Conference Take-aways

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In terms of what agents want to see and don’t want to see, here are a few tips:
    1. No prologues or epilogues for debut authors. They feel this is “a lazy way to jump start tension”
    2. No first lines of dialogue.
    3. Skip flashbacks altogether unless there is something about the memory that adds to the emotional history of a character.
  4. 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.
  5. 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”.
  6. 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.
  7. When editing, it nothing is happening in a scene, no forward movement, no choice-making or risk-taking, then delete.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Make sure there are no passive characters. Empower them by putting them in situations that force them to take action.
  11. Avoid dreams, waking up and overheard conversations.
  12. Your villain, whether it be a person or a force, needs to arrive early.
  13. 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.
  14. 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!

 

About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.
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4 Responses to Conference Take-aways

  1. Marion says:

    Thanks Terry! Really good stuff. I take issue with a couple of the do’s and don’t’s as a story-teller, but as someone who is trying to market things, it’s good to know what agents and later editors like and don’t like.

    (My latest project opens with a dialogue in transcript format, moves along in the story’s present tense for about four pages and then drops right into a flashback. And I’m NOT sorry!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the post! I was at the SFWC as well, and there were a few times I wished I could be in multiple places at once (and other times when I was exhausted and ready for a nap). Another update I got was that we’re no longer using “Urban Fantasy” and instead are using “Modern Fantasy.” Found that out mid-pitch!

    So glad you enjoyed the conference. My head is still spinning and I’m feeling like there’s so much to do!

    Like

    • Marion says:

      Brandilyn; that is *super*-helpful to me for two reasons; I’ve been grumbling about the limitations of “urban fantasy” for a while now, (“This compelling urban fantasy is set in the British countryside”– in other words, NOT urban!) and I’m finishing up a draft of a “modern fantasy” which I’ve been calling contemporary fantasy about half the time, and urban fantasy the other half. Appreciate the tip!

      Liked by 1 person

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