Today, Sydney Smith, author of The Lost Woman, visits Pilyara to talk about her love for plotting and structure. I attended one of Sydney’s masterclasses last year and cannot speak highly enough about her talents as a writing teacher. And now, it’s over to Sydney …
“Plotting and structure are two of my favourite aspects of narrative. I play plotting games with several of my writing friends, where we think up new and amusingly outlandish – or movingly dramatic – things for their characters to get up to. At the moment, I am writing a romantic comedy thriller called GUNS AND ANGELS, which arose out of one of these plotting games.
I have found over the years, both as a writer and as a reader, that certain things must be present if a plot is to involve the audience and create the forward momentum and dramatic highs that readers love. When a writer uses them, their story leaps off the page in a way it hadn’t before. It has a new energy, a new drive, a new depth. Writers feel it as we discuss these principles and how they relate to their particular story. I can see them feeling it – they write copious notes as we talk.
While I teach certain principles of plotting and structure, and give examples from the texts I set, my aim is always to show people how they relate to their own particular writing project. My approach is always hands-on. Theory is important, but theory only makes sense to me, and is most useful to the writer, when I show it in action in the writer’s own work.
Some writers come to me because they are stuck with their novel or memoir and don’t know how to unstick themselves. It is one of my most exhilarating tasks as a teacher to help them find ways to unstick themselves. This nearly always happens – either in class or in the one-on-one interview that is part of the package when people apply for one of my classes. The reason it nearly always happens is because the block the writer experiences has something to do with their plot and how character shapes plot. On the rare occasion that a writer can’t work through the block, it’s because the block lies somewhere outside the imagination. As long as the block lies within the imagination, it is related to plot or to character in their relationship to plot, and yields to the kind of attention the writer and I bring to it.
I am interested in good story. I accept writers of commercial and literary narrative in my classes because my focus is on good story – how to create it, how to maintain it. I can help people who have written a draft or two of their novel or memoir, and I can help people who have a few ideas about the story they want to write but haven’t put much on the page yet. The only requirement is that they have a fair amount of experience as a writer already. My classes are full-on. Participants will benefit most when they have some writing experience under that belt. But since the criteria for this can vary from writer to writer, I put in place a selection process so that I can judge who will be able to make the most of my class.”
Thank you, Sydney. You are indeed a master plotter. I can’t wait for your next book! For those interested, Sydney’s next masterclass will be held in Melbourne 25th – 27th January. For more information you can contact her at email@example.com.
Thanks for this post. I read it to see if I could glean yet another Sydney Smith-inspired epiphany!
She’s good, isn’t she!
I know I must keep learning, but it is hard when you live in regional areas to get to the city for such classes. I have tried some online classes and they are…well…sometimes good, somtimes not so… I love your writing Jen, so whatever you are doing, keep doing it. Nice to know about you and your courses, Sydney
Yes, it can be hard for country writers. Sydney was thinking of doing some regional workshops. Maybe your comment will spur her on to try it? I have friends and family in Melbourne with whom I stayed during the masterclass.