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.