Tag Archive | workshops

Writing the Regency Novel

I’m giving a workshop at the RWA National Conference this July (just got the times and it’s Friday at 4:30 – 5:30, so early enough to enjoy dinner Friday). And part of what I’ll cover is why set your fiction in the Regency era?

For all that it covers an amazingly short time span (1811 to 1820) the English Regency has a remarkable allure.  Mystery writers, including the great John Dixon Carr, have chosen this era for a setting, and the Napoleonic wars offer the setting for the popular Sharp series by Bernard Cornwell and the Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian’s. In Romance writing, the Regency is perhaps the most popular historical time period, and has launched many now best selling authors. But why should such a short time span–nine years really, although the Regency influence extends over perhaps thirty years–prove so magnetic?

Answering that question could be the target of a scholarly book, but space is limited–and time fleeting–so perhaps the best course is to emulate the Regency in brevity, as well as in style, and carry things off with a high hand. Of all time periods, the allure of the Regency might well be that it was a time when style triumphed. The era sparkles with wit, gallantry and elegance in fashion, furnishings and frivolity. It was an era in which a man with no background–Beau Brummell–could become the leader of male society just because of his style and wit. At the same time, Turner was painting and shocking the world with his art, while Byron was writing and shocking society with his life. Charles Fox was being brilliant in politics, and shocking just about anyone who met him. And Sheridan was writing plays that still amuse with their wit.

It was a brilliant era. And an era of the extremes of rich and poor, and yet it was an era in which if you were good at something, you could gain fame and fortune. The prizefighter John Jackson (1769-1845) won fame with his fists, but went on make his real fortune by teaching boxing lessons to the cream of society. For a gentleman to say he got the chance to spare with Jackson was considered a social coup. The status given Jackson makes him perhaps a forerunner of the modern sports superstars. In fact, the Regency could be said to be a time when much of our modern sensibility of admiring skill–rather than inherited status–seemed to take hold.

A full answer to the appeal of the Regency era, however, must look at not just the actual time period itself, it must take into account the fiction and films which have so greatly shaped our impressions.

All this and some details of the history that you have to get right (and what can you fuss with or make up) will be covered in the workshop. But it’s worth noting that the Regency’s reflections to our era cannot be overlooked: change, uncertainty, but still the need for daily routine, and the relief of pleasure. The royal scandals filled newspapers with sympathy for the Princess of Wales, and this left the Prince unhappy about this. There were opportunities for those with vision, and at the same time great risk for those so unwise as to invest in the wrong future.  All of these qualities resonate with us. However, the Regency is blessedly in the past.  It is a world slipped into the past and therefore one with a safely known future.  Somehow these people who lived then found a way to happiness, to prosperity, to joy, to survival.  And what more comforting message can a reader find?

A Sexy Synopsis

The synopsis–we all hate writing them, and yet, it’s one of the most valuable tools a writer has. And it’s not just about condensing the story–for me, it’s really more about if I have an idea for where the story is going and  a clear handle on the conflict. It’s a place where flaws shine big and bright, which means I need to fix them in the book, too. But, oh, have I written some very, very bad synopses.

What set me on the course to learn how to do a better job of this was my first synopsis. Like many writers, I just wrote. And then I heard about RWA’s Golden Heart contest. Ah, ha–a way to get to an editor faster than through a slush pile. But I needed a synopsis to enter. So I wrote one–twenty pages of details about the book. Thank heavens, this was a time when you still got feedback from this contest, and some kind soul pointed out I really needed to condense my synopsis and do a better job of just telling the story.

With that in mind–and now as a member of RWA–I set about to learn how to do a better job.

One of the best tools came to me through Dwight Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer.

I still reference his book when it comes to writing a new synopsis. His advice is to boil your story down to some immediate, big picture information.

  • Who is the main character, and what is the situation this character is coming out of?
  • What does this person want?
  • What’s keeping this person from his or her goal?
  • What are the consequences–the bad outcome–from this character not getting his or her goal?

