Hubby and I hold hands and quickly walk through the quiet mall. More than half the shops are closed. The halls are practically empty, and there's no music. I see a noteworthy used bookstore, but we're on our way to a small library in the outskirts of our city boundaries, to which I've never been to, so he doesn't let me browse.
We turn a corner and hubby pulls me toward a wide opening. I take two steps and realize I'm in a library. There's what looks like a desk with a librarian, a few shelves with books, and some computers in the far corner. Before I can ask about the workshop we're there for, I see three women on couches, each with a pen and pad of paper, and Shonna Slayton. I recognize her instantly from the library website. She smiles like we're old friends.
Like reunited friends, she teases me for being a few minutes late and Hubby for being the only male. After introductions--- we each take a turns saying our names and what kind of writing we do--- she poses the question, "Where do you get your ideas?"
After we talk about inspirations for our writing, Shonna sums, "We essentially get them everywhere!"
She says that she jots ideas on slips of paper and puts them in a box. They're oftentimes clips of words from magazines. Then she "mooshes" ideas together. The important thing, she stresses, is that you write them down, even if think your idea is so perfect that you can't possibly forget it!
The Power of Retelling
Plot can be particularly troublesome for writers. (Don't I know it!) One trick (or "hack" as Shonna calls it), is to do a retelling. A lot of stories, believe it or not, are retellings. She uses the example of The Little Princess, which is the story of a girl who goes to boarding school. When her father is presumably killed, she falls from grace (so to speak) and must work as a servant. Is this not a Cinderella of sorts?
Retellings are great because they provide an initial plot, so if you're stuck on plot, the retelling gives you a framework. Also, retellings are insanely popular. Shonna confesses that they're easy to sell. "People like the familiar," she explains.
How to do a Retelling
Retellings are fairly straightforward. You think of a story that you love and then change aspects of it. "Moosh" other bits and viola! a new and interesting story! In our small group, we made a list of elements you can change in a retelling:
After that, we wrote individual "Ugly Duckling" tales, choosing our own genre and twists. Hubby and I wrote about a boy "ugly duckling," living in a futuristic world where everyone claims to be perfect and the same.
All the stories written in the group, though all based on the premise of the ugly duckling, were different from each other. That's the magic of retellings! They can be individualized with a unique, personal flair.
There are a few things I plan to take-away from this workshop. First, when stuck, "moosh." It's okay to mix and remix anything and everything when the storm in your brainstorming sessions are dry or barely a sprinkle.
Second, have fun! Too often, I'm in too serious of a mood when I sit down at the computer to write. Third, when in doubt, just ask. There were a lot of great questions throughout the workshop about editing, publishing and the like. Shonna was honest and approachable. She offered helpful resources, like Storyfix.com and Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Being part of the writer's community, where ever you live is enriching!
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkonk Street, Hong Kong"