The annual Chuckanut Writers Conference takes place this year from Thursday to Saturday, June 23-25. And I’m teaching. Or actually, Sara’s teaching. But I’ll be there too. I don’t do much teaching these days and I miss it, so I’m looking forward to this.
What I’m teaching
Ventriloquism on the Page
Master Class with Sara Donati
Thursday 1:00-4:00 pm
In the late eighteenth century a performer appearing on a London stage advertised his act as a curious discussion between himself and Little Tommy, an invisible friend. The performer was Joseph Askins, who was to become one of the earliest popular stage ventriloquists. Askins didn’t have a puppet called Tommy sitting on his knee. Instead he convinced his audience that he was having a conversation with a personality separate and distinct from his own, sitting just out of sight. He did this by throwing his voice.
In creating characters, the writer must throw her voice. If she does her job well enough the reader suspends disbelief and accepts the many voices on the page as distinct beings separate from each other and the author herself. In this master class for intermediate to advanced writers, we will look at what goes into our kind of ventriloquism. Before you can throw a character’s voice, you have to be able to hear the character, and characters are not always forthcoming. We’ll be considering a couple ways to make reluctant or shy characters speak up, and we’ll experiment with throwing them.
Tell Me Who You Are: From Photo to Backstory
Some writers will tell you that everything begins with character. If you have built strong characters, this theory goes, you can set them free to interact on the page and a story will construct itself. Except readers want story. It’s the most important thing, the reason they pick up the book to start with. If you don’t have a story to tell, you’ll lose that reader very quickly. Character and story are equally important, I would claim, and you can’t develop one without the other. We’ll start with a series of photographs I bring with me, and we’ll talk about what we see in a given face. In short writing periods, we’ll construct very short backstories for each of the faces, and then ask volunteers to share what they’ve come up with. Some exciting and unexpected characterizations have come out of this exercise, often times in ways that surprise the writer him or herself. We’ll have time for five or six backstory writing prompts, but you will go away with a dozen new characters in your head.
There are a lot of interesting sessions this year, so please have a look. If you have questions about my two classes, I’ll do my best to answer them.