LUW Conference – Notes Part 6

It’s the final post, the final notes, the final bits of advice. So what did I decide to attend?

POETICS IN PROSE

Okay, so what image does that title evoke in your mind? Why would I choose such a class? Because, dear readers, I have a couple of elderly ladies who come to our writers group sometimes. Both of them are poets, though their poems aren’t the traditional this-rhymes-with-that sort. What I notice every time they read their work is I feel drenched in powerful imagery. I feel strong emotion. I feel like I could leap into a beautiful colorful world. And so I thought, I should read more poetry and see if that doesn’t influence my writing. Because a poet, at least the ones I read, must choose their words carefully. They are great at showing you what they want you to see vs. the telling we novelists sometimes fall prey to.

So, having all this in mind, I went to the Poetics forum, taught by a man named Jack Remick. He really fits the caricature, in my mind, of what a poetic prose writer would look like. And he really knew his stuff.

Why the long intro? Because I know some of you may be put off by this idea, by poetics in prose. You just want to write commercial fiction, and this seems something that belongs to those literary types. But I believe letting something like this influence your writing can help set you above the other commercial fiction writers. And who’s to say you won’t write something literary in the future anyway? Keep the door open on all writing friends. Besides, I think this session helped me better understand the mechanics of sentences and why they do what they do and shouldn’t we all want to know how to do that if we’re serious about writing?

THE NOTES

In great writing there are three important things: story, structure, and style. Listen to your characters. Write the story they want to tell you, not the story you want to write. Why do some stories grab you and won’t let you go? The hook isn’t just in the story, but in the attitude and style.

What the character “can’t have” is a central point of conflict in the story. Want, need, and can’t lead to action.

We’re going to do something called Structured Timed Writing to help develop the techniques of style—Beat, Breath, Rhythm, as well as Attitude and Voice.

Rhythm: short sentences, fragments, long sentences.
Rhetorical devices: three kinds of repetition.
Attitude and Voice: strong verbs and concrete nouns give you voice and attitude and style.

REMEMBER. Adverbs not only kill prose, they hide images. Adverbs tell the reader what to feel.

The longer you write the more you need structure. Inherent in structure is rhythm. That gets us to style.

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 4

PLOT DEVELOPMENT by Maxwell Alexander Drake

Accept what type of writer you are. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter or a little bit of both, know how you work and work with yourself. If you must outline things and spend time on the front end plotting out arcs and character development, spend the time and get it right. If you prefer flying by the seat of your pants and discovering what your story is by writing it with lots of rewrites later, go for it. Either way if you think about it, you’ll be doing the same amount of work either on the front end or the back end, but neither way provides a shortcut (if you want the best story possible).

And know that if you do outline you don’t have to stick to it like it’s written in stone. If your muse takes your story in a different direction, let it. Likewise as a pantser, if you get to a point where you need to take some time and write a few things down, it’s okay to do that too.

Being prepared as a writer does cut down on writer’s block (in Max’s experience). He prefers working out the details up front so that he has a good idea of where he’s going when he does finally sit down to write it.

Create a story that resonates with the reader. As yourself: Is this story going to have an impact on the reader? It’s okay to write things for yourself, but if you’re in the business of making a living off of your writing you’re going to have to consider your audience and what will resonate with them. You can’t just right things solely for the purpose of pleasing yourself. Although you should still be passionate about your project, otherwise it won’t be a good story.

SO YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR A STORY. WHAT NOW? (as a plotter)

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 3

I caught the tail end of the morning keynote by Sophie Littlefield (Garden of Stones) and decided she would be one of the first panels I attended. She’s very entertaining and keeps the panel lively, so if you’re putting together a writers conference, she may be one you want to call. Her panel was called:

YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW TO WRITE YA

Start with yourself. We were all YA age once. Some of us may not remember all of the details of our YA age, but with a little thinking you can pull out those YA thoughts and feelings and infuse them in your fiction. So when asking yourself these questions, reach inside for that 14-year-old self and let’s begin.

Who am I – IN MY ENVIRONMENT. What difference does my presence make to my family, school, community, neighborhood?

Who am I – IN MY OWN HEAD. What emotions do I experience on an everyday basis? What is my emotional “resting state?” (For example, you’re typically a crabby person, a happy person, a shy person, etc.)

Who am I – WITH OTHER PEOPLE. What do others think of me? Am I well liked? Do I like others? Whose opinion matters to me? Who does my opinion matter to?

When writing YA don’t focus on the parent, unless they are a story trigger.

Now that you are 14 again…. How does it feel in your body? What emotions dominate? How is it different from being an adult? What do you care about that an adult doesn’t? What matters to you?

There are different types of approaches you can take to your story and more specifically the focus you’ll take in your story. One of the biggest themes of adolescent fiction is the forming of identity. Consider the “who am I” questions with your character in terms of identity.

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 2

Loads of notes to go, so be prepared for tips, tips, and MOARRR tips!

WHY DOES POV MATTER?

POV is the lens through which your story is being told. It’s the battery of the story, it’s what drives the story in the first place. POV can make or break a story. Let’s start with Harry Potter (because as Kate and I know, Harry Potter is the best example for everything).