This was great. This allowed me to write an opening paragraph for each of my characters in the romance. The next year I went on to final in the Golden Heart–but I still wasn’t satisfied. Yes, it was progress, but it wasn’t a win and it wasn’t a sale (my ultimate goal). So I kept at it. And I kept learning. I’d go listen to anyone talk about writing a synopsis, and gradually I learned I not only needed a good synopsis, but I could use that to show me if I had weaknesses in my book (if the middle of a synopsis is vague, the real problem is probably not enough conflict to keep the story going).

I was happy with the book, and the synopsis I wrote for A Compromising Situation–and the book won the Golden Heart and sold. That was a huge win.

A Compromising Situation

The synopsis then turned into a sales tool for me. From it, I was able to pick out possible cover scenes–because I knew by then that you needed a couple of key scenes in the synopsis to show the relationship developing. I was able to help focus cover copy, and also to write promotional copy that I could use on my website.

Now I realized just how powerful–although still painful–a synopsis could be.

Here’s the opening for that synopsis for A Compromising Situation.

After breaking her heart once years ago, MAEVE MIDDEN now only longs to find a position as a governess in a house full of young girls, where she might have a permanent position and a place to belong.  But can she settled for that after she falls in love with COLONEL ANDREW RICHARD DERHURST, now LORD ROTHE, a man far above her in station, a man who is supposed to be her employer, a man who may not be able to return her love?

And here’s how it fits into Dwight Swain’s advice:

Who is the main character, and what is the situation this character is coming out of:

  • After breaking her heart once years ago, MAEVE MIDDEN

What are the consequences–the bad outcome–from this character not getting his or her goal?

  • …now only longs to find a position as a governess in a house full of young girls, where she might have a permanent position and a place to belong.

What’s keeping this person from his or her goal?

  • …far above her in station, a man who is supposed to be her employer

What are the consequences–the bad outcome–from this character not getting his or her goal?

  • …who may not be able to return her love?

Notice the consequences are not world-ending. This was (and is) a story about people and so the consequences are deeply personal–and, for Maeve, a woman who has experienced rejection before, this type of rejection is deeply wounding. This would be a loss that would scar her.

By this point I’d learned how to stick to the main plot points in the synopsis, to focus on the conflict and the relationship since this was a romance, and I’d learned how to be very picky about each word used in the synopsis so that it was crafted to convey a tone and feel for the story (there’s no sense writing an action-packed synopsis if your story is a character study).

And I’m still learning.

Which is also why I’m still giving the synopsis workshop. Except these days a synopsis has to be even shorter, and even more able to catch someone’s interest. Which is why I call this a “sexy synopsis“. It’s got to be like a little black dress. It’s got to be something you can wear anywhere, and that’s useful as well as sexy–but it has to cover all the vital parts.

Just like the perfect little black dress,  a synopsis can take a lot of work to find all the right parts–the parts that flatter as well as fit. So if you, too struggle with your synopsis, head on over to the workshop at ORIW to pick up more tips and help for learning to get a synopsis that’s more than just something you need for writing contests and queries.

Showing More, or Lessons from Your Favorite Actors

The old adage given to most young (and I mean young in writing years, not in age) is: “show don’t tell.” Good advice, and while there’s a place for story telling in any story, showing is important enough to get top billing. You can see this in action in any decent film with good actors at work.

Actors have to show more–telling in a movie gets you boring exposition or, even worse, the deadly monologue from the bad guy as he explains evSilent Film Becky Sharperything. When you’re working in a visual media, telling ends up being talking heads. So movies have to show more–and actors have to put their characters into action. But novelists get to cheat.

In a novel or short story, the writer can just put down the words: “He was angrier than he’d ever been in his life.” Not great prose, but the reader gets the idea. Give that to any actor, and you’d end up with an actor struggling how to show that on the screen. So that’s one way a novelist can switch over from telling too much to showing more–imagine your favorite actor in the role.

