Storymakers Conference May 15, 2013Posted by Jae in Writing Tips.
Tags: acts, climax, conference, parallels, scenes, storymakers, writer, writing, writing tips
For the first time I attended Storymakers that they typically hold in Provo, UT, and now I’m wondering what ever kept me away for so long. There are tons of helpful workshops, forums, and opportunities available to us aspiring writers—and of course, I’m going to do my best to share the experience with all of you who aren’t able to attend as many conferences as you’d like.
On Thursday I attended what they call “Boot Camp” which is where you take the first 15 pages of your novel and work with a published author on ways you can strengthen it. Of course, I’ve been eagerly applying those tips and have a much stronger first chapter for it. We were helped by and had the opportunity to help other aspiring writers. The ladies at my table both had phenomenal stories. If there’s one thing you learn at a conference, it’s that great ideas abound, but the real trouble is getting it on the page in a way that conveys that idea best to the reader. You hope your peers get published as much as you hope for yourself, because those are stories you want to read when they’re ready.
Friday is when the conference officially began. First on my docket was a workshop taught by agent Hannah Bowman. And without further ado, the notes:
High concept means you have a premise that instantly engages. For example, the movie Alien was sold as “jaws in space.” It’s important to have an engaging premise and that’s the first step in writing an engaging novel.
Example: “His Majesty’s Dragon“
- A character can be part of the premise
- Romance premises are often based on characters
The point of a first chapter is to hook you in with the premise. The first chapter is like a short story. However, in a short story the conflict is worked out, but in a chapter it’s meant to lead you into the next chapter.
You can have the best premise in the whole world, but if things don’t keep happening in an interesting way, your book will fall flat. Hannah sees a lot of interesting premises, but admits many of them fall flat because the author didn’t continue fostering tension and more good ideas.
There should be one good idea on every page. Just one good idea alone is not enough for an entire novel.
The climax should begin when the character is at their weakest point. All along the way to the climax, you should be making things worse for your character. Build your stakes gradually and show your audience why it matters so that when they reach the climax they’ll be fully invested in the story and find it “believable.” (For clarification, she means believable to the world of the story, not actually believable in reality.)
Your pitch should certainly include the premise, but that alone won’t make a good pitch. It should be the premise and something about the climax combined. Essentially you’re saying: here’s the premise, and here’s why it’s even more interesting.
She then had us take a break to work on creating a one-sentence pitch. You’ll want to identify how the conflict develops and what the climax is, but to take caution in making your pitch too plot-heavy. The point of the pitch is to sell the agent or person on reading the book. Your pitch won’t be a play-by-play synopsis. Also, it’s good if you can include some of the more unique elements of your book to make it feel less generic. There’s nothing new understand the sun, except perhaps for viewpoints. Show your agent why your book is that unique viewpoint.
ACTS IN A NOVEL
The standard 3-act story is standard for a reason. However, don’t think that you must follow this standard for every story. For some stories it just wouldn’t work.
Hannah said she’s a math geek, so she used a backward check (some fancy math term I can’t remember, but I’m sure one of you can probably tell me) to illustrate the broad shape of the novel.
At the top you start with stasis, then conflict running down to the lower right point which is climax before the resolution. This is the broad view of a novel. For example, with Twilight she did:
- STATIS: Bella and Edward fall in love.
- CONFLICT: But his secret forces them apart.
- CLIMAX: They must decide if staying together is worth the risk.
You can go do the same thing for each act, like so, labeling the statis, conflict, and climax of each act, like so (NOTE: this is for a 3-act book, yours may have more):
And you can do the same thing for each scene. Hannah says she’s a visual learner, so this works for her. If you’re comfortable doing this in an outline format or whatever format, all good, just make sure you do it and understand the structure of your novel.
We then took several minutes to practice looking at our novel’s structure. Some parts of it were easy, others not. But it can help you see if you’re missing any of these pieces in scenes or acts—and if you are, that may be slowing your novel down.
What does she mean by this? Conflict. The most satisfying conflict comes from characters—from their fears and motivations. We want our characters to face their worst fears. When we talk about high stakes, it doesn’t have to mean the whole world is at risk, just what our character is most threatened by.
JAE NOTE: And here came one of my favorite parts of the workshop, the Star Wars examples!!!
Take these examples from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. (By the way, SPOILERS!)
