CKT Writers’ Festival – The Magic of YES! with Adam Wallace

Adam Wallace

Bursting onto our screens with an irrepressible enthusiasm for his topic that was delightfully contagious, Adam Wallace soon shared the secret to his success: the power of ‘yes’. Early in his career he said ‘yes’ to everything, and he soon found that one small writing job led to other chances for publication. He advises all emerging writers to do everything they can to immerse themselves in the industry: get among the energy of people at writers’ festivals, go to awards nights, meet authors and take every writing gig that comes your way. Opportunities lead to other opportunities.

You need to get to know yourself better to know your audience, and the best way to do this – according to Adam – is to try some live improvisation exercises in front of an audience. Improv will enhance your school presentations, build your confidence, help you overcome your fear of failure, teach you to overthink less, assist you with shyness and lead to better writing. How? Improv helps you to become more adaptable and less structured, as well as much less of a perfectionist.

Adam gave us some helpful improv exercises that can be applied to writing. With ‘Yes and …’ – which links beautifully to the theme of the presentation – you start with an idea (like a brick), then add another idea (another brick), and continue until you have a story wall where one event has led to another thanks to one little word: ‘yes’.

In the exercise called ‘And the reason for that is …’, you begin with an event (for example, mum baked me a cake) and then ask why it happened (for example, I lost the spelling bee). Then ask why that event happened (for example, someone burped while I was trying to spell a long word), and so on – the crazier the ideas, the better – until you have a compelling story.

For the third exercise, ‘Good, bad, good, bad’, you begin with a good event (for example, I won a million dollars), and then follow it up with a bad event (for example, I dropped the money down the drain), then a good event (for example, I managed to open the drain and get in), then a bad event (for example, I came across an alligator). Keep going until you have a ridiculously funny story with plenty of ups and downs to keep kids turning the pages. As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said, every great story is intention versus obstacle (in fact, Adam pointed out that screenwriting books and articles are excellent for learning about story structure).

According to Adam, kids respond to honesty. They love humour that comes from truth. The old adage of ‘write what you know’ is helpful, but it’s more important to write what you love. If you enjoy what you’re writing, then your audience will, too. And the best advice he gave during his fast-talking flight into the joy of ‘yes’? You don’t work a piano; you play it. So write for fun, practice and play.

Report by CKT Author, Dannielle Viera

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