What would an actor do to show this character’s anger on the screen? Would his jaw tense, his fists bunch? Would he hit something? Or would he smile, pull out a gun and shoot someone. Would he turn away, and turn back with a punch? Or would he offer up a cutting remark? It’s those little bits of business that an actor uses to better show their character in action–to put the characterization on screen. And it’s just those bits of business that a novelist needs to create to make a character come to life on the page.

Years ago, I took some improve classes. They were fun, and I was going out with an actor–and it was a great way to meet other cute guys, too. It was also great to get my head wrapped around thinking like a character, instead of myself. I had to start thinking about “how do I get this emotion across” or “how do I show this better?”  And that’s a great exercise for a writer, too–to act out your scenes.

Silent Film Star Theda BaraAnd this is where I study my favorite actors, too. How is he underplaying this scene–getting everything across with just a twitch, or a tilt of the head, or a slump of the shoulders? How is she making me see and feel the sorrow her character is dealing with–and not just with tears? I look for the honest performances–the ones that seem effortless, but which have had all the hard word done before the actors show up in front of the camera. I look for the actors who may know how to overplay a scene for farce, but who also know how to pull back and let their characters listen and react in ways that help me start to understand their characters.

All of this has gone into the Show and Tell workshop I teach–and which I’m giving for OCC RWA chapter this September (starting Sept 11). And it does seem to be the show part that most folks are working on, and which gives them the most trouble.

But narrative is a part of any story or novel–the narrative is often the stitching that holds all those great “showing” scenes together (which is why the workshop is called Show AND Tell).

Regency Actor GarrickHowever, next time you’re watching a favorite TV show or movie, or at the next play you go to, start to watch like a writer (or another actor, or the director). Look for those little bits of business that put a twist on the dialogue, or which reveal a ton about what the character is thinking or feeling. Would you have done something differently in that scene? Chosen to play it another way? Study the pros–and then write a scene that would earn the undying love of your favorite actor if you were to give them such a juicy, emotional scene with so much character hidden in the actions that show us the real person.

What’s My Motivation?

No wonder most folks think they suck at plotting—they do. Lately, I’ve read implausible plots, overly melodramatic plots only missing the villain twirling a mustache, plots so tangled there’s no way you can get the synopsis to five pages and have it make sense, and complex plots where the romance (and the character) are lost in the action. How do you fix this? It all goes back to character.

To quote Robert Mckee “character is story and story is character.” A good story comes from good characters—folks with clear goals and motivations that make sense. The plot then is actually pretty easy—you throw things (events) at those characters that will hit on their weak points (take them off track from their goals) and hit their buttons for their internal issues. The plot tests the characters you’ve created.

If you haven’t done the homework of creating strong characters to start—that means well developed characters—those story people are going to be feel pushed through a contrived plot. This will give you implausible, melodramatic, tangled, and/or too complex plots. This is because you’ll be using action to make up for weak conflict due to weak characterization.

I’m going to be doing my Plotting from Character workshop again soon, and from what I’ve seen in contests lately, a lot of folks could use this. If you start with character, plotting gets a lot easier. And characters need a few things to work well in fiction:

Goals – everybody wants something. Even the character who wants for nothing will still have something that he or she wants and needs – a story is about a character whose life is pushed out of balance. And the goal for that character is to fix this imbalance—to get back to a happy place. Goals work best when they are a specific thing that represents achieving that goal—which is how you end up with things like the Maltese Falcon (it’s something tangible folks can be after—having it in your hands means goal achieved).

Negative goals (to avoid some event), aren’t so great unless you also have a clock running—as in stopping the bomb from blowing up becomes a positive due to that ticker. But something like avoiding marriage is a little harder—since it’s a negative, the reader doesn’t knows when the character has achieved this goal (Is he married now? Married now? How about now?) See—that’s not going to give you a tangible “he made it” goal.

