Tag Archives: Writers retreat

Mess’em Up!

One of the things I’ve noticed over time in teaching character at Full Sail University, at Writers Conferences and at other assorted writer functions where I read and give feedback or otherwise comments on a writer’s work, is that writers are often afraid to mess with or mess up their protagonists. And while I haven’t made any sort of exhaustive study, I think this stems from writers falling in love with the characters we create.

That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t like them. I think one of those aspects of good characters that is often overlooked is that we want audiences to like our heroes or protagonists. But when you, as the author, fall too deeply in love with your own creation, you don’t want to do anything to “mess” with them.

And yet, my rallying cry to writers has always been “mess’em up!”

Readers aren’t interested in perfect or near perfect characters. They don’t want to read about characters who have perfect lives. Oh sure, there’s often some fairy tale sort of aspect involved, but even those characters—the good/interesting ones, that is—are messed up in some way.

So…it’s our job as writers to mess’em up.

This can come in assorted ways. You can mess them up emotionally—that’s always interesting. We like to watch characters like Monk, or Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. And even though he isn’t the “hero,” Hannibal Lecter is one messed’up dude and we can’t help but be interested in the story surrounding him.

You can mess them up physically; physical handicaps or deformities—while it may not exactly be politically correct to say so—are things that draw our curiosity and interest. We want to see how a character like this overcomes his challenges…and then be thankful for our own blessings.

Regardless of what you decide to do with your protagonist, you’ve got to give them some challenges to overcome. And not just as your story. The plot of your story should present a challenge, of course, but if your character has an additional personal something they must overcome WHILE overcoming the obstacle your story has presented, we’ll be far more interested to see what they do.

Now…go mess up your characters!

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The 2nd Spring Creative Writers Retreat

The Second annual Spring Creative Writers Retreat was held at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott, Arkansas. Once again, I was honored to serve as the mentor/instructor. This marks my fifth year to be involved as a mentor/instructor. As always, it was an incredible experience.

Some have asked how I got involved with a Writers Retreat in farming country Arkansas. Well, I’ll tell ya! When I moved to Piggott to become editor of the then Piggott Times, I worked hard to get to know the people I didn’t already know. Keep in mind, my family has been there for 150 years and has a long history there so I’m kin to about one-third of the folks there. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I know how I think it did: Deana Dismukes, who was then the Center’s administrator, had been delivering press releases to me. The summer of 2007, she asked me to come up and talk to the writers at the retreat. It was in the 5th or 6th year. She bribed me with lunch…and so I went. I did a story for the paper on the retreat and the writers there.

Then, in 2008, after I’d moved to Oxpatch, Deana asked me to come be the assistant mentor for the week long summer session. It seemed the mentor who’d help get it all started, Dr. Rob Lamm, had responsibilities elsewhere and his assistant was stepping up. I gladly accepted!

The retreats were so popular with the writers they demanded a Fall version. Thus, that November, a three-day Fall retreat saw its inaugural session with me as the only mentor. The others had regularly scheduled school responsibilities and I was available! The next year, 2009, the Fall retreat expanded to a weeklong event. Last year, 2011, writers demanded a Spring retreat. It was—and still is—a three day event. I’m honored to have been the only mentor at all of the Fall and Spring Retreats, and I love to see the continual flow of new writers coming to get some of Hemingway’s ambiance (he wrote parts of Farewell to Arms in the barn studio there on the grounds).

Generally, I give the writers a mini-lecture followed by writing exercises both in the morning and then after lunch. Many of them come with projects they’re working on (like novels) and just want some time to get away and write! I know of about three novels that have been at least partially finished—or at least worked on—while at the retreat.

This year was no exception with a slightly smaller—but no less talented group. Pictured are: front (l-r) Dr. Adam Long – Associate Director for the Museum and Ed. Center, me, Mary Lou Moran; back (l-r), John Achor, Shannon Richards, Linda Wyss, Jane Gatewood, Jerry Davis. Not pictured are Anne Winchester and Brett Thielemier.

If you’ve ever considered a retreat, let me encourage you to consider the Creative Writers Retreats at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center. I don’t think you’ll regret it. Tell’em Roland sent ya!

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Retreating Writers

For the second year in a row, I had the incredible pleasure of mentoring/instructing a very talented group of retreating writers at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott, Ark. Part of the ASU system, HPMEC has had success with the writer retreats as this past summer was the 7th Annual, and the one just finished was the 2nd Annual Fall Retreat.

