Saturday, September 24, 2011

Three Things I Learned About Writing at a Social Work Conference - Part I

The infamous “they” say that inspiration for writing can come from any source.  In my case, “they” were right.  This week, my understanding of the craft and my personal process of writing was influenced by lessons I learned at the NASW-Wyoming Chapter’s Annual Social Work Conference.  As the post became rather lengthy, I have broken it into two parts.  This week I focus on an aspect of craft that gained clarity in my mind.   Next week I will finish with lessons  about some personal aspects of the writing process.

About the Craft:  Characters and plot are intertwined.  I understood this intellectually, but I never really grasped the simplicity of this concept until this conference.

The opening speaker at the conference, the Rev. Rodger McDaniel, spoke about systems of care, and made a statement to the effect of “A judge lives in a world where he/she gives an order or direction and expects it to be followed.  Our clients don’t live on that planet.”  Light bulb moment.  Conflict exists between the judge and the client, not because they are at enmity with each other, but for no other reason than they have differing world views.  The planet our protagonists and antagonists live on is their worldview, their needs and desires - what makes them human and real.  It’s their character.  The conflict that arises because of their worldviews is plot. 

The best thing about this understanding is it makes sub-plots (finally) understandable.  Who we are spills out into a variety of areas of our lives.  For example, if I had been abandoned as a child, I may have difficulty trusting others.  This trust issue would present itself in my life in many different environments and situations.  I might have difficulty with authority, I may have poor intimate relationships, the list can continue in myriad directions.  Therefore, if I’m writing a romance about a woman with trust issues, the main plot would be her relationship with the male lead character, but I can throw in a sub-plot about her trust issues at work and the difficulty she has with a controlling boss.  Still working on the main plot, but it is augmented and strengthened by the sub-plot.

That’s it for this week.  Please come back next Saturday, when I explain the lessons I learned about writerly passion and myself.


  1. Right on!

    I'm writing about a private investigator character who, as a child, lost her family in a home invasion. She was nearly killed, but was saved in time by the police. So her life goal was to become a police officer, which she did. She had a driving need, while on the force, to rescue people, keep peace on the streets and follow the rules to a T. When many on her police team are wiped out, due to what she feels was an error in judgment on her part, she ultimately feels responsible. She lives with constant guilt and resigns from the police department. Her troubled background creates tension as she investigates cases it and colors all of her relationships with people. That's why it's so important to know your characters' backgrounds so you know how they will react in different situations. This adds rich layers to your story. Though it's a lot of work, that's one of the things I love about writing, finding out about my characters and learning why they do what they do.

  2. Thanks, Cindy! It's amazing how much work writing does entail, but I agree, it is so magical the way stories unfold and characters reveal themselves through the process.


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