Beyond the Margins, a YA writing group consisting of Vermont College MFA alums, gathered this past weekend in Atherton, California at the lovely home of Helen Pyne where we hosted Darcy Pattison, Revision Workshop Guru, who shared her approach to the revision process covered in her book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise.
Among us were Darcy Pattison, workshop leader, Helen Pyne, gracious host, Linden McNeilly, Marsha Morrow, Sharry Wright, Frances Lee Hall, guest Kristin Aker Howell of Hamline, and me, the organizer, Annemarie O’Brien.
Ann Jacobus would have been with us and was greatly missed, but got stuck in New Jersey due to Hurricane Sandy.
Over the three-day workshop Darcy presented quality information and a number of tools for our craft toolbox. We started by identifying what’s at the heart of our stories with a promise that this was sacred ground and the one thing we would not alter in our stories. Everything else in our manuscripts was up for grabs to revise. Next we took a one-sentence-inventory of the action, conflict, and emotion (ACE), in each chapter/scene of our stories. Through this snapshot analysis of ACE we compared the novel that we have on the page with the one we have in our heads to see where the two stories meshed and where there were gaps. Seeing my story scaled down to these crucial story elements gave me a deeper look at my story and pinpointed trouble spots.
At the end of our first day, we looked at three scenes from the movie, Good Will Hunting, to explore pivot points, beats, and tension. The scene that hit home with me the most was “When did you know?” where the professor (Robin Williams) reveals to Will (Matt Damon) when he first fell in love with his wife and knew she was the one.
Any true Red Sox fan would have reacted with the same kind of surprise as Will did when he learned the professor chose to spend time with a woman he had just met instead of heading straight to Fenway Park to watch the 1975 sixth game of the World Series when Red Sox catcher, Carlton Fisk, hit a home run to send the Red Sox and Reds into the seventh game. The pivot points, or shifts in dramatic action, are key in this scene to pull the audience in and raise tension. Seeing pivot points played out in a movie leaves me with a good visual reminder to incorporate more meaningful pivot points in my own writing.
Prior to the workshop, Darcy asked us to shrink our manuscripts down to 30 pages by removing chapter breaks and converting to single space and 8 point font. With a more condensed version of our manuscript and multiple colored highlighters we marked up our pages and explored: narrative arc, micro and macro plotting, character emotional arc, scene, and dialogue. I usually use a poster board to track key threads in my story, but seeing these threads laid out on the floor in the actual manuscript gives me a different kind of insight into the structure of my story than a single poster board. I easily see where I’ve dropped the threads and where they’ve been pulled through from scene to scene.
Darcy ping-ponged between lectures and group discussions on other key craft subjects to stir our juices and gave us good writing exercises to keep energy levels high over the three days. Her talks were so engaging, even Helen’s dog, Cody, hung on every word!
On the last day, we tallied up the feedback we got within our group and reviewed our workshop exercises to develop our own revision plan of action to implement at home. Darcy also fed us a countless list of books she found especially helpful through her study of revision. I’ve already bought two of her recommendations.
Big hugs to Helen for opening up her home and graciously hosting us. Warm thanks to Darcy, for her time and for sharing her insight on revision. She expanded our common vocabulary for future critique discussions and bonded us more as a writing group. The weekend was such a success, Beyond the Margins is inspired to bring in other authors and organize more individualized workshops that will help us further develop as writers. We welcome any and all suggestions!
For more information on Darcy’s revision workshop, please click here.