The day started out with plans of its own unbeknown to me. The first thing I needed to do was to help my husband pick up a chair somewhere. As we were walking out the door, I grabbed the weekly newspaper to read in the car.
We had gone about a mile when I asked him, "What's today?" He replied it was Augsut 6th, to which I replied, "Shoot!"
The paper had an article stating that the former head writer of All My Children and other soap operas was going to be giving a workshop on the Art of Storytelling in Colebrook 10-12.
I was thinking maybe I could go late. My loving husband suggested we turn around and get two cars so after we were done loading the chair into the truck, that I could go on my way. And so I did although I had planned on a shower after the chair moving and now there was no time for that.
Now this is going to jump from topic to topic...
The Rock School House
First, the venue was the Rock School house in Colebrook. This historic building will be part of a restoration project in the future. A variety of old wooden desks became the audience's seats. Some were definitely too small for adults. I did not find mine uncomfortable, surprisingly.
The windows were propped open with wooden sticks and despite the heat and humidity I felt when we were moving the chair, it was a comfortable temperature with a slight breeze coming through the windows in this unusual setting for a speaker.
Soap Opera Writing
I wanted to hear Megan McTavish speak because I like to write and because I've been watching All My Children since 1979 thanks to my daughter's feeding schedule as a baby. I always vowed I would never watch a soap opera, but...As Megan noted, in reality, much of the night time shows now are soap operas for example: Dallas, Twin Peaks, Grey's Anatomy, Hill Street Blues. She feels they caused the death of the day time soap.
I was interested to learn the way they write. Megan was responsible as head writer to first come up with the idea, do a little writing and then present it to the group of breakdown writers. They would work on it and present it to the network. After that it went back to the dialogue writers and then on to production. (This is what my notes tell me and I'm pretty sure that I have it all correct). Despite what people think, it is not all glamor and fun.
I asked her if she ever felt disappointed after seeing something that she had written in its final performance. She described that the writers would take their lunch at 1pm and watch All My Children as it was being aired. She explained one particular disappointment with a couple (Tad & Dixie) that had been on again and off again for years and the viewers just wanted them together. They wrote the wonderful wedding scene and as they watched it unfold on the TV, they sat there with mouths opened. Instead of the romantic vows which they had written, the cameras moved to a couple of other characters and there was a fantasy vampire scene. Evidently the producers thought a wedding was too boring and had the scene changed..the viewers thought otherwise and let them know it. When you string on the viewers for so long, they want to see it. She didn't name names but said there were times that the actors disappointed her. Sometimes they didn't say the lines as written.
Much of the workshop was talking about writing. I will now touch on my notes from that. Those who don't write, can stop here.
Megan's Story Telling Secrets
Number one thing is to care about the characters. Make them living, breathing and realistic. Have a connection with them. The reader is investing in the story. Make the journey worthwhile. It takes time to make a reader care. Don't just declare a fact, dramatize it by events.
Suspense is a key factor too. She quoted her mentor, creator of All My Children, Agnes Nixon, "Make 'em laugh, Make 'em cry, Make 'em WAIT!" She says there should be twists and turns. You lose people with straight lines.
There should be a big pay off. Don't drag someone along the journey without a good pay off. When writing, don't limit yourself. Do mind surfing...explore many different options but not critically or you may lose the creativity. Anything is possible, you just have to figure out how to get the reader there.
Make your story relate-able. You need smaller pay offs along the way to keep them interested. The more they want something, the longer you can make them wait. How big is the "rooting value". How much do they care?
A "rooting value" has to be built. Keep them tuned in with twists and turns--pay offs along the way. If you think something can't work, think how you can make it work. Build your investment. Decide your own "rooting value."
Megan suggested seeing the characters in your head. Notice people in real life. Your character is a stranger to the audience. What do you want them to know about them?
She said to Start Strong. If you get stuck, walk away for a bit or do a "side thing"--write a different chapter or just write a paragraph about one of the characters.
Are you "in it" or "watching it"? The writer and reader should be involved. Another quote by Agnes Nixon, "If you cry when you write it, they will cry when they read it."
One point she wanted to impress was, "Give yourself permission not to write in ink." You can always change it. Get the ideas down and then worry about it.
So, that is how I spent my Saturday morning. I felt like it was an impromptu come as you are party that you drop everything to go to. I'm glad I had this Saturday off from work and my husband's quick thinking of how to get me there. I am very glad that I got the opportunity to listen to Megan McTavish. She is a very interesting and entertaining presenter. I look forward to possible other workshops that she might offer.