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Tonight marks the seventh online chat in my class with Kathie Giorgio (http://www.allwriters.org/on_line_classes.asp#BOOK-WRITING WORKSHOP). I’m behind in my review of lessons learned from weeks five and six, which I will recap here.

Hmm… was it me that said my story was leaping along like a gazelle? Sometimes, in my effort to “go deep,” I worry that my story is waddling up a steep hill like a land-locked penguin. The. Pace. Feels. Slow. My inner penguin wants to jump in, soar at superglide speed through the depths, and emerge at a new exciting destination with a polished jump, landing on two feet and smiling. But that’s not how it seems to work for me in Rewriting Land.

Animalistic metaphors aside, in order to go deep, I need to link arms with my main character Agave as she wrestles with inner demons and the world at large. I need to feel complete freedom to overwrite the parts that I underwrote before in my even rougher draft, knowing that after this fair-to-middling draft is finished, I will go through it again and delete with vigor. With a nod to Stephen King, I’ll need to kill those darling phrases that were such fun to write but don’t move the story forward or serve much purpose in getting to know my characters. Even so, these bits of fluff are important just to clear out of the system and, if nothing else, serve to strengthen the nest of writing practice.

As Jane Smiley said in a 2006 Writer’s Digest interview (I find these author interviews full of hope and wisdom so I keep back issues for moments when I need a boost), “…What [a novelist] is really interested in is … what it feels to be alive. How it feels moment-by-moment going through a certain experience.” So, I’ll continue to go deep—and slow—during this rewrite, hoping the nuggets will emerge from the rough.

First, the Pat on Back report: I seem to be strengthening my point-of-view skills, for the most part. Also, I rewrote a section to fill in gaps about Carlos, Agave’s love interest. And jiggedy-jig, my rewritten scene was met with cheers!

Critical feedback from weeks five and six centered on plot inconsistencies and missing details. My main character’s motivations have also been questioned by a couple of class participants.

Their questions lead me to admit that I’m struggling with a major plot question: whether to make my main character’s quest a person-to-person mission or expand her goal to cause a shift in society. I’m unsure whether my personal wish for societal upheaval on this issue is clouding what’s best for my story.

Ms. Giorgio asked, “What does Agave want most?” I can’t seem to shake the strongly held belief (the shibble, in author Drusilla Campbell’s lingo) that Agave will not rest until things change on a deeper level – much deeper than just a shift in her personal situation. A possible compromise might be that this book will encompass her person-to-person quest, but leave open the possibility that she has just begun setting things right on a larger scale. So far, I haven’t reached closure on this.

I’d love to hear your pacing and plot point dilemmas and how you moved forward.

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

The weeks are flying by; I’ve completed week four of my twelve-week online book-writing class with Kathie Giorgio. I can honestly say, thanks to this class, my story is leaping along like a gazelle. I also find I’m thinking back to the class I took with Drusilla Campbell, and appreciating how much I learned with her, as well. I feel so fortunate to have been nudged along by two such fantastic mentors!

When I took Campbell’s class, my “rough draft” was more like a mass of morphing cells than a living, breathing story. It was so nebulous and and fragile at that stage. I was still forming the story arc, and also had a very difficult time building conflict into the plot—a basic cornerstone of any viable story.

I’ve since nurtured my writing self with conflict coaching:

“Got conflict?” (coffee mug)

“Three cheers to conflict!” (office flag)

“Treat yourself to a heaping helping of conflict today!” (kitchen banner)

“Your characters are allowed to be in conflict.” (screensaver)

“Characters need to be in conflict with each other and themselves. Otherwise, no story!” (computer screen Post-It)

I remember Campbell’s edict that in each scene, one of the characters is not allowed to get the thing they want. Or, if they do get it, there must be a price. Until the resolution. Then, they might finally be allowed to have what they want. But they must have changed in the process. Or their environment must have changed.

Before taking this class with Giorgio, I wrestled with my mass of nebulous cells— my messy, primordial ooze of slopped-together scenes—until I had more of a real rough draft. So, now I have more to work with, but still lots to work on.

Which brings me to week four’s feedback ): don’t leave essential characters invisible to the reader for too long, or a) it’s very confusing; b) the story won’t flow as well; c) the story won’t be as believable.

My main character, Agave, has gone through a horrendous transformation. While she grapples with life after the precipitating, transformative event, I somehow left her love interest hanging on the invisible periphery. How could I have done this to dear Carlos? I was so wrapped up in poor Agave’s physical struggles, I neglected to include Carlos as part of her emotional struggle. I dropped the emotional thread, and the result was a disconnect that felt unbelievable. My critique circle united in a chorus of “Where’s Carlos?”

Of course, Carlos comes back into Agave’s world, but apparently not soon enough, emotionally. I’m grateful for this essential input and will reweave these scenes in my revision.

Pat on back: I reveled in the comments that I had captured satisfying detail in Agave’s transformation!

Thanks for sharing the journey. What have your revision struggles, joys, and aha! moments been?

