Just back from the Australian Writers Centre workshop in Ubud, Indonesia, with Patti Miller. The theme was writing about the senses and what I got out of it was a refinement on the old show don't tell. When you are writing about how someone is feeling or acting, get inside their body and look at how they would be feeling and acting. Then write about that. Don't say someone was scared. What does someone do when they are scared.? How do their eyes look, the fingers, body? Describe that and let the readers work out for themselves that it means the character is scared.
In a scene I happened to be writing in my current novel this instantly translated into a description of a woman who puts her jacket on, takes it off, holds it at arms length, puts it back on and then goes out through a door to where others are waiting. Hopefully the reader sees she is uncertain about the coming meeting without me saying that.
As Patti put it, let the scene tells its own story.
Of course there was a lot more to the workshop than that. All the senses come into play and we were looking at ways to use smell, taste, touch and sound as well as sight to give each scene more meaning and colour. I'll write some more after I have gone through my notes and absorbed it.
There were a lot of exercises I found fun. One was to find a new experience and describe it. I chose eating a local fruit I had never seen before. Another was to imagine an experience you had never had and write about that. I had fun describing how I would put on a bra. In another we each described a location and a character on separate pieces of paper, then shuffled them around the group. Each member had to create a story with the location and character they ended up with.
Patti has a website at http://www.lifestories.com.au for those who want to look at more of what she does. Her focus is mainly on writing memoirs but a lot of what she has to say is applicable to writing fiction as well.
Dr Dawn Porter
I also went to an AWC gathering in Perth to hear Dr Dawn Barker discuss her two novels Let Her Go and Fractured. Dawn's a child psychiatrist but also a young mum and her stories draw on both sets of experience. Haven't read them yet but have put them high on my to read list. They're published by Hachette. Dawn was successful in winning one of that publisher's mentorships and worked with an editor, publisher and agent on getting the ms of her first, Fractured, into publishable shape.