Sunday, June 5, 2011


Have you made your notes for Part A first? We need to refer to them here.

So, with your journal at hand, it is time to engage your Imagination. Let us proceed.


Let us create a Setting in which to anchor your story, using the details you recorded in Part A.

Draw on the most vivid images from your 3 real places, create a new physical environment. Keep the real details that were so significant to you. E.g. the texture of bricks, shadows across the lawn, flies buzzing on bins at fisherman's wharf, and those other remembered details you noted in Part A. At this point concentrate on building a  world which is a composite of the real places you know.

Remember, as much as it might appear to the contrary, there is no paradise.

Next, refer to your notes for 1b) and 1c). Make this a world that engages the senses and has a profound emotional effect on you. Make this a place of contradictions, where conflict and tension can flourish.

Add a dash of colour, lashings of imagination and mould your setting into shape.


Since our time is limited and characterization is a huge subject, consult your lists and create just two characters from a composite of the people you recorded. One positive and one negative
Because noone is all good or all bad, add a negative trait/attitude/habit to your hero and a positive trait/attitude/habit to your villain. [The hero's flaw could even prove to be his salvation, and the good trait could be the villain's undoing.]

Include those details that most pleased or offended you. This is so  the reader can gain the same sensory perception, and experience the same emotional reaction to your new characters, as you do. (See the Wow Factor below). 

Give your characters occupations and/or talents you are familiar with, or create occupations from what you know, so you can write from experience and make it real.

So, you have created two characters whose paths are about to cross in your imaginary world. Are they strangers or are they known to each other?

Now we need to create a situation to bring them together in conflict, for the duration of the short story or novel.

3. PLOT.
i.e. The storyline, the sequence of events that happen -- from the goal at the beginning  through conflict and crises to the climax and resolution at the end.

Drawing on the situations you recorded in Part A, conjure a problematic scenario from several of them. Use that unexpected visit, that nightmare and/or dramatic news item or overheard conversation etc. Let you imagination run riot. Ask 'what if?' 

Since you already know the outcome in each case, from Part A, you can devise a new beginning, middle and end for your composite plot.

Add twists and the unexpected, to shock or surprise the reader, especially if it comes from something you know and they do not. In other words, create an original plot from your unique experience of the world

Above all, remember that 'problem' / 'goal' is the backbone of stories.

Place your characters in your setting and launch them into the your plot.
From their traits, give both of your characters strong motivation to move forward.

What does the hero want? Why can't he have it? What must he do to succeed?
What does the villain want? Why can't he get it? What must he do to succeed?

To me, this is the emotional response we create in the reader.  By adding your emotions and drawing on the senses, which you did earlier, you have already added the 'Wow Factor'.

You may not know what it's like to be that kidnap victim in the News, but you may have been locked in detention at school. We all know the frustration of being delayed when you should be elsewhere. We all know the fear when faced with a dental appointment and the anxiety when children are late home. Apply these emotions to your kidnap victim. You are actually unlocking universal emotions, but your characters will react in ways unique to you.

Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry, make 'em mad or make em' sigh, but make the reader react.  Hit a nerve common to us all and the reader will draw on his/her own experience and do the rest. 

If you get goosebumps or cry or laugh out loud while you are writing, there is a good chance the reader will too.

5. YOUR PREMISE, or 'story in a nutshell', results from your plot.

When______happens to_____, he/she must_____or face_____.


My example.
A time travelling mission lands a modern Swiss youth in the age of Wilhelm Tell, where alchemy, magic and religion co-exist. He must face his own demons and those of medieval Switzerland before he can outwit a shape shifting sibyl and an evil knight who are determined he won't leave the fourteenth century alive.

Footnote: Story is not Plot. One story can be retold through many different plots. Consider the Cinderella story and its many versions– my favourite is The Slipper and the Rose. (movie with Richard Chamberlain). 
Story = the idea, the general theme. Think of the proverbs. e.g. He who hesitates is lost. 

My example of Story:
The Unhewn Stone is about one youth's quest to make a difference.
When you attempt to change history, be prepared for the change in yourself.

Would you like to share aspects of your setting, characters and plot? Or have you worked out your premise already? I'd love to see the magic you weave.

(Of course you can research all aspects of your setting, characters and storyline, but here I am attempting to show you the richness that comes from drawing on what you know).

Thank you so much for dropping by. I'll see you later today. I'll keep popping back during the month to see more of your shared results.


Nan D Arnold said...

Love your "story in a nutshell" formula. This would be great to follow for anyone pitching at a conference. Or, just explaining to the spouse when asked. "What's it about?" Kudos.

Lisa Forget said...

Thank you so much for both part A and B of your workshop!

I'm saving both for future reference and look forward to applying the points made in your posts to my wips and future stories!!

What wonderful and clearly detailed advice!!

:) Lisa

Arlene said...

Great advise and details, explained well. Thanks for sharing this workshop with us.

jabberingjo said...

Wendy you are presenting a great workshop. I am saving it to work on soon.I really needed this and the one a couple of days ago about the character wheel. I've been having trouble with my sequel to Jeri Bittle. I need a villain.

Jenna Storm said...

Great post Wendy. You give a lot of details for creating scenes that grab readers. I appreciate it. My story that will be released from Muse in March 2012 draws on the idea that the past repeats itself and my characters are given a second chance to succeed where they had lost.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Hmmm...I see you're not letting us off the hook. You're going to keep coming back to check that we're doing this...
Many, many thanks. Wonderful workshop. I shall use it often.