- External conflict causes internal conflict e.g. fighting Darth Vader and the Emperor forces Luke to fight his own hatred and the Dark Side of the Force
- External conflict contrasts with internal conflict e.g. Han and Leia
realize they’re in love as he gets frozen in carbonite
- External conflict mirrors internal conflict e.g. Luke loses a hand as
he learns Darth Vader is his father
- External conflict is caused by internal conflict e.g. Darth Vader’s conflict between the Emperor and Luke leads to his final decision to kill the Emperor
Then it was our turn to do the same in our own novels, using the check mark exercise we’d created.
She stressed the importance of these exercises in keeping our novels from falling flat and keeping both readers and agents engaged. It’s important to have a great premise, with lots of continuing conflict that leads to a high stakes climax with a satisfying resolution.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a phenomenal novel. Now go forth and do.
What did you take away from the workshop? Anything you’re eager to try with your own novel? Anything you’d add?
WFC – Building Professional Relationships May 14, 2013Posted by Jae in Networking, Writing Tips.
Tags: Batman, first impressions, Harry Potter, networking, relationships, Star Wars, storymakers, tips, writing, writing for charity
They listed this as “relationship building” or some such and I think most of us thought this would be a forum on character relationship building. Not so.
But not disappointing either. One of the foibles of many writers (and I’ve been guilty of this too) is our lack of interest or ability in forming professional relationships. Some of us can barely stomach the thought that people are reading our precious stories, let alone talk to those people after they’ve done it.
Being around the BFF has made me more of an outgoing person, because I was able to watch her seemingly flawless skill at connecting with people. She’s been in sales for years. Couple that with her natural love of people, and boom, her skills dominate.
Last year and this year too while attending the Writing for Charity conference I noticed the majority of writers I met seemed about 0% interested in networking. When I asked them what their story was about, they transformed into the wary cat, guarding the precious food it just found. That or they gave me that look, the what do you want look. That’s not all of them, but it was a lot of them.
If you can’t see the point of networking and connecting with other authors, then I’m sure this question has crossed your mind: What can other authors do for me? It’s not like they’ve got an agent either.
True, some may not. But you’re approaching the point with completely the wrong attitude. Networking and building professional relationships isn’t about what that person can do for you, but what you can do for them.
Let’s start with a quote from the forum:
Every opportunity has its root in a relationship.
Remember that phrase it’s not what you know but who you know. Although what you know is important and will take you far, who you know is equally as important. You’re probably still wondering how getting to know other aspiring authors is going to get you published.
Stop it. Stop that approach. Focus instead on what you can do for them. For me, in the beginning, it was that I knew networking and building relationships would at the very least bring me into the circle of my peers and keep my motivation running. But while networking, I met a friend who introduced me to all kinds of things I hadn’t know about Twitter. Hashtags like #myWANA #Row80 and #wordmongering now entered my hemisphere, all because I was willing to open my mouth and say hello.
I also tried to be his motivator and he was mine, and we checked in with each other on our progress. Friendship. Karma. If you give help freely, help will be given freely to you. I always learn something new from networking.
OKAY, SO HOW DO I NETWORK?
Wise words from the forum:
Think marathon rather than sprint. Build a network.
Be in it for the long haul. Blogging helps keep you connected with your community. And your community very much helps keep you connected with your goals—if you’ll let it.
If you are likable then you are innocent. The presenter said a judge challenged her on that and she said, “Oh really, how many people have you sent to jail that you’ve liked?” He thought for a moment and said, “None.”
If you’re liked, you are innocent. How is that helpful? Well that means people will stand up for you, vouch for you, believe you, and want to help you succeed.
She said with first impressions 55% first image comes from face & body; 38% sound of voice, 7% actual words. So, if you’re really trying to market yourself, how are you presenting yourself to the world? What does the way you dress communicate about you? Your appearance? Your blog? Etc.
A year from now, how do you want to be remembered? The presenter went to Marine Biology Camp one year as a teen. She was a nervous know-it-all and at the end of camp someone had written a poem where the famed line was “because I’m right” something she’d said extremely often. People laughed. Even years after the event had happened, people still remembered that obnoxious know-it-all, even though that wasn’t her intention.
Her other example: the Pirate Jacket. She and her friend were meeting an agent whom they discovered loved garage sales. The agent was from the east coast in an area where they don’t have them so often and she was thrilled by the idea of shopping at a garage sale. So she and her friend went to a garage sale and found her this pirate jacket, then gave it to her, and she loved it. Now the agent remembers the nice girls from Utah who were so thoughtful and gave her something she loved. Decide how you’re going to be remembered.
