Odd, perhaps, to be thinking about snowballs in June, but then, these are odd times.
Two events this week have made me consider the snowball; one utterly depressing and the other distinctly positive.
Post-Brexit Britain feels like a snowball – a really big one – hurtling downhill towards an unknown oblivion, gathering, as it rolls, untold calamities, complications and catastrophic outcomes. They say a rolling stone gathers no moss; well, a rolling snowball gathers more snow exponentially. Each turn adding piles more of the white stuff, gaining momentum, power and threat of danger.
The image playing in my mind is of sixty million people, caught like pieces of mountain scree in the world’s biggest snowball, bowling down the slope towards a gaping crevasse.
It’s Ice Age IV, ‘Frozen in Fear’.
And so to Saturday and snowball number two; a gentler, friendlier snowball. And in terms of writing, a rather useful one.
I attended a writing workshop in Edinburgh: ‘The Writer and the Agent’, jointly hosted by writer Janis Mackay and her agent Kathryn Ross. Janis is a wonderful author who I was lucky enough to meet at last year’s Kelpies Prize, when I had the thrill of hearing her read an excerpt of my shortlisted children’s novel. She is best known – to me at least – for her Magnus Fin series and her Timetraveller trilogy. Kathryn Ross, her agent, is from Fraser Ross, an Edinburgh-based literary agency.
One of the exercises we were invited to do involved creating a ‘snowball’ of our novels. Disregarding the fact that I can’t draw a circle that actually resembles a circle (I went with ‘squashed ellipse’ or ‘half-melted snowball’), the exercise turned out to be incredibly useful.
Staring at the centre of the ball, we were asked to write the where and when of our story. Then, in a series of ever-larger concentric circles – or ellipses – we scribbled down the inciting incident (the thing that kicks off the action), followed by whatever it (or who) gets in the way to thwart our hero, then the decisive moment or turning point at which our hero must decide whether to act and how to do it. Finally, the outer circle of our expanding snowball contained the resolution to all this. Effectively, we had drawn a diagrammatic pitch for our work.
In using the snowball analogy, I found I suddenly had a real sense of the growing impetus within my story. I could almost visualise it rolling down that hill, gathering pace as the story developed. The exercise helped to distill my book into its core essence, leaving me with a much better idea of how to describe – i.e. pitch – it to anyone kind enough to ask.
The next exercise had us actually verbally pitching our books. I think I’ll gloss over my rather amateur effort. I’ll be better prepared next time. Promise.
As snowballs go, this one really helped me on my journey with this novel. And it didn’t leave me cold, wet and uncomfortable.
Unlike the other one. Try pitching that story to someone successfully. When it finally stops rolling, it’ll be so huge, it may never defrost.