February 16-19 I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. It was a sold out event, with hundreds of “wannabe” authors as well as established publishers, authors, agents, editors and author coaches.
There were many interesting sessions, in fact, too many for one person to attend.
I took notes, so as to remember the bits and pieces of advice given. Following are those things that seemed most important.
- Creative nonfiction is now called narrative fiction. Memoir falls into this category. The nice thing about the title change is that it allows for the recalled essence of dialogue that most likely took place.
- Book Club fiction are those pieces that inspire discussion and tends to appeal to women readers. Think JoJo Moyes. Commercial fiction are titles that appeal to a wide range of reader. Think Gone Girl.
- In terms of what agents want to see and don’t want to see, here are a few tips:
- No prologues or epilogues for debut authors. They feel this is “a lazy way to jump start tension”
- No first lines of dialogue.
- Skip flashbacks altogether unless there is something about the memory that adds to the emotional history of a character.
- Be careful about including diverse characters unless you are well informed about the particular group. For example, when including an African-American character, verify with a trusted source to make sure that you are not typecasting or stereotyping. Avoid writing in dialect unless you are very familiar with that dialect, and it is important to the essence of the story.
- Within each scene, look at how the flow of time is reported. How much time has elapsed? But avoid terms such as “three days later”.
- Within scene, also be aware of change. In each segment, there must be a starting place and then an ending place, and change must have occurred. There is external change, in which a character moves from one place to another. Internal change is the most powerful, as this lets the reader see how it impacts the character.
- When editing, it nothing is happening in a scene, no forward movement, no choice-making or risk-taking, then delete.
- Characters should behave in a logical way, unless strange behavior is part of the character’s M.O. People come to story to see logical human behavior, verified with an underpinning of evidence. Must believe that the character is a living human being. People do stupid things all the time. Readers question what in their lives forced them to act that way.
- Be watchful for the “dreaded middle”, which is the part of a scene where things get too slow. When this happens in your work, cut the scene or condense it into another. Ask yourself if the scene needs dialogue or action. Make it fast and punchy to keep readers engaged. Introduce a new obstacle that must be surmounted.
- Make sure there are no passive characters. Empower them by putting them in situations that force them to take action.
- Avoid dreams, waking up and overheard conversations.
- Your villain, whether it be a person or a force, needs to arrive early.
- Create a history for each character before you write the first scene. Know who your character is, what he/she wants, what motivate him/her, and when confronted with a problem, does the character feel trapped or betrayed.
- When writing an emotional scene, try to channel that emotion before beginning. Feel the anger or the hurt. Remember what falling in love feels like.
I hope these tips help!