We meet up regularly through the year via the Scattered Authors' Society (which I thoroughly recommend joining). In February we meet to talk about business (I've posted about the 2014 meet up here). In November we meet to talk about creativity.
It's a lovely escape from normal life. We spend the three days playing - finding what inspires us or motivates us. We run our own workshops and this year we had:
Jen Alexander unlocking our subconscious to find images that would help us write
Liz Kessler describing the journey of a book that was heavily influenced by music
Jackie Marchant sharing her techniques for world-building
A group of authors being frank about the commercial pressures of writing
Lucy Coats leading us through a meditation
Steve Gladwin encouraging character building through drama
June Crebbin exploring poetry
In between the workshops we had cosy chats by the fire
and plenty of cake.
This year I led a workshop on 'shaping' - it's not quite plotting (because I'm not a detailed plotter) it's more about seeing the arc or structure of a story. I use a picture book approach - setting out 12 spreads for all my books, even longer fiction ones. I find that being forced to select the 12 most important aspects (in terms of emotional plot or action plot) makes me prioritise.
I use a grid spread like this
here in case you want to use it
and I plot out a common book structure on it - so you might have:
Spread 1 Set up – introduce characters
Spread 2 What is the problem?
(think in terms of the practical problem and its emotional effect)
Spread 3-10 The problem grows
Increase to climax
Spread 11 Solution
Spread 12 Satisfying ending
Can have a twist
I find this method helps me see the shape and flow of the book; where the high and low points are, where the character development happens.
Sometimes I find it useful to plot out someone else's book to see their structure. Here is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen plotted out (messily) in 12 spreads:
We end with an evening where we each read aloud from our work and it's fascinating to hear the range of texts, from picture book to novel, and genre, from zombies to romance.
I always work better in winter when the weather is cold so, after the retreat, I'm inside, snuggled up, ready to go.