Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Time to Update

Hi friends,

I sincerely apologize for not being very active on the blog over the past two months. I’ve been a busy boy – working full-time at a job that gives me tons in tips, rehearsing full-time for a show that’s in the Edmonton and Vancouver Fringe Festival, and launching my own theatre company – Third Street Theatre (www.thirdstreet.ca).

So I have been quite busy, with so many projects on the go. Last count had me at 95 hours/week of work, and I don’t think I’ve had a day off in six weeks. It’s a pretty rigorous and exhausting schedule.

That being said, I have had continued interest from the literary agent in my book, and he is working with me on fixing some of the issues regarding pacing. My only challenge is to grab some time to dedicate to revisiting the manuscript.

I have had a seven month break from the book, which I am sure has given me loads of perspective. I am hoping that in the next couple of months I’ll be able to find a couple of days to really dedicate myself to editing again, so that we might be able to continue on this path.. and hopefully lead to official representation.

There are so many exciting things going on in my life, and the Universe seems to keep sending more projects my way. It’s hard to complain about it (although, I find myself complaining that I am tired, have no time, and no social life.. which isn’t a fun story to be telling all the time).

I can make no guarantees that I will be blogging every day, but I will do my best to write a post now and then – especially as I move forward with editing the manuscript.

All the best, and cheers.

Paul

What Makes a Good Story?

I have had a very busy year.

A rough estimate would suggest that I have seen over 110 plays in the past 12 months. In a way, it has been fantastic: I have been exposed to so many differing types of stories through the medium of the theatre. In another way, it has been a chore. Most of the shows have been perfectly acceptable pieces of theatre, with a few true “stand-out” pieces. And the elements of those stand-out pieces vary. In some instance, it was the direction, and in others it was design that made it stand above the rest. In yet others, it was the performance – the skill and craft of the actors involved. And in precious few, it was the story – the elegance and execution of a perfectly crafted script.

That definitely gets me thinking: What is it that makes a “good” story so hard to tell?

We can and do spend countless hours trying to understand and master structure. We struggle to perfect the rhythm and the pacing of the piece, and we try to create compelling characters. We throw them into interesting worlds with challenging, believable conflicts, and we hope and pray that we will succeed, that someone will be moved by our work.

So why is it that we so often come short?

I do not have the answers.

I am still learning this myself, and while I have theories, I cannot claim to have true knowledge as to what makes a good story. Indeed, when I read, watch, or experience what I would describe as a “good” story, I often find it challenging to explain why. I find myself saying that it touched me, moved me, excited me, or surprised me. In other instances, it inspired me, sparked something in my imagination that took me to another place, that caused my own ideas to multiply and grow. All good things, but definitely not tangible – and certainly not universal.

The elements of a good story are something I am exceptionally curious about. I do my best to read other people’s take on the subject in an effort to understand what it is, what that magical trick might be, that allows a storyteller to weave a tale that will have an impact.

So I wonder: Can we ever truly master the elements of a good story? Do good stories exist that defy the logic, the “formula,” as it were? And when that happens, why does it happen?

Is it voice? Artistry? A certain je ne sais quoi?

The curiosity lingers.

But we are curious beings, so I can only conclude that this is a good thing.

Have you read any articles that have given you an “ah-ha!” moment when it comes to what makes a good story? What resources have played important roles in the development of your craft? What are some examples of good stories that defy the logic, as it were? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!

Rhythm and Pacing

Hello, friends.

It has been a while since I have last updated. I have been busy with a new “joe-job” (which is actually pretty fun) and a number of other work opportunities that have come up – working as a mentor for a festival, participating in workshops, substituting classes at a private institution, and a handful of auditions and the preliminary exploration for a film opportunity. When it rains, it pours.

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is in town this week. For those of you who don’t know, this festival brings the best of the best theatre to one lucky town every year – with each alternate year being in our nation’s capital, Ottawa. As Calgary is the Culture Capital of Canada for 2012, and as we’re celebrating a number of wonderful milestones (Stampede’s Centennial, for one), Calgary is the ideal choice for the host city of the Festival. I am privileged to be living here, as it’s giving me the opportunity to attend.