How to earn trust in 30 seconds or less:
- Make eye contact
- Be genuine
- Be competent
- Look trustworthy (dress the part)
- Remove the walls
Don’t tell me everything you know. Tell me what I want to know. Be helpful, just because. The pirate jacket is a just because moment.
And last of all, she presented the friendship scale. Think of the people in your life. Where would you place them on the friendship scale? Where are you on the friendship scale?
Freak – don’t like you
Fan – like you
Friend – like you and remember you
Fave five – like you, know you, and trust you
Okay, well that does it for notes from the Writing for Charity conference. I hope you’ve been able to find lots of useful tidbits to take to your own writing. More notes to come from the Storymakers conference I attended last weekend.
Do you think it’s important to build professional relationships? How has networking helped you already? How do you approach networking? Did your geek-o-meter explode when you saw Batman and Robin doing the Death Star run?
Monday’s Writerly Quote May 13, 2013Posted by Jae in Quotes, Writing Tips.
Tags: 2013, Anne Perry, keynote, quotes, storymakers, writing
Whew! What an insane weekend. I feel so chock-full of good information I keep having to use pink, sparkly duct tape to keep my head from exploding. Storymakers was phenomenal and you’ll be hearing all about it over the next couple of weeks or so as I divulge notes that just may take your writing to pure awesomeness. (DISCLAIMER: How you use these notes is up to you, but pure awesomeness is one of the possible paths you can take with them.)
Also it was a success for me pitch-wise too. I got a full request on my novel SHADE and got to know another agent who gave me the a-ok to query. Hopefully one of them holds the news of the ever-anticipated, “I’d like you represent you.” Only time will tell.
And in the meantime, I’m going to be doing insane amounts of revisions to apply all the good tidbits I learned at the conference so I can put my best manuscript forward. (NOTE: If an agent requests more at a conference, it’s perfectly okay to tell them you’d like a little time to apply what you’ve learned to your manuscript. They would prefer they got the best you can offer.)
But onto Monday’s quote. Our keynote speaker this year was Anne Perry, bestselling author of the William Monk series novels and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels—all detective novels set in Victorian England. (She’s even a winner of an Agatha Award.)
Her keynote address was phenomenal—well—more than phenomenal. I can only tell you it was the kind of address where you half question whether you can actually be listening to such a remarkable thing. Of course I’ll post some notes from it later, but one of my favorite parts:
Everything that you have experienced, write it the very best you can and share it with everyone you can. They may find at three in the morning you were the companion they were aching to hear from.
Wouldn’t we all love to be that companion in our writing? I can remember all too often feeling unwell or being unable to sleep during college and I had Harry, Ron, and Hermione to see me through those moments. Or being able to take strength from three orphans whose lives were far more unfortunate than my own.
Are you in this for fame or are you in this to really affect people? If it’s the latter, put all your effort into honing your craft and digging deep and putting your truth on the page. Write the very best story possible. Make that your goal and be that companion. If we do we’ll gain audiences who will always come back for more. That’s not to say it will be easy or that publishing it will be easy. But all of that effort will yield a lot of fruit, when it’s time.
What say you? Do you hope to be the ‘companion’ writer? How are you striving to hone your skills? What advice would you give to those just starting down the writing path?
A Star Wars Intermission May 10, 2013Posted by Jae in Movies, things i love.
Tags: empire strikes back, han shot first, happy friday, school house rocks, stan lee, Star Wars, trumpet girl
I promise, I was all ready to go with an Iron Man 3 Friday Flix, but this Storymakers conference got in the way of things. But fear not, lovelies, I won’t leave you without some entertainment this happy Friday.
First of all, want to see some rad Empire Strikes Back photos? I thought so.
Need to a quick recap of what happened in Star Wars: A New Hope? What if I said I could give it to you in one full minute?
Hey, everything doesn’t have to be about Star Wars, does it? Let’s see what Stan Lee is up to these days.
Okay, so maybe I did sneak in just a little bit of Star Wars. But this blog is an educational blog. And what better way to learn than School House Rocks? Today’s lesson is on “interjections.” Since a lot of us are readers and writers here, we need to know what all of this stuff means. I give you, interjections: Star Wars style.
Want to know how I felt when I watched Episode I, II, and III? I think this video about sums it up.
Okay, we certainly can’t leave it on that sour note! I just wanted you to see Star Wars Halloween decor and we’ll let Seth Green finish things off for us.
Enjoy the rest of your Friday!