Monday, May 7, 2012

Notes from the Erma Bombeck Workshop - Plot, Character, and Self-Hypnosis

 Anyone who knows me knows what a note taker I am. Maybe it's because my first full-time job out of high school was as a clerk-stenographer for the Army then later as a secretary-steno for the Air Force, where I was a transcribing fool. Or maybe it's because I retain more when I write it down.

Any rate I have pages of notes from last month's EB Workshop, and going over them is like reliving my experience.

The first session I attended on Friday was Katrina Kittle's "Which Comes First: Plot or Character?"

Here's some of what I jotted down:

Get to know your character by asking relevant questions (not ones like what's her favorite color)
The point is to get to the character's motivation (her yearning, need, what is she fighting for?)

Understand character's motivation by asking questions:
Name of character?
What does she want?
If she doesn't get what she wants what will happen?
Make it matter more
Make it matter more

Create conflict to prevent her from getting what she wants
Example of Story versus not a Story:
The cat sat on the mat (not a story)
The cat sat on the other cat's mat (Story because of conflict)

Avoid predictability.
Life is never either/or; it's and, and, and, and, and/but, and/ or . . .
Avoid relentless pace. Give the reader time to breathe.

Make the ending inevitible, but take the reader by surprise

Show motivation right away, but don't state it. Make it clear by actions.
Don't overexplain.

Start with Change
Don't include a lot of back story up front.
Ask yourself: Does the reader need to know this? Does the reader need to know this right now?

Knowing your character means knowing your structure; therefore, Plot is Character.

Kittle recommended the book The Heroe's Journey to learn more about structure.

The next session I attended was "Hypnotic Recall fills the Creative Well" with Suzette Martinez Standring (on left).

Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing and the TV host of "It's All Write with Suzette." She also is a formerly certified hypnotherapist who applies guided imagery techniques to writing.
At the beginning of the session she explained that because the conscious mind gets in the way of our creativity, by delving into the subsconcious, writers can be more honest, brave, and authentic in their writing.  Then she took us through a self-hypnosis exercise to tap into our creativity and emerge with vivid, five sensory details to use in our writing.

Some ways she suggested to unleash (no pun intended) creativity are taking the dog on a walk, meditating, daydreaming, listening to music.

Here are some notes I jotted down:
Don't own any negativity that surfaces
Gain from your memories
We remember what we know best
Mine your subconscious
The subconscious won't take you to a place if it's too painful
Surrender and let go; be open and be present in the moment
When an image or thought comes to the surface, ask, Why are you telling me this?
Writing has a healing ability.
Humor has a powerful healing ability (Tragedy over time can lead to humor)
Savor "Holy Ghost" moments when inspiration hits

Suzette's workshop was a powerful experience. While I don't know if I was hypnotized, I felt extremely relaxed. At one point I felt my head droop, but I became alert when someone behind started to cry and the back door in the room opened and closed a few times.

By the end of the session, my sister Kathleen discovered her shoes had fallen off, but she didn't feel them fall. The relexation exercise did work because afterwards I wrote down some vivid images that came to mind.

Question: Have you ever been hypnotized? If so, how was the experience for you?

P.S. In future posts I'll share more of my workshop notes and experiences. Because, note taker that I am, I need to type out my notes somewhere, so it might as well be on my blog.


  1. There is some great information here, Donna. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Karen,
      You are welcome. I'll post more of my notes later this week.

  2. So interesting!!! Great notes that are helpful to your readers! Oh,how I would like to have been there, to experience that session and to find great writing afterwards. Did she give you any time right then to write thoughts? I have never been hynotized but have done lead meditations...great feeling!

    1. Hi Claudia,
      We did get time to record our thoughts after we "came out" from the exercise.
      In our exercise we were asked to visualize a symbol to be reused when we want to self-hypnotize in the future.
      As soon as the lights went back on I wrote down my symbol along with several images, trying to use all five senses.
      If you go to the Erma Bombeck workshop website there is a link to a place that recorded the sessions and you can buy recordings of any or all of the sessions, including this one.

  3. Such great info, Donna - thanks! I jotted a few notes of my own. :) I especially liked "Make the end inevitable, but take the reader by surprise."

  4. Thanks so much for sharing! I bet you had a wonderful time and learned so much. I am a notetaker, too. It makes me pay better attention during a talk.

  5. Donna, how nice of you to share. Lots of good info. Not only are you a great note taker, you have good hand-writing and were able to read what you wrote later. Looking forward to the next installment.

  6. Hi Madeline,
    Glad you found the notes helpful.

    Hi Margo,
    You are welcome. It was a workshop I'll never forget.

    Hi Alice,
    You are welcome. Sometimes my handwriting looks like chicken scratch, but Ido my best.


  7. My best friend--when I was a pre-teen--had hippie parents, and we dabbled in self-hypnosis. Did it work? Much like the Ouiji board, who knows?

    Thanks for the information. Why buy the tapes when we have you, Donna? ;)

    1. Hi Sioux,
      You are welcome. Glad the notes are helpful.

  8. I wish I had been there, but your notes are the next best thing. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks for sharing. I know when I sit and get quiet (quiet my mind), it's amazing what ends up coming through!

  10. Love the information. It's helpful and intriguing. Re: guided imagery, the mind is a powerful thing. If we can only learn to tap into it, the results would be incredible!

    Critter Alley

  11. Hi Linda,
    I wish you could've been there too!

    Hi Lyn,
    You are welcome. Quiet is a good thing.

    Hi Pat,
    I'm glad you enjoyed reading my post and found the info helpful.


  12. These sessions sound very interesting, Donna. I'm such a fan of writing workshops and conferences that I wish I could go to lots more than I already do.

  13. Interesting seminar, the idea that our conscious brain gets in the way of our writing is interesting.


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