Those are my lines. Now you know why I am so far over on word count. And, it’s 4:00 in the morning so my mind is on auto pilot.

However, the point remains. Even though we have to filter a scene through a character, intersperse it with just plain old direct action.

Weed out -ly adverbs, -ing verbs. (I wept with sadness, and clung tightly to my adverbs and -ing verbs.)

Watch your speech tags.

Show don’t tell.

Weed out cliches.

Strong first line.
Strong first paragraph.
Strong first scene.

There was a lot more, but I think you get the gist.

What you can’t tell from this post is what a superb teacher she is. Her pacing is impeccable. She didn’t go so fast you couldn’t absorb what she’s trying to teach, but neither did it drag. The class was over far too soon.

If you get a chance to attend one of her workshops, I highly recommend it. She was one of the shining stars of Surrey and we were in a very bright galaxy.

Hallie is one of the people who moved straight to the top of my list. I’m even going to buy her writing book, although I had sworn off them after reading the last one by a famous fantasy author.

Hallie Ephron


  1. So how many POVs do you think are too many? In DRAWN TO YOU, I have 2, but I’m thinking of switching to 3 in my other WiP, LIFE AFTER AZAREL. This is YA, btw.

    I guess I’ve read books with up to 4 POVs (like Jennifer Weiner’s LITTLE EARTHQUAKES) and not minded it, but then again, I’m not 15.

    This is all great to know. I want to go to a workshop, but I’m too poor. 🙁

  2. Jill, I really think it depends on the story.

    In Paladin, I have a LOT of different POVs, but that’s just the way the story shakes out. There are a lot of separate stories weaving together. I just try to weed out as many as I can and make the ones that remain important to the story.

    At the end of Paladin, I wound up with two characters I hadn’t planned on at all. One even assumed a POV role. I tried to get rid of it, but he just seemed right. Then the final battle got told from both his POV and the main character’s. So, this shaved off a lot of narrative and put the action up front and center.

    I’ve included a bit of it below.

    Excerpt from Paladin’s Pride.

    “What you see?”

    Edwin sat in the tree, slowly sweeping the spyglass across the valley. Six pairs of riders left the camp just as they did every morning. The border skirmishes had increased, along with bandit activity until the old Sylvan commander finally swallowed his pride and called in help. White tents mushroomed up along the riverbank almost overnight. They sent scouts out to find bandits every morning and sometimes they even found a few. Aside from that, nothing more interesting than watching soldiers drill ever took place, but he still had to come out to watch them just in case. Just in case what?

    “What you see?” Harold repeated, more urgent this time, like a younger brother, begging to be lifted up to see over a fence.

    Edwin lowered the glass and looked down through the branches at the oaf. He wanted to drop something heavy on him, but the only thing at hand was a pine cone. Wearing a Wendt tabard used to mean something. In the past year anyone who knew the right end of a sword to hold or someone who could sling a simple spell was admitted.

    He ought to just kill him and get it over with. If they ever got into a fight, the simpleton wouldn’t last ten minutes anyway.

    Eventually, I can use Edwin to put a more human face on one of my villains. Harold rescues a baby during the battle and then later dies saving Edwin.

    Could I get by without the extra POV? I’m sure I could, but it makes the story much more powerful, so it’s staying.

    Look at George R.R. Martin’s books. The POVs are everywhere. As with anything, I think it all depends on how well it’s executed.

    As for the workshops, I wanted to go to Surrey for years. It was like Cinderella going to the ball when I finally did.

    In the meantime, have you checked out the Books and Writer’s forum I have linked in the sidebar? They have lots of workshops and they even have a separate kid’s lit section. I highly recommend it. Many of the writers who hang out there are very successful and they’re always willing to share opinions and offer suggestions.

  3. “I just try to weed out as many as I can and make the ones that remain important to the story.”

    Me too, and me too. :'( It isn’t easy. I’m in the process of cutting out weak PoVs and reversing PoVs in some chapters. By the time my book gets published, I will have told the story a thousand ways and slain a hundred characters.

  4. Justus, it’s not an easy process. sometimes I want to beat my head on the desk and cry. then, when the cutting is done, I shrug my shoulders.

    “Hmmmm, that is much better.”

    I know more than one writer has said this and I believe it to be true. The trick is not to be a good writer, but a good rewriter.

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