Motivations – to go along with the goals, fictional character needs good reasons for their actions, for their goals. Fictional folks have to make a lot more sense than real people.  And motivations work best if deeply rooted in the characters psyche—the deeper, the better. As in, a motivation that comes from a key, formative event the character’s childhood is much stronger than a motivation that comes from a recent event. For example, a character that needs to find a new job because she’s been fired—that’s motivation, yes. It matters, but it hasn’t been made personal. A deeper motivation comes from that character having been raised poor. So what if she saw her mother crying over a broken down car when she was ten and vowed never to be that person. Now, she’s got strong motivation to get that new job. The motivation has been made personal. And notice how you also want to tie this motivation to a key moment in that character’s life so it will resonate—and you can use that scene then in the story.

Internal Needs – this relates to motivations, and also to goals. Stories work best with lots of conflict, so you want to develop characters with strong internal needs. And hopefully these are going to be in conflict with their goals. So the character who is out of work and needs that job—and has motivations from being poor in childhood—if she’s got the internal need for respect, and she’s offered a menial job with no respect, now her external goals and internal needs are in conflict. She wants the job (external), but she needs respect (and won’t get it from the job). So what does she give up? She’s in conflict, which is always good stuff for fiction. How the character then resolves this conflict becomes part of your plot—and reveals this character’s true colors.

Motivations – just as with goals, internal needs have to be motivated. (Remember, fictional folks have to make sense—much more so than real people.) So this character needs an event in his or her formative years that leaves him or her with deep reasons to have these internal needs. And, again, you want to tie this motivation to deep, core issues—could be the character is compensating for a handicap, and respect isn’t just about being respected.

Characters should have such strong goals and needs that the character (and the reader) should feel as if that character’s “self” will be destroyed by giving up either the goal or need.

And then you throw in the romance (if you’re writing a romance).

Once you create your main character, now you design the love interest, and all the other characters. The love interest is someone with a conflicting goal, conflicting internal needs, and motivations that are just as deep and strong. In other words, this is both the ideal person, and the totally wrong person. This is a soul mate (and I use the definition that soul mates are those people who push all your buttons—they make you grow).

You develop goals and motivations for all characters—in other words, you never have a bad guy who is bad just because he is bad. And you look to develop goals and motivations that go beyond clichés. (Trust me, your first few ideas for goals and motivations will be cliché—that’s why they pop up so readily. As Orson Scott Card advises in Characters & Viewpoint, dig deeper.)

And, very important, you want the story’s antagonist—the person up against the protagonist—to have conflicting goals. Only the protagonist or the antagonist should be able to win the day (and for more on this, study up on Bob Mayer’s talk on Conflict Lock – he’s bestselling author and he knows what he’s talking about).

Theme – this is what helps you with all this goals and motivations stuff, and with all the secondary characters you need. If your theme is about how love heals, you’re going to need hurt characters, and folks who’ve never been hurt by love. You’ll need folks who haven’t been heeled by love—and those who have. You need all sides of the theme. And the main character is going to be at the center of that theme.

Now, with characters and theme shaping up, you can plot. Meaning you look at your main character and you keep asking—What is the worst thing that could happen to this person? You ask this many, many times and jot down the answers. What could prevent this person from getting his or her goal? What would force this person to give up his or her goal? What would push this person to the extreme to get his or her goal or meet his or her needs? Keep pushing, keep making it worse. (Action movies are great to take apart for this sort of stuff—look at Indiana Jones, and how his life just gets harder and harder and harder.)

These ideas for obstacles that the main character must overcome can then be shaped into the main turning point actions—the plot that will test your character. It will also test the main character’s relationship—the romance. You put just as much strain there as you do for any action.