Last night was a production of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s “Oil and Water” directed by the new Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre, Jillian Keiley. There was some wonderful work happening in this very interesting show about a piece of Canadian history: the true story of Lanier Phillips, the only African American survivor of the shipwrecked USS Truxton.

The director, Ms. Keiley, has an incredible gift for rhythm and pacing and, from what I gather, she often makes use of this sort of exploration in her theatrical storytelling. Through rhythmic percussion and acapella singing, she builds the dramatic tension and intensity from start to finish.

The result?

A powerful piece of theatre whose climax hits us on a highly emotional level. It carries us on an intentionally and carefully crafted ride, keeping us invested and engaged in the journey of the story as it unfolds.

Building tension through rhythm and pace.

Building tension through rhythm and pace

 

Seeing this piece of theatre and the effectiveness of its execution got me thinking about rhythm and pacing in writing. It exists, and it is a tricky thing to master (kind of like trying to “master” artistic “voice.”) Some people have an innate talent for it and are able to feel the impact of the writing – and everything from word choice to use and type of punctuation contributes to it.

When I edit my own work, one technique I always use is to read the work out loud. If we trip over the phrases when we read them out loud, chances are people will be tripping over the same phrases when they read them. Their little inside voice won’t be too happy, and we run the risk of losing them as a reader.

When I start tripping over sentences, I investigate them further to figure out why. More often than not, it has to do with the rhythm of the phrase, or the length of the thought. Something isn’t jiving, and this technique definitely helps point out what, exactly, is amiss.

Another thing that happens – and this is an added bonus – is that you start to hear the rhythm of the piece. When you’re hitting climactic moments of a scene, the intensity should be building, and the reader should be swept along. Reading out loud helps us determine whether this is truly happening – and if not, we know where to tweak.

We want to build tension, and we want to catapult the reader through the story. We don’t want them to put the book down. We want to tease their curiosity and force them to stay up way past their bedtime because they needed to read just one more chapter. Taking a look at rhythm and pacing is perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve your writing.

How often do you focus on rhythm and pacing in your own work? Do you find it easy, exciting, or challenging? How do you handle areas where the pacing is off? Is it a technical thing, or more of a reliance on your intuition? Please feel free to share your thoughts (and links to great articles, if you’ve got them!) in the comments below – I would love to hear them,

The Importance of Space

I have taken a 3-month break from working on my manuscript. It wasn’t that my life got too busy, as I certainly had a fair amount of “free time” that I could have invested into my manuscript, and it wasn’t because I lost interest in the work. My love of the story hadn’t changed, nor had my passion to become a published writer.

I had burned out.

The expression “burning the candle at both ends” exists for a reason. Sometimes we get carried away and try to do too much. That’s what happened to me.

I was cast in a wonderful piece of children’s theatre that took me to Edmonton for almost six weeks. It was a wonderful two-person play that was high energy and fast-moving and it demanded a lot of commitment and focus. I made a lot of physical and vocal choices, and I did my best to give it my all.

In the professional theatre, you typically work 6 days a week rehearsing to put a show up. Add to that my decision to walk 10 km a day to and from the theatre and we’re talking about a 55 hour/week time commitment. Seems like more than enough, doesn’t it?

But what did I do?

I decided to also continue to aggressively work on my book and learn about the publishing industry. I learned about platform, and the importance and impact it apparently has in the modern publishing world (and I promise I’ll write a blog post on platform at some point.) I learned about writing and editing. I tried to stay abreast of the changing world of publishing – and boy, is it ever changing fast. I read e-books on the craft and the business, and bought a number of fantasy novels to understand what others were doing and how.

It was too much.

Some nights, I didn’t even sleep. I tried to, but my brain kept going and it kept me awake. I’d lie in bed and feel like I was wasting time, so the lights would go back on and I’d get back to work.

