The fledgling writer in me is truly fortunate to live in Toronto. There are great literary events (Word on the Street, International Festival of Authors, Toronto International Book Fair), fabulous small presses (ChiZine Publications, BookThug, Dundurn), great conventions (SFCOntario, Ad Astra) and some of my favourite writers. These, in turn, give rise to a host of workshopping opportunities and this past week I attended my favourite so far.
Story Planet is a local non-profit, storymaking centre located in the west end of Toronto on Bloor Street, between Lansdowne and Dufferin stations.
Story Planet is a non-profit, storymaking centre. We run workshops that encourage young people to create and tell their stories by igniting their imagination, fuelling their knowledge and equipping them with the tools they need to launch their voice.
We work with kids and youth from grades 1 to 12 who often don’t have access to creative writing and art programming. We keep our workshops free, or at a low cost whenever grants and fundraising efforts allow, ensuring there are as few barriers to participation as possible.
They recently launched a series of workshops for adults, in part as a fundraiser to support their kids programming.
First up was a workshop led by Andrew Pyper (yes, THAT Andrew Pyper … it was difficult not to fanboy!):
Whether it be fiction, screenplays or storytelling in any media, there’s nothing more crucial to a writing career than your “Idea for a Story” itself. Internationally bestselling author, Andrew Pyper, will workshop your creative concept from the ground up so that you can avoid common pitfalls and create something that will cast a spell. Note: Participants are asked to come with an idea for a novel or story or movie.
I was not sure what to expect when I headed out to Story Planet after a brutal couple of days at #DayJob, with Mrs. Cheffo out of town, the kids at home on their own, lousy traffic and my usual workshop nerves.
What I got was a warm, intimate conversation with a diverse group of storytellers. Aside from our truly professional, ITW Thriller Award-winning host, we were eight new writers, some young, some older (I wasn’t the oldest guy in the room!), some working on short form fiction, some working on graphic novels, some having studied creative writing, a teacher and me with one novel draft and a number of shorts out on submission.
Andrew’s agenda for the evening was a good fit for what each of us was looking for: an approach to pre-writing and advice for avoiding some of the pitfalls that tend to trip newbies up. In particular, I loved the notion of knowing the protagonist’s “secret” — the thing that, even if it is not disclosed to the reader, informs the character’s responses to the people, places and events around her. Understanding what drives their unexpected behaviour makes for a more intimate relationship between writer and character.
I also loved the discussion of structure (Andrew gave the best explanation I have ever heard of how structure is absolutely not formula) and outlining. For my first book, I had created a list of things that were going to happen and sketched out a world in which these things happen, but it was hardly an outline and didn’t improve my process much. I have taken a different approach to outlining for book #2 and was reassured that I am headed in a good direction with my wall-sized spreadsheet.
While I was very quiet throughout, the group did workshop and “what if” a story idea that one of the participants had, while Andrew guided and pointed out the powerful aspects of the questions and suggestions. Everybody was generous and supportive and I was amazed by how comfortable it was. Hopefully I will step up my participation a bit more next time.
Thank you, Andrew Pyper and Story Planet for a great evening that passed too quickly.
If you are a fledgling or aspiring writer in Toronto, I urge you to get out and take in a couple of their upcoming workshops. Here is a quick snip of what they have coming up. I hope to see you there.
Thursday, October 30
Teresa Toten (Author of the Governor General’s Literary Award-Winning The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B)
Who Are These People? A Workshop on Character Development Do you really know your story characters? Are you perplexed by your people, stymied by their style, worried that they’re weak? This is an intense and interactive writing workshop exploring how to breathe life into your people using Hot Writing techniques. A character Tip List will be provided.
Thursday, November 13
Alana Wilcox (Editorial Director at Coach House Books) Workshop outline coming soon!
Thursday, November 27
Anthony De Sa (2014 Toronto Book Award Nominee)
Making Senses Work: Enriching Your Writing Experience Are you caught in a creative funk? Are you looking to make your writing come to life? Learn some techniques that will tap into your sensory experiences. Make your writing richer, more meaningful. Some of the techniques this workshop explores will get you to write with depth and clarity. You may just find yourself on an explosive springboard to more creative work than you ever thought imaginable. Note: Please bring a small object to this workshop that holds some special meaning to you.
Thursday, December 11
Brian Francis (Author of Canada Reads Finalist Fruit)
Plugged In: Using Social Media to Boost Your Creativity
Thanks to technology and social media platforms, today’s writers have an unprecedented array of opportunities to use as their canvas. But no one wants to read a novel on Twitter. Or spend all of their time looking at an author’s vacation photos. So what are the best ways to utilize social media to further your own creativity and reach new readers? Author Brian Francis explores the ins and outs of the technology and social media platforms available to writers, including Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, as well as self-publishing options, to help emerging writers find their voice – and their readers – in our modern world.