As you do this, you’re coming up with events to throw at your character, but this is not the time to decide yet how your character will act—that come from knowing your character and putting your character into these bad, bad situations. In other words, you set up the obstacle course—your characters decide how to run that course. The story comes out of the characters dealing with worst case scenarios.

Two things about this—first, you need to structure the action so that tension and conflict rises. In a good story, things go from bad to worse—not the other way around. Second, you’ll develop subplots around the main plot, but it’s the main action line—the main character’s driving goal, motivations for this, and obstacles (or turning points)—that should be the main focus. The main story arc must have the main character at its heart—the main character must resolve the story (or fail at this, which makes it a tragedy). And this should be the last set of story points to be resolved. (Subplots can start sooner than the main story, but should be all wrapped up before the main story is in order to create the most satisfying story.)

Notice how all this plotting now comes out of the characters that you set up. Your characters give you your theme, they start to suggest events you’ll need in the story to block them from their goals. For example, you know the woman who need a new job is going to start off applying for new positions—and maybe that’s not so exciting, so you start her where she’s just been turned down for the 100th time. But she starts off trying to do this the easy way—that’s so your story can build and get worse. You know you’re going to make things worse for her—she’s going to be face with choices. Maybe even asked to commit murder in order to make a million dollars. But she’s not going to be asked that right away—that’s going to come after she’s been tested, and tested, and tested more. That’s going to come when she’s more than desperate. That’s going to come when she has so few other choices this extreme one seems a viable option.

Once you get the ideas and characters down in writing, you’re going to check in with a writer friend. You’re going to look at this from all angles to see if it makes sense. If it’s plausible. If every character is well motivated with strong goals. You do this because it’s too easy to think you’ve got it all buttoned up when you don’t. And you’ll find you have stuff worked out in your head that doesn’t make it onto the page—you want to always make sure to get the story on the page as close to what’s in your head.

What this means it that you won’t be coming up with cliché conflict (the heroine is kidnapped and the hero saves her)—conflict will be very specific to the characters you’ve created because it will be deeply rooted in individual pasts. You won’t be stuck with how to escalate conflict and tension, because you’ve got goals and you’re going to take away all the easy ways for that character to reach his or her goals. You won’t be caught with a romance that relies on misunderstandings or mistaken assumptions to create problems in the relationship—problems will be built into your characters.

Just keep in mind—it’s all about the characters.

How to get More from Online Workshops

Having taught and taken online workshops, I’ve some thoughts on how I think folks can get more bang for the buck. I’ve also taught in classrooms and at conferences, and it’s a whole different animal when you go online.

The good news is that most online workshops are cheep–there’s no overhead for classroom space, no issues about traveling to the workshop (which can be wearing if the workshop runs for more than a day or two), and you get to attend when you have the time.

The bad news is that both the instructor and the attendee miss out on face to face interaction: that’s bad, because a good instructor can gauge where/how a class is going by the interest shown in the attendee’s eyes–you can’t do that online.

With an upcoming online workshop on Writing Regency Set Novels that I’m teaching for Lowcountry Romance Writers this August, and one on Show And Tell: An Interactive Workshop, for OCC RWA chapter in September, I’ve been thinking about things that attendees can do to make the class more interesting–and to get more from the workshop.

1-Participate. In every online workshop, there are the lurkers, the participants who don’t participate. I’ve been one of them more than once. There are a hundred reasons to lurk in the electronic shadows, including lack of time, however, I’ve always gotten more out of the workshops where I’ve participated. This may mean trying some writing exercises, or just asking questions.

2-Ask questions to the group. Each workshop there’s at least one person who wants to communicate outside the workshop. As the instructor, I can’t do that–everyone benefits from every question and every answer. So ask those dumb questions to the group.

3-Stay on topic. This one’s hard. In a classroom, it’s easy to get off topic and to bring the workshop back on topic. These side branches can be useful. But online, getting off topic tends to snowball into anarchy. If you have a question that’s off topic, preface this so that you let everyone know you’re aware this may be off topic. Or find a way that it fits into the overall workshop theme and structure. Do keep in mind that you signed up specifically to get information on the workshop topic.