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

No class tonight; Kathie Giorgio’s Online Book Writing Workshop (www.allwriters.org/on_line_classes.asp#BOOK-WRITING WORKSHOP) meets again in one week. The class meets a total of twelve times, and each online meeting involves a discussion of the pages students have submitted in the previous week. The discussions are lively and bear fruitful critique, giving each of us a solid sense of what to work on, as well as the encouragement to forge ahead.

As an exercise, I wrote my last 15-page section in first-person, just to see how it would fly. Most of my classmates prefer my third-person pages, but my instructor and one other student like my first-person effort (there are six of us, total, plus Ms. Giorgio). Hmm… First-person gets tricky. I’ll need to think on it.

Also, my instructor’s favorite part of this recent submission was the beginning. I feel I’m eating enough humble pie here that I don’t mind sharing this jig-worthy POB (Pat on Back!) Ms. Giorgio was pleased enough to sprinkle “phenomenal” into her comments on that section! She felt there was so much that made the experience real in those paragraphs. Of course, that’s what I need to do consistently throughout.

I now divulge, that’s the part I spent the most time re-writing. The rest of the fifteen pages, I pretty much substituted “I” for “she” in my original draft, with a few other minor additions to fill in my character Agave’s internal world, and not very convincingly at that due to not giving it enough time. It was a bit slap-dash. Very basic lesson learned: more time spent in re-writing makes a difference. Better to learn this in a critique class than after submitting to an agent. Slow down, speedy. Rewriting is time well-spent. Duh. Moving on!

My novel is set in Mexico, and another lesson this week involves cultural representation. I don’t want my characters to be seen as representative of their culture; I want them to be experienced as individuals within a culture that influences them. They don’t behave “as a group.” They act the way they do based on their accumulated personal experiences, one factor of which is their cultural environment. One of my less sympathetic characters is even more unlikeable because she makes some uncompassionate statements to Agave early on. I received feedback that, if I don’t want her to be seen as a generalized representative of her culture, the reader needs more time to get to know her as an individual character, more interactions with her, before she makes these outrageous, callous statements.

Ms Giorgio says, “A novel is a process of developing layers. So you can breathe and take a little more time… A short story is like a surfer, riding a wave. A novel is like scuba-diving. Go deep.”

Putting on my oxygen tank…

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Wow! Here I am, rolling into week three of Kathie Giorgio’s 12-week Book-Writing Workshop (www.allwriters.org/on_line_classes.asp#BOOK-WRITING WORKSHOP).

The class has lit a fire under my chair to polish my weekly submission allotment of 15 pages, which we discuss and critique in an online chat each Monday night. No class tonight, due to Memorial Day.

At my last blog post, my big task after my first 15-page section was to solidify point-of-view (POV). I honed and reworked my second section. I re-read each sentence, pondering, am I walking in Agave’s shoes? (Agave is my main character.) Not just observing her walking in the shoes, but actually walking in them? Can I feel each step? Okay- not in a psychotic way. But you know what I mean! I can truly say I immersed myself in each page. The cliché “blood, sweat, and tears…” Yup! That was me. And if you had read my second section, you’d know I’m not kidding. Blood. Check! Tears. Check! Sweat. Mmmhmm!

So, I eagerly awaited the chat last Monday, perhaps even more nervous than I’d been the first Monday. I am wearing a very cheesy grin now when I tell you, according to Ms. Giorgio, I nailed POV! She didn’t have to take out her POV paddle once! Woo hoo!

But, do you hear that pop? That’s the sound of a momentarily inflated ego popping. I somehow neglected to illuminate the reader with a couple of entire scenes, crucial to the plot. Other scenes need to be filled in with more detail. Still other scenes were confusing in spots.

My ego, though, has matured. After it pops, I patch it and it re-inflates, determined, even if a bit nervous. I’ve also become skilled in chucking my harsh superego out the window during the writing process itself. This allows me to be wobbly, awkward, and very rough in my first drafts. Such freedom! I have faith in the revision process, a faith strengthened by the experience of this class.

I submitted my third section today. This time I rewrote my pages in first-person, as an exercise in POV. I’m not sure I would want to write the entire novel this way, but I would consider it. I look forward to class next Monday.

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

I’m now in the second week of a twelve-week online Book-Writing Workshop (www.allwriters.org/on_line_classes.asp#BOOK-WRITING) with Kathie Giorgio, author of The Home for Wayward Clocks (Mainstreet Rag Publishing, 2010). I’m using the course to revise my novel-in-progress, with the working title of “Sisters of Aguamiel.”

Each student (so far, six are participating this session) may submit up to 15 double-spaced pages per week for critique from the other students, and also receives a line-by-line edit from Ms. Giorgio.

We gathered for our first online chat last Monday to discuss each student’s work. I must admit, my heart was pumping nervous adrenaline; would it be a shark fest? Or worse, a rose-colored glasses yawn? But I’m delighted to report the chat was a satisfying blend of on-point critique and positive strokes. The cherry on top was Ms. Giorgio’s thoughtful edit and critique.

