Kill Your Babies

I’m at a writers’ conference this week – which for those of you outside this very self contained world – means that I sit around a table with six or seven other people and we all tear each others’ ideas apart after having read manuscripts or hearing plot lines.

This style of torture is known as ‘workshopping.’ At the start of the session, you sign up for your day, the day when the class will focus all its energies on YOUR work. For introverts this can be horrific, the modern day version of being burned at the stake. For extroverts, we either get very vocally defensive or begin brainstorming (in either case, we run our mouths, big surprise).

If you have a good workshop leader (someone who is usually a working and/or published author) then the ground rules keep this experience from sending you to the far side of the earth to escape the pain and humiliation of your workshop day. If you have a poor one – then all bets are off. You may suddenly discover a passion for Algebra and never write a word again.

What is fascinating about this particular conference is that the teachers are fantastic: open, giving of their time, and also their trade secrets.

One of which was “kill your babies” or suffocate your own brilliance and get out of the way. This gem that came out in the screenwriting workshop of the past weekend. What the workshop leader meant, as we were discussing my ideas for a screenplay, was that I had to be ruthless with myself and my story. I have to be open to possibilities I might not have seen while writing it. I have to wrench every bit of personal connection out of the characters, plot, setting, etc. in order to see what will service the dramatic arc of my piece. 

Not my ego or my Message or my Plan but the actual story that wants to be told.

This can be scalding for writers as we cook up these things over boiling, fetid stoves.

But, as I found out during the workshop of my screenplay, the story will ultimately be stronger for it.

Now I have higher drama, more interesting characters, gripping scenes and plot lines.

The actual revising and updating of the thing itself, however, well, that’s another story.

Stay tuned for news on my novel manuscript (which is due to be sliced open on Friday).

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