8 things my writers’ group learned from author Bryan Davis

Did you know, readers are like ducks?

Bryan-Davis-logo-wp-thI didn’t. That was, until I attended the workshop bestselling author Bryan Davis presented for my writers’ group in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

So, how are readers like ducks? Read on to find out, and to discover 7 other bits of wisdom my fellow writers and I learned. 

“I have a great deal of respect for Bryan and Susie Davis,” author Rebecca B. stated after his presentation ended. “They truly care about the people they meet, his readers, and the attendees of his workshops.”

His other students and readers agree. Here are just a few of the techniques and insights which have made him the successful author so many admire.

8. No matter the genre, the use of mystery and intimate point-of-view will snag the reader.

Intimate point of view locks the reader firmly in the mind and experiences of the character, to the extent that the reader lives the story as that character. This can ensnare even readers who don’t normally enjoy a particular genre. One way to achieve this is to avoid phrases like “he saw” or “she felt” or “they wondered.” Instead, show what was seen, felt, or wondered as if from the reader’s perspective. Not, “He smelled rotting garbage and old fish.” Instead, “The ally reeked of rotting garbage and old fish.”

Imagine my surprise to gain not only additional insights into my own writing, but to become enthralled with his storyline of weaving hidden mystery into the plot of his latest book. I immediately purchased Reapers and am absolutely thrilled. I could comment further; however, I am intent upon turning the pages to discover what happens next!

—Pamela K.

7. Hook the reader by raising questions, not with intense action involving characters the reader doesn’t yet know.

If the story begins with a guy hanging from a cliff over a bunch of crocodiles, the reader won’t know whether to root for the guy or the crocodile. The man could be a villain, after all.

ReapersCoverSmallHe showed how he raises questions in the beginning that make you want to read the book, like in the example from his latest (Reapers). You keep looking, and by the time you find all the answers, you’ve finished the whole book.

—Xavier P. age 11

6. Use motivation-response units to keep the story moving forward.

To help the reader experience story events in real time, it’s important to keep actions and reactions in the right order. A stimulus always comes before the reaction it causes. Instead of “She flinched when the dog barked,” show the dog barking, then her flinch. The order of events should look like this: stimulus, involuntary response, voluntary action, speech. Not all of these will always be present, but keep those that are included in the scene in the proper natural order.

I left his workshop with a deeper understanding of character development, intimate motivational units, and the hero’s journey—and with the excitement and confidence to put all that I learned into practice. He is a wonderful mentor, with the ability to point out what needs to be fixed, but in a way that is encouraging and challenges you to do the work it takes to make it great.

—Rebecca B.

5. Multiple drafts or revisions are proof of a skilled, dedicated writer.

“Learn the craft,” Mr. Davis says, “and keep learning it.”

IMG_0211Even the experts in the craft and most prolific authors don’t write the perfect book in one draft. After many edits and rewrites, with feedback from others skilled at editing, Mr. Davis recommends having the pages read aloud. Authors will hear many things they missed during the visual review.

I loved the idea of a 20th re-write or edit. My pet peeve is when writers bring something to a critique group and say, “Well…I haven’t really worked too much on this, but…you guys take a look.” We need to get them to understand this is work sometimes. Along with the joyful parts, that is—even a pro like Bryan understands that. Quality is a difficult thing to define, but we know it when we read it. So, we need to work for that understanding with our writer friends.

—Curt W.

4. When describing the point-of-view character, include only details he/she would think about or interact with.

In the natural course of events, we don’t think in terms of our own physical attributes–our long legs, broad shoulders, or sapphire eyes. We just think, legs, shoulders, or eyes—and that, only if we are interacting somehow with those body parts. The same must be true for the POV character. Otherwise, we remind the readers they are reading, rather than living the story as that character.

I loved the way he explained how the POV character wouldn’t think about her own physical appearance. Like “She ran, her shiny blonde curls waving in the wind.” I keep seeing that everywhere now (like on the standardized test I took this week) and thinking, wow, these people really stink at this!

—Avery P. age 14

3. Even the most gifted writers face rejection.

What is the mark of a successful writer? It isn’t getting your book published on the first try. It’s having a passion for the craft and for your book that burns so bright, no stack of rejection letters, however thick, can quench it.

IMG_0212I appreciate his willingness to encourage us by sharing his own struggles as a writer, especially when he first began, and show us his 200 plus rejection letters, explaining how he just kept writing and submitting. Now he’s a bestselling author and speaker.

—Rebecca B.

2. Characters we create can have a profound impact on real lives.

Mr. Davis shared stories of teenagers living with unreported abuse or considering suicide—teens who had found the courage to change their circumstances after reading the story of Bonnie Silver, a character from his Dragons in Our Midst series.

Many Christian authors believe we are writing for a higher purpose, answering a call God has placed on our lives. If that is true, not only should we persevere despite rejection, we have no right to give up. If Mr. Davis had given up, even after 199 rejections, those lives wouldn’t have been changed. This isn’t just encouraging, it’s a call to arms!

—Bridgett P.

And finally…

1. Readers are like ducks.

Let’s say, you bring a bag of popcorn to entice a duck to follow you through a park. If you just hold the bag and walk away, the duck will stay put and duckgaze at you in frustration. If you dump all the popcorn in one spot, the duck will gobble it up and ignore you. But, if you drop one kernel at a time, walking a few paces ahead before dropping more, that duck won’t let you out of its sight until you’ve led it where you want it to go. The same is true for authors, dropping hints at backstory or answers to the questions the story has raised.

That’s an image I”ll long carry when crafting a story!

—Curt W.

For more information about Bryan Davis, check out my interview with him or visit http://www.daviscrossing.com.

What elements in a novel grab and hold your attention?

About Bridgett

fantasy novelist ~ picture book and short story author ~ freelance editor ~ writing coach

One thought on “8 things my writers’ group learned from author Bryan Davis

  1. Bridgett says:

    Aspiring author, Amy B, had this to say about the workshop…
    “I know I am a little late, but I thought I would still let you know that I so enjoyed having Mr. Davis come and do that workshop with us. What a blessing that was! I bought a couple books from him for my oldest son who was with me that night and I ended up reading Reapers and could not put it down!! I finished it yesterday and it was such a good book. However, it totally left me hanging which was frustrating, but I can’t wait until the continuation book.
    Mr. Davis gave me so much insight into the “writer’s publishing world” and I am looking forward to going to my first conference in June to hopefully find a publisher for my first book.”

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