I talked last time about the overall experience I had this year at the convention. Today, I want to share some of the lessons I learned from panels.
(Esther Jones, Maggie Bonham, Danica Waters, and Dean Wells)
The most profound of the tidbits was given by Dean Wells. He said, “Family is shorthand for resonance”. Meaning, you can say a lot by making people related. It’s a shortcut to emotion, and you have to balance your shortcuts, especially in flash pieces.
How to ground the reader without taking up an entire paragraph? An example would be having a character be the baby in the family. The reader will fill in assumptions without you having to use up word count.
Of course, tangents were had. One of the better ones was given by Danica Waters. The first impression a reader has of your character is at the beginning. The essence of a character should be known by the end. These should not be the same.
You want your reader to learn something about your characters, and your characters might not know it about themselves.
(Peter Wacks, Carol Berg, and David Farland)
Peter Wacks described his vision of the emotive force of a subplot as a boulder dropped into water. Those ripples then affect other objects (characters and events) floating, and then return to the central character. And his brilliant example was Star Wars: A New Hope. That movie is mostly subplot. The larger story is at the beginning and end.
There are side plots that must happen to forward the plot.
This panel’s tangent was flash forwards. David Farland pointed out these only work if you can take it out and the story still works. He also said a friend of his would add an unnecessary chapter just to keep the story from being perfectly formed. He replied that he removes one for the same reason. I think this is absurd, but would be a fun experiment, maybe?
After the session, I thought of subplots like a certain colored thread. If you pull it out of the tapestry, does the overall structure and color still hold? If so, it’s probably not necessary.
Ask the Editor
(Sanan Kolva, Claire Eddy, Andrea Howe, and Patrick Swenson)
The biggest thing to know from this panel is that you need an editor. You do. All of us do.
Tor Books has begun a program called Pronoun. It will be mining self-published books for sales numbers. If you are selling high, they will be paying attention. Books that sell high are edited by someone other than you. I can’t say this loudly enough.
There are inexpensive options for this. Claire Eddy also made the point later that you should be paying an artist for cover design. It matters.
(Claire Eddy, Lane Heymont, Spencer G. Ellsworth, Randy Henderson)
There was a lot of “this meets that”. Or “It’s this, but with that.”
It needs to mean something. Vague won’t work.
If you have more than one POV character, focus on only one. (This has been the stumbling block of my pitches.)
A good recommendation was to practice with movies or books already out there.
I have improved mine, I think. It is all about practice and peer feedback. You might have one that’s good right now, but I bet you can make it better.
Raising Stakes without Violence
(Randy Henderson, Eric Scott Fischl, Krista Wallace, Todd Lockwood)
Examples given were life-changing vs. life-threatening. For instance, what if being late to a meeting means you’ll lose your job? Or if you miss a recital (again), you’ll end up in a divorce? Maybe your character needs shelter, a job, or to prove themselves to the group.
All of these increase tension without shedding blood.
Randy made a great point about the first problem (bridge problem) your character encounters. It should foreshadow the larger conflict they will experience. It also shows the flaws they’ll need to overcome, allows the reader to connect and sympathize, and establishes the beginning of their arc.
Each scene is escalating stakes with a prelude and a payoff – a consequence by gaining something or having a setback.
Fear + Hope + Time = Suspense
The best quote for me – “Where is your duh duh DUM!”
Two book recommendations
The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction by Matt Bird
Nero Wolfe Series by Rex Stout
Two comments I have written down that resonated
“You can start with a cliche, but don’t end with it.” – David Boop
“There are three goals: public, everyone knows it; private, the character and the team know it; flaw, the character may not know it.” – David Farland
Observations made about Claire Eddy and David Farland
Claire Eddy likes well-voice noir. She also finds sentient things that aren’t typically sentient intriguing. The people need to resonate and engage her emotionally. She pays careful attention to the logic of stories. If it doesn’t quite make sense, she won’t have time for it. Be clear.
David Farland is tired of “tribe” stories. He’d really like to see more work about self-evolution that explores things like super IQ and things we could alter about ourselves – potential. He said it, and I’ll repeat it: he has an entire website full of his writing advice and what he looks for in contest winners. It’s worth the time to read it. Also, Writers of the Future is free to enter. You have absolutely nothing to lose and an entire career to gain.
That’s it! We spent more time schmoozing and laughing and watching people this year. I’m finding word sprints to be incredibly effective since the Con. If anyone would like to join in, just send me a friend request on FB WITH a message so I know who you are – otherwise I’ll assume you’re a stranger.