London House B&B, Guelph. Acclaimed writers Barbara Kyle and Robert Rotenberg hosted eight aspiring novelists for a weekend of networking, food and wine and exciting conversations about writing powerful and sale-able work.

On Friday evening we began with introductions and refreshments, cautiously, as a newly-formed group of strangers always does. Fueled by amazing food and wine our reticence disappeared as the layers of high-volume conversation piled up around the dinner table and our personal stories got told – funny, sad, similar, awe-inspiring.

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We began to meld as a team and over the weekend, it just kept getting better. Sounds hokey, but that ‘clan effect’ is what happens when skilled facilitators – and Bobby and Barbara were amazing – convene like-minded writers for intensive discussions about their craft.

I came away with renewed energy for my writing, the knowledge that I have to show my protagonist, Kenora, as stronger at conquering obstacles and more proactive in charting her own path, that Butch, her cyber-stalker, has to get more of a dramatic comeuppance and that my next novel in the series has to leap into action with a Big Scene in the inciting incident. What’s even better is the ‘wow’ effect of knowing what to do to make that happen! [edit: delete exclamation point – Bobby doesn’t like them]

Thou shalt not bore. I’ve been to more writing workshops and events than I can remember but this one was stellar. Why? The people, the location, the pace, the high pitch of the subject matter, the camaraderie, the powerful session leaders. Although we participants were at different stages of our writing journeys, the level of sophistication within the group and the complexity of the stories we have to tell were similar, which meant we could progress at a brisk pace.

Did I take notes? Absolutely. Over the next while I’m going to write a series of posts about this phenomenal experience. Let me start with the selection of topics offered on the agenda:

  • From Hook to Climax: Seven Essentials of Story Structure
  • Deep Character: Creating the Empathetic Protagonist
  • Storylining: Building Your Book from Outline to 3rd Draft
  • The Hero’s Journey: 12 Steps in Crafting the Bestseller
  • Turning Points: How to Design Powerful Scenes
  • Magic and Verve in Your First 30 Pages
  • Writing Dialogue: Dynamic Uses and Cardinal Sins
  • Living in the Past: the Danger of Backstory and How to Use it Effectively
  • Whose Story Is It?: Mastering POV
  • Voice: Secret Ingredient Number 1
  • The Biz: Agents, Publishers, and the World of Self-Publishing

Between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, we got through most of the items, either through a direct lesson or through Barbara’s and Bobby’s examples and responses to our multitude of questions.

Leaving, I felt like Goldilocks – the experience had been not too hot, not too cold but just right. We chatted about doing a longer retreat, for a week perhaps. Barbara mentioned Italy. My response was “that’s been done and off-shore writing events tend to be quite expensive”. I’d rather invest in more time with quality presenters than on airfare and travel days to/from some exotic locale.

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!