The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 19, 2006



Just got this note from one of my students, a fine young writer named Peter Balaskas.  Lifewriting is working out fine for him.  He currently publishes a magazine called
Exmachina and is making explosive progress in his personal work:

“But the best news I wanted to share with you occurred two weeks later. During the 2005 Writer's Retreat, we workshopped a story of mine called "Wash Cycle"---it was about an Italian godfather blackmailing a Native American into taking him to a special fountain.  Well, that story is going to be published in Rogue Worlds--I entered a contest. 95 submissions and my story ranked 4th.

Actually, I submitted 3 stories. One didn't pass the first reading, but the second one ranked 17th and "Wash" ranked 4th. You were instrumental in making this happen---your suggestions (and those by my editor) expanded that 5 page story to 25 pages and made it a more complete piece.  And for that, thank you.

I wanted to ask for your permission to mention the Retreat in my author's bio. This is what the passage would say:

“Peter would like to thank Steven Barnes for helping him workshop this story at the 2005 Maui Writer’s Retreat.”

Well, of course you can, Peter.  And congratulations.  My workshops follow exactly the same principles as the LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG.  That is: choose a story pattern that you can also apply to your life.  Choose a model of characterization that you can use to understand yourself, your family, and your acquaintances.  Now look at the way plot and character interact to create a living, breathing fictional world.

When you use this pattern, you can begin with any aspect of story or character, and still get the entire 4-dimensional sphere of myth.  And whereas modern stories truncate, invert, distort and fractionalize this holistic model, human consciousness continually compares what we see on the page or stage or screen to what we have actually experienced.  To create a simulation of life, you MUST take into account that every adult has experienced certain “cycles of life” countless times, and has an instinctive sense of the compression and release of plotting.   Now, this certainly doesn’t mean you HAVE to use such a pattern.  But if you don’t, you have to be aware of how the reader/viewer will react if a given piece is missing.  This can be used to brilliant effect—if you really know your stuff.  It’s really painful watching an otherwise talented young writer who believes that there are no rules or principles they need follow.  And more painful to encounter them years later, and discover they have made no progress!

At any rate, great stuff, Peter.  Keep writing!

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