I thoroughly enjoyed the 11th Annual L.A. session of the Southern California Writers' Conference. It's a conference that focuses on the craft of writing more than the selling of writing. That sets it apart from the others. The size of the conference, with only a couple hundred attendees, makes it an intimate experience wherein you can also make friends and contacts in the business. I want to thank the staff and everyone in the Read and Critiques who gave me their feedback.
Jean Jenkins, freelance editor, had some great feedback on Chapter 1 of REBORN TO BITE. Her workshop opened my eyes. Many thanks to Laura Perkins, Melanie Hooks, Rick Ochocki, Oz Monroe, and the rest who gave great feedback and ideas.
I now have a mental picture of diving in a shark tank when I think of the San Francisco Writers' Conference and the San Diego State University Writers' Conference. Those are coming up, and I really want to attend SDSU. SF costs $600 and runs head-to-head against the San Diego edition of the Southern California Writers' Conference, so it's out. SDSU is only $399. The question is: will I be ready with Rewrite 7 of REBORN TO BITE in time to try to entice agents? Do I even want an agent?
And now, for "Lessons Learned":
Janis Thomas's workshop explored the difference between "character driven" stories and "plot driven". Plot outlines are a lot more important with "plot driven". She suggested listing character attributes to make each character unique in your mind. In your "character profile", you should have:
- 3 strengths
- 3 weaknesses
- 3 "windows" into the character's personality (fast/slow, gregarious/agoraphobic, happy/cranky, etc.)
- 3 quirks (nervous ticks, habits, etc.)
Janis suggests opening a novel with the inciting incident in the first paragraph. This differs from Drusilla Campbell's advice from NovelCram, which recommended scene setting until the end of chapter 1, which should end on the inciting incident.
Marci Nault, Leslie Lehr, Brett Battles, Elana K. Arnold, and Sheri Fink were all great speakers. Among the gems from these speeches:
- Be patient.
- Writing is a business as much as an art
- We are challenged to establish a relationship with readers
- Don't settle for good. Settle for Excellent.
- Print on Demand can print a book with errors that you can't catch. We saw an example of a children's book that had the sinking of the Titanic in the middle of it.
- Try to produce the very best product you can to rise above the noise.
- You can't fail until you quit.
- Savor the writing; don't try to force it to happen.
- Every author, regardless of whether seeking traditional publication or self-publishing, needs to act like an author/publisher. That means taking an active role in publicity and platform.
- Find your audience
- Find your niche
There are Seven Steps of Structure to a story:
- Weakness and Need
- Last Battle
- Resolution and self-revelation
I took a page of notes on things to look for when doing a critique from Laura Perkins' & Melanie Hooks' session; but I think I'll post that as a separate blog entry later. They supplement the list below from the workshop entitled "Best Foot Forward: Polishing to Impress" (Pt 1 and 2)
Selected tips from Jean Jenkins, freelance editor:
- Stick to the word limit range for your genre- plus or minus 3,000 words
- 3 words you can remove from your narrative: just, very, that.
- make words work. "beautiful" doesn't add anything, because it's subjective.
- Limit yourself to one exclamation point per manuscript.
- Don't bother using a semicolon. If a sentence has multiple independent clauses, use a period.
- Agents and editors like to see definitive action: not "going to", "getting ready to", "almost", etc.
- "Stood up" vs. "Stood", "Sat down" vs. "sat": The direction is obvious, so you can drop the "up" and "down"
- "Okay", not "OK" or "O.K."
- Opening your book: Page one should tell you (1) who the main character is, (2) what they want, (3) the reason for telling the story. Avoid excess wordy descriptions. Show character's attitude (this is reiterated by Robert Gregory Browne in his workshop). Active verbs.
- Do a character profile to prevent inconsistencies (I also do an "equipment sheet" to track what they're carrying/wearing, but that's just me)
- Agents want characters that are sympathetic
- Action needs to move forward, tension needs to move up. Flashbacks stop action, losing forward momentum
- Prologues: Agents and Editors hate them. Some/many readers might skip them.
- Write to seventh grade reading level.
- Don't say things twice
- Reduce multiple descriptive words to one most-correct descriptive word
- Show only what's important
- "in fact", "however", or "actually" in the narrative indicates "author intrusion". This should be avoided.
- Patterns in writing can lull readers to sleep. e.g.: repeating sentence structure/size, starting everything with "He", using passive structures ("he was standing" or other "-ing" vs. "he stood")
- A story is not a story without tension. This comes with action and interaction.
- When in one character's "hard viewpoint", no need to say "he thought", since POV is clear and it's obvious it was his thought. Also, italics are not needed for thoughts in this case.
- Don't use ellipses ... much. Never in narrative.
- m-dash ( -- ) for dialog interruptions
- n-dash ( - ) not used except as hyphen
- hyphenate compound modifiers
- Pronouns: Old school said repeat character name 3x per page. Modern, once per 2 pages (assuming one character in scene). Avoid repeating starting sentences with "he" or "she".
- Limit slang and dialect to a couple of minor characters.
- "rolled her eyes", "threw up his hands" - cliche phrases that are ambiguous in a literal sense and should be avoided
- Avoid using "it"
- Avoid using "would" and "could"
Jean also listed out the "Most Egregious Openings" for a story:
- Showing an unnamed character
- Main Character has amnesia. This has been done too often, and is a cliche.
- Main Character waking up after a dream/ dream sequence. See above
- Single person scene: nobody for the main character to work against.
- No mood and setting
Workshop: "Creating Characters that jump off the page" by Robert Gregory Browne
The concept that had the most impact for me out of this workshop is that there are four things you really need in a character:
- An identifiable Attitude
- A goal - what drives the character
- Action - attitude in motion
More on the "Giving Feedback" session next time.