Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing Wisdom -- A.E. Cannon

First, let me say, I love this photo of Ann and her dog. It so fits her fun-loving personality!

Ann Cannon, aka A.E.Cannon, is a woman of many writing talents. She is a columnist for the Deseret News, as well as author extraordinaire of books for children and young adults. She is a great workshop presenter, and greets everyone she meets as they were her friend.

I had the opportunity to attend a wrokshop Ann gave several years ago on Plotting, the part of writing that Ann claims is the most difficult for her. If you've read any of her books, you'd never believe it. Maybe that's because she's never let us read any of those projects she abandoned along the way. "There are legitimate reasons to abandon a project," she says.. "Mostly we abandon though because we're stuck."

She reminds authors that all stories must have a beginning, middle, and an end, and that each part depends upon each other. In quoting "The Truth About Fiction" by Steve Shone, Ann says, "There are only six plots. They all fall into the three types of conflict: mam versus man, man versus world, or man versus himself. There are only two possible outcoms: the protagonist wins, or he loses. That's it."

She sayas that "the drama of losing is so sweet because losing is another kind of winning. What looks like a loss, might really be a win."

If writing fiction is so easy, then why aren't more people good at it? "It all depends on what you bring to the story. The specific details, setting, or the author's voice can make the difference between selling and not selling."

"We can start with a story, or we can start with a character," she says, "but no matter where we start, the trick is to balance them both."

She talked about something she learned from Shannon Hales: "All character and no plot is boring. All plot and no character fails. Both character and plot equals balance."

"E.M Forest teaches 'incidents alter character.' Elizabeth George says 'the problem exists because of an alteration in the status quo.' I say have your characters take steps to deal with their problems, but don't solve them too quickly unless that solution creates an even bigger problem or the story will be over too soon," Ann explains. "You can love your characters and want to protect them, but it can't be too easy on them. Let them fail; it increases empathy and allows them to grow."

"As you plot, ask yourself what could happen next? Don't answer the questions too quickly, and know that your editors will ask you questions about your characters as if they really do exist," Ann says.

She enoucourages writers to "give yourself permission to be crappy on those drafts. Be a little outrageous." That's where you'll find your true story.

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