4-Follow the structure. This one’s very difficult. Online is a great equalizer–meaning it’s too easy to ignore posting guidelines, and to start side conversations, and to wander off on your own path. Unfortunately, if you do this in an online workshop, you take the workshop with you — meaning you’re missing out on what the instructor had planned. And remember you can always ask questions about how flexible the structure is to help you get the information you need.

5-Let the Instructor instruct. Side comments can be a great way to participate, but again, if you hijack the workshop away from the instructor, chances are you’re going to miss out on the benefits the instructor might be able to give you of that person’s experience and knowledge.

6-Give good feedback. If something clicks for you, don’t forget to post the “ah ha” moment. That may help someone else and will help the instructor.

7-Keep asking questions. If something doesn’t click for you, look to rephrase the question and try again. Provide more detailed information in follow ups. Communication online can be tricky since you don’t have someone’s face and body language to read–you just have words. This is good in that we’re supposed to be writers–we’re supposed to communicate. But we also have to always check back with our words to see if what we intended made it onto the page.

Whenever I take an online class, I try to follow the above guidelines–I don’t always succeed. Sometimes the workshop assignments seem more work than I’m willing to tackle at that moment. Sometimes I just feel like hanging back.

But I know that I get back from any workshop what I put in–that includes the workshops that I teach. And I figure if I get one gold nugget of information, I’m that much a better writer.

As an instructor, I love the attendees who contribute ideas, and comments, and who participate. They make the workshop more interesting for me as well as for others. And I have to keep reminding myself when I take a workshop to be that brave soul who steps up and participates fully, instead of being the lurking writer who likes to sit back and observe.

Managing POV

Years ago, I was lucky enough to have Jo Beverley judge one of my manuscripts in a contest. Her one comment stuck with me–learn to control viewpoint and you’ll sell. She was right. Now, I’d already tightened up a lot of other craft technique, but viewpoint was a place where I went a bit fuzzy. I wasn’t even aware how much it slipped, but it made me take a really hard look at viewpoint—and to start practicing the habit of only changing viewpoint when I absolutely needed to be in someone else’s POV. This let me cut a lot of the deadwood out of my stories, making them tighter and stronger.

Since then, I’ve since seen a lot of the same old habit I had in contests entries. It’s like something most writers have to go through. And I’ve noticed that viewpoint control actually impacts a whole bunch of other things.

Tighter viewpoint control picks up the pacing. It forces you to show more and tell less (you can’t keep slipping in and out of omniscient POV). Tight control improves characterization, brings in more emotion, and you get a much better story. The reader also tends to be less confused, and becomes more engaged by the character—spending time with anyone (even a character) is a good way to get to know and like that person.

Yet, this is a place where a lot of folks seem to want to be a little loosey-goosey. Folks will say, “But I like to switch POV.” And, yes, switching is fine, but if you’re not doing it for a reason, you may be killing the best parts of your scene. This is where a little more discipline and a little less seat of the pants can help.

And first person viewpoint can help a writer lean a lot. I’ve written a lot of stories in first person, and I still use this technique for scenes that are giving me trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I love third person, but first person is a great way to learn more control. It’s also sometimes the best way to tell a story. But watch using several first persons in a story, that can be tiresome and confusing to a reader unless there are large chunks of time with each character.

With the contest entries I read, I also sometimes get the feeling that some writers may not be aware of what are the viewpoint options. And how do they tighten their control of these.  Managing POV is an important technique to learn, and master.

Viewpoint control is like any other writing technique.  It’s one you have to think about, study, and practice. Once you get really good at it, you can put it in your hip pocket and forget about it—until it comes time to edit and fix problems. And then you need to get back to basics.