Why is Harry the POV character? How does Harry provide the right lens? How does Harry provide the battery? With Harry we have an outsider so it seems natural for Harry to have things explained to him—which in turn are explained to us. If it was the POV of, say, Ron Weasley, he wouldn’t wonder about the magic of his world because he grew up with it.

Let’s go over the types of POVs:

FIRST PERSON. It is the most common in youth fiction. But it can be easily flubbed. Some of the pros are you can be right in the character’s head and feel what they feel. But some of the cons are your story is limited in its perspective. Even though first person is common in youth fiction, don’t automatically default to it. Take time to weigh all the options and decide whether this perspective is actually best for your story.

But before writing in in first person, learn how to do 3rd person well FIRST!

SECOND PERSON. Unless you want to continue on writing some Choose Your Own Adventure books, don’t. Just don’t.

THIRD PERSON (omniscient).  In this POV, the narrator can see all things at all times. It commonly moves between heads. The master narrator knows all.

WARNING: Today’s readers aren’t familiar with it. Which means, especially for newer writers, this is a very dangerous road to tread down. Avoid omniscient unless: 1) You were born by 1920, 2) You have the other POVs down, 3) You have a publishing track record and fan base will stick with you, 4) Your last name is Sanderson (as in Brandon Sanderson).

NOTE: Most new writers mistake third person omniscient for the ability to headhop. This is NOT third person omniscient. For a good example of TPO, read Watership Down.

THIRD PERSON (limited). You are in one character’s head at a time. You can vary it by changing how close the mental camera is. It is the most common POV today. When in doubt, use third person limited.

Okay, you’ve chosen third person limited, but exactly how many characters can you narrate from? How many is too many? A good rule of thumb is just two or three but not more than four at the max. The reason for this is your reader’s need someone to empathize with and root for. If you have too many characters they need to get to know they won’t be able to build up a connection with any of them and won’t have any interest in the story overall.

When picking the right POV for the story or the scene ask yourself: who has the most to lose in this story/scene?

But DON’T CHEAT!

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League of Utah Writers Conference

Over the weekend I attended the League of Utah Writers Conference. We have quite a few authors out here in Utah, many of them who were members of the League or attended some of our Utah conferences before getting published (and still come back as visitors).

I decided to attend this year and lucky for all of you, I took notes which I will now share. So put on a lanyard, go into a crowded hotel with your laptop and pretend your right there with me.

PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP

This was basically a grammar and other tips session. I guess in previous years they did a boot camp where you get to work on your pages. While I thought much of the information I received was helpful, I still wish it had been the boot camp. If you already have a strong grasp of grammar and the industry, I would skip things like this at your own conferences. But if you can do a boot camp on your work, sign up for it. Super helpful (I’ve done a few in the past). And now onto the notes.

KNOW YOUR GENRE

Definition of genre:
1. A loose set of criteria for a category of composition. Genre can be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length.
2. Genre is often used for marketing purposes

Genre in Fiction. There are two major groupings: realism and fantasy. Realism is stories that could have really happened (Like The Help). Fantasy is stories not possible in the real world, and they often follow the quest pattern. Of course there is genre blending these days, but it’s still important to know where your story lies in genre.

Themes in Fiction/Non-Fiction.

  • growing up/coming of age
  • individual
  • man vs. man
  • man vs. nature
  • man vs society
  • life, alienation, death
  • relationships
  • peer relationships
  • family relationships

Target Audience. Know your audience. These serve as guides for approximately how many pages your story should be, especially if you’re interested in traditional publishing. These are based on manuscripts in the traditional format of Times New Roman 12 point font, double spaced with 1″ margins.

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Writing Contest Victory

I won!

A few months ago I decided to enter the League of Utah Writers writing contest with my current WIP Shade.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I placed my entry before I went to the Backspace Writers Conference.  Well, I took that same version of Shade with me, and felt exceedingly less confident in my work afterward.  In fact, I regretted entering the contest with that version because I came up with a newer stronger one not long after the BSW Conference.  However, the deadline was June 1st for the contest, so not much I could do.

I basically said que sera and went on with life, thinking at least when the contest was over I’d get the professional feedback from the judges.  I honestly thought I’d get an honorable mention at best.

I also couldn’t attend the awards ceremony, since it fell on the date of my Hawaiian vacation, but again I figured oh well, I doubt I’ll even place.

Then yesterday the email notification of the winners came. 

I scrolled through the list, trying to find my category and see where I’d placed.  Not third.  Not second.  But first?!  FIRST!  Wahoo!

First place winners receive a prize of $150 and the happy credentials of a first place state-wide win to stick in a future query letter.  I didn’t think lounging around in paradise could get any better!

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Where I enjoyed the good news.

As a writer, at least for me, I think we hit spots where we wonder if we’re even cut out for this.  We wonder if we should even bother.  Maybe our story isn’t really very good after all.  But then there are those wonderful shining moments of affirmation that re-energize us to keep pressing forward toward our dreams.

I encourage you all to press forward.  You never know when an unexpected first prize is just around the corner.  As always, keep on writing!

Your turn.  Have you ever entered any writing contests and won?  Or have you ever had those re-energizing moments that have helped move you forward with your writing dream?  Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

And aloha!

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Aaah, Hawaii....