Writers Workshop – “Lions, Witches, and Wardrobes…”

The Hampton Roads Writers Group offers a monthly workshop through The Traveling Pen Series.  I was fortunate to be able to attend Saturday’s session – “Lions, Witches and Wardrobes…Oh, My! – Writing Paranormal and Fantasy” presented by YA and Paranormal Author, Vanessa Barger.  The 2 1/2 hour workshop was $20 for non-members ($10 for members) but was well worth the price.

As a writer of young adult fiction, I am always looking for fresh ideas.  Nothing against vampires and werewolves, mind you, but in my humble opinion, they are a bit overdone.  Barger presented each participant with a mythical creature, complete with the general description and instructed us to make the creature our own.  I received a Wendigo.  For those unfamiliar with this beast, he appears in Algonquian legends and seems to discourage cannibalism (apparently, those individuals who consumed human flesh were at risk for turning into the monster).  For the exercise, I decided that my wendigo would indeed eat people but only those that were evil and needed to be eaten…  He/She would prefer to live in solitude, in order to minimize chance encounters with said evil people.  Just by changing a couple of details, the possibility of a new story emerged.

Downtown, Suffolk, VA
Suffolk, VA

As the workshop ended at noon, my husband and I drove over to Suffolk, VA. We visited the downtown area and had some amazing she-crab soup at a little place called The Baron’s Pub and Restaurant.

With the sun shining and a nice breeze, we did a little sightseeing.

This particular church caught my eye.  I love the windows and the ornamental details.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what stories this church would tell if it could only talk…

Making Our Make-Believe Believable

I’ll admit it. As a child, I saw monsters in the bathroom and heard wild animals outside my bedroom window. I loved watching Scooby-Doo on Saturday mornings and as I laid in bed on Saturday night, I was sure that a goblin or witch was hiding in my closet or under the bed. Some might say I had an overactive imagination. Others might think I still do.

Imagination is the portal that carries us to other places – whether an imaginary realm, a fictional city, or a table at your favorite café. It introduces us to characters – knights, fairies, detectives, and the girl next door.

As writers, we want to tell stories that our readers will want to believe. Just as the laws of nature are constant in the real world, we must set rules and parameters for our fictional world and we must hold true to those rules. Those rules will serve as a sort of litmus test when considering the actions of our characters and the elements of the setting. It is the consistency of the story’s components that makes it work.

Character assessments are critical. Each writer has their own way of learning about the characters in their story. Some may draw character webs. Others may interview the characters. The important thing is to use the information as building blocks during development and as a reminder of the character’s attributes as the story progresses. For example: If I’m writing about a middle-aged woman named Rose who is an activist with the anti-gun lobby and the only witness to a mob hit, I’m probably not going to have her choose to carry a gun. Why? Because I’m not sure that’s believable. Would Rose be comfortable toting a Glock in her handbag? Would she know how to load the weapon? Or how to use it? Maybe not. However, I might give Rose a can of pepper spray. She may choose to wear a pair of good running shoes or hire a body-guard.

We can apply the same reasoning to our imaginary places. If the leaves of a great oak tree are purple then they should stay purple. If an ogre is immune to magic, than no matter how tempting, the ogre should stay immune.

By obeying the rules we’ve set, we enable our story to progress. Ignoring the rules will cause our stories to stray into the unbelievable.