But the writers weren’t actually “retreating,” at least not in the military sense. In fact, they were very much advancing, taking full advantage of the beautiful Fall weather on the HPMEC grounds, which features a “barn studio” where Ernest Hemingway penned parts of A Farewell to Arms. Catered to by Deanna Dismukes and the staff, the writers are able to spend the entire week focused on writing, whether that be finishing a project, trying new ideas, or searching for an elusive muse. What a cool idea.

The neat thing is that the writers came from all over the state of Arkansas and Missouri just to spend the week writing. Some of them know each other from other writing groups, some were first timers, and some were even first-time writers. But they were all treated equally.

So what is it we actually do at the retreat? Each morning begins with a writing exercise, something with the intention of loosing up the writing muscles. Writers aren’t required to do the exercises—they can immediately tackle whatever project they want to tackle—but most end up participating in them each day. At lunch the morning exercise work is read, and often (though not every day), an afternoon writing exercise is given. Again, the main purpose is to hopefully inspire creativity for the writers. Those exercises are they read by the writers before the group leaves for the afternoon.

At the end of the week, the writers turn in those exercises along with other writings they’ve chosen, and a special Retreat Anthology is created. I’m the lucky owner of two thus far and I’ve enjoyed the works in both. I’m looking forward to receiving the one just created.

The picture was taken in the barn studio—that’s Hemingway’s typewriter (or rather, one of them) in the bottom right of the picture. From L-R; bottom to top: me, Ethan Baker, Bob Jones (looking a little like he’s channeling Hemingway), Wanda Jones (red), Linda Wyss, Monica Moore, Chris Henderson (who’s commented on some of my blog posts in the past), Carol Griffin, Rita Dortch, Joseph Hargrave, Pat Laster, Phyllis Rhodes and Elizabeth Foster.

On Friday, Faye Williams Jones signed copies of her new release: Erasing People. It can be ordered online here! Though tired and ready to get back home, I think many of the writers—like me—hated to see the week come to an end.

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Attending Cons, Conferences and Workshops

Today and tomorrow I will attend the Fourth Annual American Christian Writers Conference in Memphis, TN. Although I will be a GF (General Flunkie) at this year’s conference, I’ll still get to be in a creative environment and am betting I’ll be chomping at the bits to get to my keyboard. So, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on Conferences, Conventions and workshops.

One of the things I’ve had to learn to do is tell the difference in Conferences, Conventions and Workshops. In the comic industry, just about everything professionals attend is called a “convention,” or “con” for short. For instance, the Mid-South Con is a comic/science fiction gathering in Memphis. Generally, it’s a place where fans and readers can go to meet their favorite authors and artists, have their books signed by them, chat with them, and sit in on panel discussions with them. Game designers and publishers are also often found at “cons.” Mid-South Con even has a Writer’s Conference scheduled to take place at the same time. That part of the Mid-South Con will be devoted to workshops with writers and such, although that’s a bit of a rarity in science-fiction and comic conventions. Not a rarity at these kinds of shows is usually a pretty large “dealer’s room” where fans can buy up all sorts of collectible goodies.

A Writer’s Conference is only slightly different. Generally they are geared specifically to writers, or more specifically, to wannabe writers. The guest list at a conference usually includes well known authors, editors and agents. Wannabe writers then vie for their attention to show them they’re the next greatest thing since white bread. Often, it’s the one place where writers can actually meet editors and agents face to face…that is, if they’re not hiding out. Writer conferences usually have a wide variety of sessions intended to help the fledgling writers improve their craft. They often cover such basic things as plot and character, and they also get into more developed ideas such as police procedural in fiction. I sat in on one of the latter ones which was led/taught by a policeman who also happened to be a writer. And no, I’ve never seen a session on comic storytelling or scripting. And yes, I’ve offered to lead them here and there. Most of the responses have been the organizers don’t see a “need” for that kind of session. They may be right…but I’d still like to lead one.

Workshops are geared to the very specific development of writers. Essentially, “workshops” is the writing industry’s way of saying “class,” because that’s essentially what the sessions are. And they run the gamut, too, from very short 50 minute sessions to all day sessions, to those that take place over longer periods.

A writers retreat is also a slightly different beast. These are intended to get the writer away from all the disturbances of the regular work environment and isolate them in such a way that their main focus is simply…to write! After all, that’s what writers should be doing…writing!

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