January 11, 2021 – The 2021 Sierra Writers Conference this February is titled Empowering Voices. With this in mind, the workshop I plan to teach will (hopefully) result in an exploration of how a writer’s unique voice can energize the other story parts to produce the most dynamic version of the narrative in the way only a specific writer can tell it.
When I was writing my fourth YA novel The Possibility of Now, my editor at Scholastic let me know after reading the first draft that she couldn’t quite put her finger on the issue, but that it just didn’t sound enough like, well, Kim. She wanted more Kim-ness in the rewrite. It was interesting to talk with both her and my agent about what this might mean. What made my work Kim-ish? My agent felt it was a certain blend of heart and humor; my editor believed my sentences needed more of my usual wry observational shape. (I love this, by the way – the idea that my sentences have a certain shape to them that a reader might want or expect). They weren’t wrong. The manuscript was lacking a certain Kim-ness. I made sure to focus on voice for its next overhaul.
Still, voice is a tricky concept in writing. With my own work, this focus on voice most often begins with my characters, with how they see the world, how they notice things, how they interact with their environments and other people, and also with how they live in their specific bodies, exploring what they want/love/fear. These elements work themselves into the anatomy of the sentences so that, in a way that is tough to pin down and feels a bit like magic, a specific voice emerges. My voice – through them. It’s complex. When I work with my students and private manuscript clients, we spend a great deal of time considering the people who populate the world of a specific book project – their motivations, desires, obstacles, etc. in relationship to their immediate and larger worlds. In the Sierra Writers workshop in February, I hope to explore this intersection between character, world-building, and the unique voice this creates in a fiction or nonfiction piece.
So, perhaps the key word for the workshop should be intersection: in fiction, we often break things into parts (this is necessary and good); we talk about voice, character, setting, theme, conflict, etc. and it is important to look at each of these parts independently in a story; however, it is how these things interact that create the story’s ultimate impact for a reader. Think about baking cookies: the ingredients matter, but the cookie becomes the cookie when excellent ingredients are mixed together and baked to perfection. Yes, I’m giving you cookie metaphors. It’s the holiday season while I write this; I can’t help myself.
So, the primary focus for my Sierra Writers workshop will be about how we, as authors, consider how the parts of a story interrelate with each other to create a crisp, interesting narrative. How, for example, does the setting of a certain scene (a café maybe?) change the way two characters interact? What if you changed that setting to a living room, moving them from a public to a private environment? Would that better serve the story? How might weather influence a scene? Or a character’s specific mood on a specific day? Or, we might consider how giving the story a humorous tone versus a serious one changes the way the story lands for its readers. In the workshop, we will do a number of exercises and look at some examples of scenes that zero in on this intersection between voice, character, and world-building. Ideally, we will do this in a way that helps writers investigate their own Bob-ness or Kate-ness or George-ness that makes their work uniquely their own.
I hope to see you at the conference!
Description of Kim’s workshop:
The World You Build for Them
The people who populate the world of your story matter. Through each of them, you, as author, have an opportunity to amplify your unique voice. In this workshop, we will explore how your characters, both primary and secondary, work together to enrich your story. We’ll study examples and do exercises that target the intersection between character, voice, and world-building to amplify each important element for your fiction or nonfiction piece.
For more information about Kim, or to see if any of her classes or private manuscript consulting might be a good fit for you, please visit her website: kimculbertson.com.
Sierra Writers Conference (virtual) 2021 – https://sierrawritersconference.org/
February 5th & 6th
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.