Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Week in Writing #166 - Report From The Front - Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference 2017

This was a week in writing where craft took precedence over practice. My son, Paul, and I attended the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The conference, which was mostly programs devoted to Craft, Character, Genre and Beyond (Revisions, Querying and Publishing), was a chance not only to learn from other writers and professionals but also to mingle with other writers. (Being the introverts that we are, the mingling not so much.)

Being in the seemingly endless round of revisions on the oft-discussed Familiar Stranger, I found the conference to be really informative and energizing. I would find myself sitting listening to someone talk about the inciting incident and then couldn't wait to get home to start moving chapters around to get to the first hook in the story.

I attended the following programs: Ten Ways to Create Compelling Characters (Even Unlikable Ones) by April Eberhardt [Character]; Make Your First Chapter Matter by Sophie Littlefield [Craft]; Page-Turning Secrets for Thrillers and Suspense by James Scott Bell [Genre]; Your Submission Questions Answered by Laurie McLean, Holly Root, Patricia Nelson, and Taylor Haggerty [Beyond]; Plotting for Pantsers by Rachel Herron [Craft]; Making Your Setting a Character by Susan Meissner [Character]; Mystery/Thriller Panel with Liz Fenton, James Scott Bell, David Corbett and Nina Sadowsky [Genre]; Writing Conflicted Characters: How to Dramatize Mixed Motive & Other Contradictions by David Corbett [Character]; Fearless Writing by William Kenower [Beyond]; Writing the Perfectly Imperfect Character: The Character Cues Technique [Jordan Rosenfeld]; and The Four Perspectives: A System For Revising Everything From One Chapter to a Whole Manuscript by Jennie Nash [Beyond].

Not all programs are created equal and some are more informative than others. Many seemed to have to rush through their presentation, one presenter said that she normally takes 6 hours to do this hour-long lecture. Several seemed rushed or cut-off. One presenter seemed very disorganized. Most seemed to at least have a book or two or three to sell or promote, several of which were not surprisingly available for sale at the convention. That, however, is par for the course as that is also true at Comic-Con.

Perhaps the most inspirational was William Kenower's Fearless Writing, trying to free the writer from worrying about what someone else will think while you're writing. It's supposed to be easy to write, but many writers hamper themselves by worrying about what someone else will think. Try not to do that. And part of the fun is not necessarily knowing where the story is going, so let yourself be surprised.

Several things were repeated over several programs, including common sense items like the three-act structure, though one pushed it to four by splitting Act 2 in half. It may seem like a formula, but it works. As James Scott Bell noted, you won't make an omelet with a watermelon. Readers have certain expectations that as a writer you should be addressing.

Characters were also discussed in several programs. The more you know about your main and secondary characters the better, though I'm not sure I want to interview them or write extensive biographies about each one. The important thing is not to tell the reader everything about them in a block of exposition, but to let their flaws and strengths come out through dialogue and action.

I'm too much of a pantser to do that much planning, but I've been working with my two main characters long enough and over several unpublished efforts that I really think I know them pretty well. But being reminded to tell and not show never hurts.

I also got a better perspective on agents. Hearing them speak made them seem more human. They don't want to necessarily reject you, at least the ones who attended this conference said they didn't. But a new agency, two of the agents of which were there, said they got 300 queries a day for the first couple of months. That seems like an impossible feat to get through. They did stress that the query guidelines on their websites should be followed since that's how they're pipeline works. As an example, if they ask for no attachments, it's because it slows them down to have to open them. A good lesson is to try to give them what they're looking for as far as genres and submissions.

The Romance Writers of America was touted more than once as an organization worth joining, even if you don't write romantic fiction. There were also several other conventions and websites mentioned, too numerous to mention here, but I guess there is always strength in numbers. Unfortunately, I'm more like Groucho Marx and wouldn't want to belong to any organization that would have someone like me as a member. Heck, I didn't attend any of the mixers that the conference offered. For me, I just don't feel like I'm ready for that sort of immersion, at least not yet.

For the most part, the attendees to these kinds of conferences tend to be on the older side of things. A few like my son bring down the average age, but I would imagine the median age was somewhere in the high 50's or low 60's. A lot of gray hair. And while there were quite a few men, women were in the majority here as attendees as well as presenters.

Having attended the conference I'm more excited about getting back to Familiar Stranger and have a new desire to dig in and make it better. I would recommend attending this conference or a similar one if you have the time and money. It will make you a better writer.

There was other news this week: Our search for a new colorist for Powers Squared continues. We sent out invitations to four candidates and so far one has returned their sample and one other has contacted us about what format to return it in. We gave them two weeks, so there is still time.

Trophy Unlocked's Saturday Morning Review was the final horror film review for October: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). We also published a review of the video game Abzû on Sunday. So some things never stop even with a conference.

This next week, I'm hoping to get back on the horse and get on with Familiar Stranger, though I do have a review to write, but I'll save that for next week.

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