JerryR said...

Wendy, Thanks for sharing this. btw, I missed the character wheel post. Would it be possible for you to send a copy to my email?
Also, did you want us to post our own examples here or just general comments?


Wendy said...

Hi Nan,
Lovely to see you here. You'll find more on that premise formula at

Wendy said...

Thank you Lisa and Arlene.
I'm so glad you find this workshop useful.

It is 6:00an in Australia so I do have an excuse for being late with my replies. Neverless, I am sorry. Will be here from now on.

Wendy said...

Hi Joan,
So you need a villain. Great! Are you going to work on one today? From a composite of people you know (Part A) and don't forget to give him/her a positive trait as well. The link to Holy Lisle's 'traits' is clearer now (Part A). They might remind you of people you know.
I do hope you'll share your villain in progress with us.

Wendy said...

Thank you Jenna,
I like your premise. It suggests this will be a story based on strong emotions and moral conflict.
What if they get it wrong this time? Second chances hold great responsibilities. Sounds great. March will be here before you know it. :)

Wendy said...

You are right, I will be coming back through June in case writers wish to share their endeavours. I suspect you won't have time though, You'll be too busy editing, :)
Seriously though I hope you find time for your own writing and thank you for your support.

Wendy said...

Hey Jerry,
great to see you here.
Firstly, Barbara E did the workshop with the character wheel. You'll find it on Muse blog 2nd June "Developing Characters". Just scroll down through 'older posts'.

I would love it if you all posted your examples here. Let's bring those real places, people and situations into their fictional life. I'd love for you to share that.

Christopher Hoare said...

A lot to think about, Wendy. My writing process is different to the one you outline here, but some of the details you present deserve more attention.

Thanks for a well constructed and thought provoking workshop.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Wendy, I am filling my new note book with jottings.
I have notes on a perfect whale watching trip that is engraved in my memory, now combined with the story I have been told of a squall that hit a tall ship my son was sailing on.
The combination of events one primary and one secondary have begun to create a story.
A lot of 'what if' ideas are getting thrown in.

The plot so far goes; When radio warning of the sqall reaches the whale watching vessel, those aboard must either run to the harbour, risking the engines and safety of the boat they are on or batten down and ride out the squall.

Now for some characters to go with the story.

Thanks Wendy. This is not only a great means of plotting and learning how to add the WOW factor, it is really a lot of fun.

Wendy said...

Hi Christopher,
I'm so glad you find this workshop thought provoking.

'Write what you know' tends to creep into our writing whether intentionally or not because writers are so good at honing in on details other people might miss.

It is lovely of you to be here. I really appreciate your positive feedback. Thank you.

Charlie said...

Thanks for the great workshop Wendy. I really enjoyed doing the exercizes. I'd love to respost this on my blog sometime if you wouldn't mind. Such great information. Good luck with your YA in August. We'd love to have you join us in our MG/YA blog fest in September.
C.K. Volnek

Wendy said...

Hi Rosalie,
Thank you for sharing your example here.

You have a terrific premise already, and lots of rich detail of what you know to drawn on.

Your premise suggests lots of suspense, danger, and conflict among the characters on board. I think we will see some very strong willed people in this story, in action and probably in opposition.

You promise us a vivid setting and whales (I hope we'll see the whales. Your premise raises lots of questions to draw the reader in. Which decision is the right one? Will the passengers agree? How will they react? Will they survive? How competent is the captain?

When will this story be ready to read? Soon I hope.:)

Wendy said...

Hi Charlie,
Thank you for being here. It's pleasing to hear you have enjoyed the exercises. Did you come up with a premise you can shar, here? I'd love to see it.

What a lovely compliment. Thank you. I'd like to be part of your blogfest in September. Maybe I could bring this workshop along with me then. Would that work?

Priyanka said...

Is it essential that we have a villain in a story? If we have a very flawed hero isn't it enough? What I mean is if the hero is impulsive, aggressive etc which prompt him to make mistakes and do silly things isn;t it enough?

Wendy said...

Hi Priyanka,
That's a very good question. Yes, there is the type of plot where a separate villain is not essential, when you have a hero, or main character, like the one you mentioned.
This is the Man versus Self plot, where his/her goal is hindered by something in his own nature, instead of a villain or Mother Nature placing obstacles in his way.

This character has an internal struggle as well as external problems he probably created by his behaviour or attitude. His choices might be limited by his strong moral values or he could be his own worst enemy, forced to face his own demons.

I think 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is a good example and 'Richard III'. I'm sure there must be better examples.

Impulsive, aggressive behaviour that leads him into trouble could work, but I think you'd need more than mistakes and silly behaviour to create the full impact. Something has to be at stake which is threatened by his behaviour, conditioning or beliefs.
He/she still needs a goal/dilemma to struggle towards or against.

Do you want the reader to love him or hate him? Should we hope for his redemption or hope he meets his nemesis? Does he gain the whole world but lose his own soul, or does he turn his life around and thus achieve his goal?

This is a character you'd need to know very well.

I hope that answers you question, Priyanka. Thank you for participating.

Anonymous said...

Loved the clear short premise line. Nice workshop Wendy! You've offered a lot for consideration, I'm enjoying it.

Wendy said...

Hi Kay Dee!
Lovely to know you are here. So glad you are enjoying the workshop. Thank you

M. L. Archer said...

Loved it!

Wendy said...

Well I love you for saying so. Thank you M.L. :)