Sunday, August 2, 2020

Getting Crafty by Brenda Chapman

When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?

 Like all writers, I’m constantly on the look out for any new information that will advance my craft, be it improvements on writing style, story arcs, character development, building suspense, or pretty much anything. I can’t say that I have one website or one writer friend to turn to when I have questions. My method for acquiring knowledge is more of a shotgun approach — I’m constantly absorbing information from wherever or whomever I can get it.

One of my primary resources is the wealth of books written by my fellow authors. Not only do I read for enjoyment but I also read to analyse why a story works and even why it doesn't (in my subjective opinion). I look at word choice, sentence structure, plot, character development ... you name it. This isn't to copy their style or to steal from their stories but rather to improve on my own writing. (A lot of this goes on subconsciously at a mystical level that authors sense but can't explain.)

I've also read a lot of writing wisdom online as well as watched writing workshop videos. There's an amazing amount of solid writing advice at our electronic fingertips. Stephen King's famous rules of writing are a good place to start. Last year I gave a writing workshop on point of view and found an amazing amount of information online. I also turned to a book that I bought at a book conference a few years back Write Away by Elizabeth George.

A little anecdote about the book. I bought a hard copy and stood in line to have Elizabeth George sign it. I've long been a fan of her Inspector Lynley series and was excited to meet her The lineup was long as you can imagine and the wait time was more than I had to spare so I bowed out after about twenty minutes. Anyhow, when I finally opened the book back in my hotel room, lo and behold, I'd unknowingly bought a signed copy! This reminds me that book conferences and attending panels have also been great ways to glean tidbits to improve the writing craft. I can't tell you how many times a bit of advice from an author on one of the panels comes back to me as I write or market my work.

Back to this week's question. I've been fortunate to belong to two crime-writing organizations that are into writing development and information-gathering in the crime field. Any writers getting started in the business can't go wrong joining an organization or two for support, friendship and information.

Capital Crime Writers is Ottawa-based. Over the years, they've had numerous experts in to speak about everything from art theft to gambling in sport to gang activity. Psychologists have spoken about narcissism and detectives have given workshops on murder scenes. In addition, authors have spoken about various aspects of the craft and generously given tips and advice. Every speaker has donated their time, making this an invaluable resource that I've never taken for granted.

Crime Writers of Canada is our national organization for crime writers and they offer online workshops on the writing business and the craft of writing. I recently watched a presentation on poisonous plants, for example. Canadian crime writers - I urge you to join if you haven't already!

I also belong to The Writers' Union of Canada and note that they have a number of online presentations not tailored to crime writing specifically but still very informative about all aspects of the writing business. I've yet to watch any although several are of interest. I read their newsletter, which is also a good resource. 

As for specific craft questions, I've worked with various editors assigned by my publishers and have learned a great deal from each one. The key is to be open to their knowledge and to absorb whatever makes sense for my writing going forward. I've also learned a lot speaking with other authors and reading their blogs and like nothing better than getting together with another author to 'talk shop'.

Ultimately, what to use from all the advice on craft that one takes in is up to each individual writer, but we're lucky to be in the community of people who like to share and mentor. I can't imagine the day will ever come that there won't be something new to learn or to tweak.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

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Dietrich Kalteis said...

That's some solid advice, Brenda.

Catriona McPherson said...

I loved what you said about your editors. I cringe to remember how argumentative I was at first, before I learned that they're helping me look as if I wrote a tight book all on my genius own!

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Dietrich and Catriona - and every editor brings something new to the table. I think working for the government with five or six levels of approval and revision, I got used to another hand or two in the pot :-)