I probably spent another 35 hours / week working on the book. On top of my 55 hours / week, the candle faded fast.

So I needed time to recover, and I did my best not to feel guilty about that.

Fast-forward three months to today.

I have just come back from a week-long Artist in Residency contract in Lethbridge where I worked with Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 students on the topic of diversity. Together, we created a play that was 100% developed from their imaginations. And boy, do they ever have wonderful imaginations!

I feel rested and recharged (even though the week was exhausting) and last night I sent an e-mail out to the literary agent who has been reading the partial of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN inquiring about the status of my book.

All this to say: I finally feel ready to get back to work on taking the manuscript to the next level.

It needs some more editing and I have some ideas of scenes that I think should be cut. There are a couple of thematic moments that I think need to be highlighted a little bit more. And I’m certainly curious to see what 3 months of rest does to my reading of the story. I am certain I am going to see it with fresh eyes and find a number of things that I missed in my previous edits.

So stay tuned! I think I’ve found a new candle to burn.. but this time I’m going to be careful not to burn it on both ends.

Have you ever burned yourself out? How did it happen, and what steps did you take to recover? What lessons have you learned? Please share your stories in the comments below. I’m sure we could all benefit from hearing each other’s experiences!

An Injection of Conflict

I currently live in Calgary, Alberta (that’s in Canada, for those who aren’t in the know), and we’re knee-deep in provincial elections right now. There are numerous political parties vying for the win, each with their own mandate as to how they wish to represent Albertans, and how they wish to shape our province and move forward.

There have been a lot of contentious debates surrounding key issues of abortion, gay marriage, equality, the rights of women, health care, arts and culture, and economic survival. Some of these issues hit pretty close to home for a number of people – and (particularly if you’re involved in social media websites and follow the news) the debate is getting pretty heated.

I try to stay abreast of current events, and I have been paying attention to what’s going on south of the border. It looks like the same key issues are surfacing in the States.

One thing that stands out is the level of conflict. There have been debates about personal beliefs vs. public beliefs, personal (religious) beliefs vs. political beliefs. It is challenging to watch or participate without your heart rate rising and getting all worked up. And that’s because it’s personal, no matter what side of the fence you fall on.

A group feels attacked and discriminated against – targeted, even – and they feel that their rights, welfare, and safety could very well be compromised if the election results show up as predicted. Other groups (even those in the majority) feel that any criticism of the political platform set forth, or the personal/public/religious beliefs of the politicians involved, is also an attack and a discrimination.

It’s a big ole hot mess, and it’s difficult to reconcile.

The flip side of it is that it is very interesting (and some would argue scary.) So many people are engaged, and a lot of apathetic citizens are being moved to stand up and voice an opinion, take a stance, and get out and vote. Many are encouraging their friends and colleagues to vote in an effort to ensure a future for a province in which they’d like to live and thrive. It will be interesting to see the outcome – both of the provincial elections here in Alberta, and the federal elections south of the border in the USA.

I bring this up because it is on my mind a lot these days, and it reminds me of when I used to administer/run my online text-based roleplaying game, The Towers of Jadri (which, if you’ll recall, is the world in which my stories are set.)

The biggest challenge I faced in trying to create a dynamic, interesting game for my players to play had to do with conflict. People gravitated towards happy, peaceful times. Others tried to play conflict, but often failed – falling into stereotypes, archetypes, and unmotivated cruelty.

We would try to find interesting plot lines, clear-cut aggressors, threats from dangerous places, invasions, explosions, and even war. We’d do our best to create realistic motivations for the key players involved, and we tried to ensure the conflict suited the current climate of world politics, the players’ roleplay, and organizational interests, all the while keeping the big picture story in mind.

The problem? The conflict was usually resolved immediately.

People had fun during the times of conflict, because there was something to do. They could band together, unite, create strategies, and take steps towards a common goal. It was active, exciting, and uniting.

