I first found award-winning and prolific author, Barbara Kyle, online. I digested the free materials, a series of videos with Barbara teaching writing, and then was happy to pay the low price of $10 for access to the rest for a whole year. At the time, I had completed my first draft and was getting feedback that told me I needed to know more. On the web, I found Barbara. She’s a Canadian, lives in the Toronto area, and had been an actor for twenty years before starting to write, all characteristics that drew me to her.
And then I read her first book set in Tudor England, a period I’ve loved for thirty years. That led me to take a face-to-face course with Barbara where we discussed each participant’s first thirty pages over two days as well as had private time with Barbara. That was excellent for talking one-on-one about my book and my hopes for it. I took the course again a couple of weeks ago with my second book and was happy to realize I had learned a lot in the interim.
7 Things I Learned from Barbara Kyle’s Course
1. Barbara starts her book with writing a few sentences about where the book is going. She keeps adding to this framework as she thinks and researches, changing where warranted, until she finally has about 30 pages. These pages might very well be called the synopsis of her novel. Once she has completed this she starts fleshing out the whole book.
2. During the course of the weekend we writers learned the difference between the use of a dash (—) and an ellipsis (…). In dialogue, the dash means the speech has been interrupted. An ellipsis means the speaker just runs out of words. “Take the cat out and cut off its—” as opposed to “Take the cat out and cut off its…” The first would be followed by the interruption and the second would be followed by virtually nothing.
3. Overwrite your main character at first to get a good feeling for what and who she is, Barbara says. You can always cut back in subsequent drafts. I thought that was great advice as critics often tell me they want to know more about my characters. This is a good way to overcome that problem.
4. When planning out your book, Barbara told me, think of having five big scenes. That was amazing to me as I have sometimes been guilty of writing episodes rather than having the whole plot planned out in the beginning. So there. Now I know that a book such as mine should have about 5 major scenes. If I have those as the bare bones, then I can easily flesh them out, writing with the goal of getting to and from those scenes.
5. Give specific details for the reader to better visualize the setting. I had used “the trilling of birds” and “I wish you would let me give you more, Lucy.” Barbara, and others in the group, suggested telling what kind of birds and certainly wanted to know what the ‘more’ might be. And she dinged me for using “small cabins” as small is just too vague. Excellent advice, again.
6. I struggled with how much detail from the first book needed to be in the second book as each book must be able to stand on its own. Readers must be able to read any book in the series and not feel lost because of references they don’t know. Barbara showed me that I still needed to flesh out characters and their motives in book two. The reader needs to know enough. This is a fine line to walk, indeed, and I am still out there on the high wire.
7. Barbara talked about managing point of view in one of my scenes where my character, Lucy, is lying in the mud outside her cabin, having collapsed, so weak was she from her illness, but desperately needing to get help for her small son. I started out talking about the empty parade ground and sensible people being inside but my words were more like a narrator’s than Lucy’s. I need to go back and think what Lucy would see as she lay almost senseless in the mud and then describe that.
The writers among my readers will see just why I was so excited when I drove home, exhausted, from Toronto on Sunday night. I knew where to go with my novel in order to make it better. I knew and I started the next morning.
What have you learned from other writers or from courses you’ve taken? If you could only suggest one thing you’ve learned from someone else, what would it be? Kindly leave a comment below and all the angels (and I) will smile on you. 🙂