Of course, I was thrilled to pieces with every crumb of “nicely done.” But I was also depending on input as to what isn’t working. So, when Ms. Giorgio wielded her POV (point of view) paddle, I got my fair share of whacks. What of my blog post title, you ask? Did I promptly treat myself to a new pair of Nikes to soothe the pain? Not a bad idea, but no.

I’m following my sage instructor’s advice and stepping into my main character Agave’s shoes. In order to nail POV, the reader has to feel like she’s right with your character, inside her skin, seeing and experiencing what she experiences, walking in her shoes. This sounds obvious, but for me, easier said than done. I’m writing in third person, but from Agave’s perspective. So the challenge is not to feel removed from Agave’s experience, while using the third person throughout.

To help get into her shoes, Ms. Giorgio suggested I try a section in first person, as Agave. I can switch it back to third person once I feel more in sync with her. I’ve achieved glimpses of resonant Agave-ness, but chunks of my first section lack the immediacy I’m striving for. So, my task is set: put on Agave’s shoes for POV immersion.

Have you struggled with point of view issues? Have you written a story or novel in first-person perspective? Perhaps since this is my first novel, the thought of that feels overwhelming to me, but I’m about to try rewriting my third 15-page section that way, as an exercise- I didn’t have time to completely rework my second class submission.

I’m looking forward to the class chat tonight, when we’ll discuss our second submission. More adventures in revision to come!

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Tonight is the first meeting of a new online class I’ve enrolled in with the goal of revising my novel draft. Our fearless instructor, published author Kathy Giorgio, will lead seven of us, all with novels-in-progress, through the swampy mire of revision for 12 weeks. She can’t promise any miracles but I intend to learn as much as possible, and to keep an open mind to changes necessary to improve my story.

Each participant can submit up to 15 pages per week for critique. We commit to providing feedback to each student (I feel fortunate there are only seven of us), and receive a more intensive edit from Ms. Giorgio. Tonight we meet in a chatroom to discuss our first submissions.

I debated another in-person class, but decided to try an online forum. I took an in-person class about 1 1/2 years ago, when I was at a much rougher stage with my novel. I decided online was a practical choice for me this time, as it saves me from having to drive to the class once a week in the evening. The online arena has the added bonus of being able to cry in my pajamas in front of my computer as my work is poked and kicked over the next three months.

So, I look forward to sharing the tears and joys. I’d love to hear your revision stories, too. What is your process?

Here’s a link to the class information: http://www.allwriters.org/on_line_classes.asp#BOOK-WRITING WORKSHOP.

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Another gorgeous Quiet Monday at Mission San Luis Rey! Aaahh… Hundreds of roses in full bloom, some large as cabbages, and my favorite tree, too, the oldest Pepper tree in California, with its undulating trunk of gnome-like round knobs, whispering in the breeze on my circular walk around the mission. I see another retreater in a sun hat, like me, and two nuns a la Sound of Music, rosaries in hand, smile at me as we pass. I’m amused that I, a relative heathen (relative to nuns, that is!), am keeping such noble company today. But the Mission welcomes all, and I do feel welcome. I settle into my simple quarters and I write and revise in front of the window overlooking the garden.

I welcome the unpluggedness of the day. No phone, no email, no radio. I could read the newspaper like I do most days, but I don’t want to today. The quiet seeps in, soothing nerve endings and calming world-aching thoughts, even if just for a few hours. It sounds corny when I think it, but it’s true: prayers are palpable here. I feel them swirling in the rosy scents on the breeze, in the sight of pollen-laden bees’ legs, embracing me and carrying hope like a secret for the whole world.

In between I read. Today I read Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life, and Stars Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from The Vermont College MFA Program, edited by David Jauss. I felt an instant emotional sync with Wizenberg’s voice; can’t wait to check out her blog, Orangette (orangette.blogspot.com). Stars Overflown by Stars is meaty—full of challenging insights on the writing craft.

I always look like I’m moving in, with my big satchel of notebooks and the luggy, loose-leaf binder that contains my novel draft. I bring snacks, too. Today I brought apples and dark chocolate. I guess I’ve always had a fear of going hungry or not having enough to read—or paper and pen. There’s nothing worse than a growling stomach and no book or paper. So I bring plenty.

Oh, so you’re on your own for food, you say. No; lunch is served in the Franciscan-style dining hall, and it’s always been lovely and satisfying. Today it was tortillas, beans, rice, salsa with good bite, salad, lentil soup (which I dolloped with sour cream). At the end, I walked over to the dessert table, praying a few
cookies remained. (No worries; I did send out a few more substantial prayers while visiting.) Prayers answered! Yes, there they were, in a neat little pile.
These were not wispy, dainty cookies. They were thick and square-ish. I took one with my cup of tea and took a bite on my way to the table. I immediately circled back and procured one more to enjoy with the chocolate waiting for me in my room.

Back to write, read, munch. Another few rounds through the rose garden, and to admire the Pepper Tree, listening for new secrets.

Happy writing and reading,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

www.sandiegofreelancewriter.com


Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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