But when the conflict was resolved, things would inevitably slow down and people would get bored – and we’d struggled to find new ways of injecting conflict back into the mix.

I give all this preamble as a way to focus in on your stories.

Examine the story from a point of view of the conflict. Does each scene have conflict? Is the conflict strong? Is it external, or internal? How do the characters respond? What steps do they take? Is it something that can (or should) be resolved quickly? How does it fit into the bigger picture?

Conflict makes things interesting. It is something to which we can relate and respond. If your story is low on conflict, it might be worth revisiting to see if there are ways to inject a little more conflict into the mix. Give something for people to fight for, or fight against. Something to fear, and something to root for. Your story will likely be stronger as a result.

Have you ever read books that were painfully low on conflict? Did they manage to keep your interest in another way? If so, how did they succeed? What are some examples of your favorite books where the conflict is impeccably handled? Please comment below, as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Quick Update

Hi friends,

I apologize for being a little MIA lately. I’ve been busy teaching at the college, seeing a ton of local theatre (I’ve pretty much caught all but a few professional shows playing in Calgary this season, and let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’ve seen over 50 productions since September), and trying to get a handle on work for next year. I’ve also been recovering from a couple of colds and a bout of salmonella poisoning. Very not fun.

I’ve also been watching a lot of television – Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Secret Circle, and re-runs of old episodes of Charmed. It might seem like a lot of slacking off, but in a way it is also research – watching how stories are being put together, how the protagonists and antagonists are defined and developed, and how the conflict unfolds.

And lately, I started picking up books again, too. I don’t read books near as much as I would like to.. it seems like they’re reserved for when I go on holidays, and unfortunately when you’re a professional actor and writer, you can’t really afford to holiday very often. But I’ve been reading The Hunger Games, and I wish I had written this book. I certainly understand the mass appeal, and I am thrilled that it’s a part of the canon.

Regarding my manuscript:

I have received a couple of e-mails back from agents who are interested in my query, but are hesitant to request a partial read of the manuscript due to the size of the book. It is currently sitting at 140,000 words. If you take a gander at my last post, you’ll see that the book was originally 198,000 words long and received some massive cuts. The target for fantasy is 90-120,000 words, and this is what the agents are wanting to see. More of them are suggesting I cut it down to 120k – or preferably 110k – words before they’ll take a peek.

I am also still waiting to hear from the NY literary agent who received the first 110 pages of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN on January 6th. I am tempted to follow up, to see what he’s thinking, but I’m not ready to rush it just yet.

And I am starting to think about plays again, too. Perhaps it’s time I tackle one of the projects that has been on the back burner to experience a change of pace. To be determined, I guess.

In the meantime, it’s hot yoga and 10km (or 6 miles, for you non-metric types) runs as the city struggles to shed winter and embrace summer.

Have you read any good books (or plays) lately? What’s on your night stand? What are the top television shows that grab your eye? I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days, so please feel free to comment below.

Guest Author Paul Welch: A Journey Through Massive Edits

Hi, friends!

Janice Hardy asked me to be a guest blogger on her website a while ago, and she just let me know that the blog went live today. I thought I’d share it here, as it chronicles a little bit about my journey through massive edits.

An interesting thing to note:

Despite reducing my novel from 198,000 words down to 142,000 words (at the time of the guest blog) and its subsequent reduction to 140,000, a literary agent just expressed interest in the premise of the story but would not request a read until it was 120,000 words, or, more preferably, 110,000 words. “140,000 words is far too long for a debut novel.”

So I am faced with an interesting dilemma. The NY literary agent mentioned in the blog is still reading my partial request, so I think I will wait until I hear from him before moving forward, but I am a strong believer in eliminating obstacles. I understand that my novel is long – but it isn’t without precedence.

I want to be published, so I supppose – if and when the time comes – I will just have to see whether the story can be reduced and simplified even further.

But enough of that – on to the blog!

Guest Author Paul Welch: A Journey Through Massive Edits in Ten Easy Steps.