I’m doing a workshop on Managing Viewpoint with Savvy Authors this month. Hopefully, this will help folks pick up a few more tips and techniques to bring out the best in their scenes, stories, and characters.  There are techniques that can help you smooth viewpoint transitions. And there are exercises that will strengthen your control of viewpoint.

Even with first person POV, there are ways to improve your control—you can still slip into omniscient from first person if you’re not careful.

And I’m hoping the workshop will remind me, too, of the basics that I always have to keep in mind to tell a good story.

Writing Workshops – How to ?

A friend recently asked about how to do online writing workshops.  So it seemed a good idea to put down what I’ve learned from teaching writing for about ten years now online.

Writing workshop

I’ve taught both workshop classes and online workshops, and there are some big differences. In person workshops give everyone a lot more interaction—you get to see the faces of the people in the workshop, so you can see if there are blank stares, or if folks are getting it. And those taking the workshop can direct some of the information with immediate questions.

This is not to say you can’t ask questions in an online workshop, but so often the question you send in an email or post to the workshop group might not actually be the question you need answered. Communication is an art. But that’s one of the advantages of online—you have to write down your questions, and your assignments.

I’m a big believer in assignments, or exercises. I like the interaction it spawns—when you’re teaching, you get to see if folks are really getting the information, or not. And there’s nothing like practical application to stretch your writing skills.

I also think it’s great to try new things—I like to do that with my own writing skills, just to keep them sharp, and to make sure I keep learning.

Which is a big part of teaching workshops—everyone learns, the instructor included, in a great workshop. There’s an exchange of ideas, approaches, and information. To me, a bad workshop—either online or in person—is one where that exchange, for whatever reason, doesn’t happen.  If students don’t put in, or give back, to the workshop, the whole thing becomes a dull experience—for everyone.

This means the best online workshops have a mix of participants—a few who ask tons of questions, do every exercise several times, and basically throw themselves into it, a few who do some of the assignements, but basically absorb the information, and then a few who lurk, pulling in the bits of information they need.  In person, you often have this same mix, but online, it’s somehow stands out more.

As to structure, the beauty of online is the flexibility. With an in-person workshop, there’s always the limitation of distance and time—the workshop has to be close enough to get to, and it can only last for as long as the room is available. While online workshops always have some time element to them—as in they might last a week, or two, or even a month—that’s more than enough time to cover the subject matter and allow for lots of participation. Time is extended, and since the room is a virtual one, there’s no worrying about ‘driving’ to get to the workshop—or about being late. That’s a luxury for me, too, since I can logon at any time to see questions, post a lecture, or add notes.

I’m also now developing books to go with the workshops—one of the things I’ve found is that folks want to keep and refer back to the material, and with ebooks becoming so popular, it’s going to be easy enough to have ebooks with the material available for those who would like them.  I know I’ve several writing books on my shelves and I refer back to them when I need a refresher course back—that’s what the books will do, and they’ll be a logical extension of the course.

The one thing I’m always trying to get write, too, is the amount of information taught. It’s great to have a workshop with lots of great info, but I’ve taken ones where the information is just too much—I can’t absorb it. Too little information and I start to wonder what I’m doing in that workshop. But the balance is a tricky issue in that what’s too much for one person might be just right for the next. And there’s always the experience issue.

When I taught horseback riding, you’d find great teachers who had gone past the ability to teach beginners. They no longer had the patience for beginners—and they also had been doing this for so long that what seemed obvious to them wasn’t obvious.  The level of experience a writer has can be a big impact in any class—online or in person.  A workshop has to be able to bring the least experienced writer forward with the class—but it cannot drag so much that the most experienced writer is bored. That’s a difficult task.

A range of information can help with this—as can good explanations that more experienced writers can skip past but which will help the less experienced writer keep up.

But I’m always looking for ways to improve the workshops I give—I’ve several set up for the rest of this year, and some already booked for next year, too.

So what do you like most in the workshops you’ve taken online? And what could you live without?