“I’m excited about today’s post. A few months ago, Paul Welch wrote me to say thanks for some of my revision posts. He had a huge novel to cut down and my advice helped a lot (which totally made my day). We got to chatting and he told me his amazing story and what he did to turn a massive novel into something he could submit. I was so inspired by his tale, I asked him to guest post and share it with you guys.”

Read the rest of the article at Janice Hardy’s website.

Blog Mash-up

I’ve been a little swamped lately, but I’m still reading blogs and wanted to pass along a couple of wonderful articles for you to read. Please check them out:

From Kirsten Lamb:

What “Finding Nemo” Can Teach Us About Storytelling

Storytelling is in our blood, it binds us together as humans. On some intuitive level, everyone understands narrative structure, even little kids. All good stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. Ever try to skip parts of a story with a toddler? Even they can sense on a gut level that something is wrong if we miss a fundamental part of the story. Thus, often when I am teaching new writers how to understand narrative structure, I use children’s movies. Frequently the narrative structure is far clearer, as well as the Jungian archetypes that are present in all great fiction. Additionally, all fiction can be boiled down to cause, effect, cause, effect, cause, effect.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Janice Hardy:

Footloose and Not So Fancy Free: Four Ways to Update an Old (and Familiar) Story:

When the hubby and I watched the new Footloosemovie and we had mixed feelings about it. Part if it was easily because the original 1984 version was a big part of our teen years, but part of it was due to the almost too faithful remake. Nothing felt fresh, even though it was new movie. It took what was already out there and just re-made it. It’s a great example of why a book might not grab an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Rebecca Berto:

Three Fiction Writing Tips From Famous Authors:

I love these lists. Do you?

I Googled this topic and loved these results so much that I had to share them with you. The best thing is, you can never read enough advice. I mean, who thinks, “Right I know enough. I can’t get any better at writing”?

Check out the rest of the blog here.

Have you come across any fantastic articles that you’d like to share? If so, please post in the comments below – I’d love to see what’s inspiring you these days.

Style Stalker: Author Gets Stalked

I was stalked on the streets of Calgary and asked about my style! It was a super fun shoot, and I am flattered to be included.

It’s a blog where they showcase the random stylings of local Calgarians as they move to and fro about the city. Everything I’m wearing is relatively new, with the coat, shoes, and belt found on huge sale discounts.

Check it out, friends! Head on over to Avenue Magazine’s Style Stalker Blog.

The Joy of a Good Story

Just a quick blog post tonight.

I have just come off a 5-week children’s theatre tour, taking a 50-minute show to Kindergarten-Grade 6 students throughout northern Alberta. I had a blast, even though it was exhausting (picture doing jumping jacks while giving a speech for an hour.) The show took tons of energy, but the pay-off was worth it: excited, happy, transcendent children.

Why did this happen?

Because we’re brilliant, of course. But seriously, the reason why it really did happen is that we were given an incredible script to work from. The story of this play was beautifully constructed, with the perfect amount of exposition leading up to a wonderful inciting incident. Add to that a great rising action, a rewarding climax, and a brief – yet poignant – resolution/denouement, and you’ve got the recipe for success. All we had to do was show up.

Well, not true. We had to show up and get out of the way of the story – and add to it in our own, unique way. In the writing world, this is viewed as ‘voice’ – something that can’t be forced, but happens naturally. The show was a two-hander, and I am fortunate enough that we both had enough faith and trust in each other to surrender wholly to the honesty and authenticity of our own unique voices.

I think the most rewarding thing about sharing a good story is the number of people who will be profoundly affected and changed as a result. This is why I act, and this is why I write. I want the stories I tell to make a difference, and, when I have the chance to do just that, it’s an incredible thing.

Learn about story structure. Figure out what it takes, and why. Understand it. Master it. It will never serve you wrong.

What are some of your all-time favorite stories? Have you ever seen a movie or a play that has had an incredible impact on you? What was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

And a good story? It never goes out of style.

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