Highlights from Day 1 of SIWC
Day one of SIWC is over for me, and as always, this is what I feel like after a day of sessions and other activities:
Yes, my head is about to explode, but that’s why I journal and blog–to get it OUT (where I can think about it some more). That said, let me give you a few highlights from today:
First, both Kathy Chung and kc dyer flagged me down to thank me for my top ten countdown to SIWC. It’s definitely my pleasure, as SIWC is the highlight of my writing year (which runs from SIWC to SIWC, not from January to December).
I ran into writing buddies like Hector Curiel, Bonnie Jacoby, and Tricia Barker, whose positive outlooks and attitudes and love of writing push me more too. I spoke to some SIWC success stories, like Shari Green, whose first published novel, Following Chelsea, was released this very week, and Denise Jaden, who now has three published YA novels as well as a book about how to write a novel.
I ran into two of the Pulp Literature editors, Jen and Sue, one who was attending the conference and one who was volunteering, and I ran into a few other writers who have published work in that fantastic journal (like KL Mabbs, author of “The Death of Me”)!
Don Maass sat down at our lunch table, and asked me about my writing. I told him about two of my YA novels, and he expressed interest in one, adding that the title grabbed him too. I later went to his workshop about world building, and it was literally great idea after great idea after great idea. He often got his audience thinking by asking THEM questions, like:
Picture something special. Who made it? Who takes care of it? What would the effect be if it was taken away? What will be gone in a day, in a year? Those moments are precious to protagonists, so they will be to readers too.
- Everything that’s beautiful has an ugly side. What’s something your character wanted, but then discovered wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? How does the character’s world change because of it?
- Picture a place of fear. Where is that place you don’t want to go? How many scary, mysterious things can happen there? What will force the protagonist to go there? What is lost that must be retrieved there?
He is a master storyteller himself, and he often interspersed personal stories and works from other writers to illustrate his points. I have pages and pages of notes from the hour I was there.
I was late getting there because of a pitch session I had with Rachel Letofsky. I quickly told her an elevator pitch for three novels and asked her which she was most interested in. She chose two, and I quickly told her about both of them (one was the one Don Maass gave positives to earlier too). She asked for a synopsis and pages for both of them, AND she noticed that in most of my fiction, I use female protagonists, and asked why. I told her it’s to take me out of “me” mode, so my main fictional characters don’t sound like me. She seemed to like that answer and in less than ten minutes, she picked up on a few things about my writing and impressed the heck out of me!
Another session I went to was a presentation about short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal. She gave many useful ideas about deciding the scale of your story, about how every character or scenic element will add 500-1000 words, and how, when making those shifts, you’re forcing the readers to do some rebuilding of the details in their minds. Then she brought out the MICE:
Milieu / Idea / Character / Event
She showed us how each story you tell can be told in different ways:
Milieu–it’s about location. Someone enters a place at the beginning of the story, and they leave it at the end.
Idea–there are questions that need to be answered. It ends when the question is answered.
Character–the character is dissatisfied with his or her current role. It ends when the character IS satisfied with it, or has a new role he or she can be satisfied with.
Event–Something disrupts the status quo. The story ends when things return to normal.
She proceeded to show us how computer nesting code could help us organize elements (I’m not kidding, and yes, it works!), pacing, scenes, endings, and economy of language. She went OVERTIME to give us everything she possibly could before she had to leave so the next presenter could get ready.
Anita Daher (“DAYER”) spoke about writing for young people. She included ideas about middle grade, YA and NA, took questions at the beginning, and answered all of them by the end of her presentation. Her plot checklist ALONE contained the following ideas:
1. What does your main character want?
2. What or who gets in the way?
3. Is the primary conflict internal or external?
4. How does the main character PLAN to get what he or she wants?
5. How will you maintain tension?
6. How will your hero BE the hero in terms of your story climax and resolution?
7. What is your charcter’s growth, her change from beginning to end?
8. How will you begin your story?
Add to that a few useful handouts and an engaging presentation, and wow–between all the sessions, I wrote 29 pages of NOTES in my journal today. Solid. I’ll also mention that I ran into some other teachers at this conference, including one who also teaches creative writing to high school students. Even more, I ran into a MOM of not one, but two kids I’ve taught–and I had no idea she was a writer. I met a journalist who turned from nonfiction to fiction, and she told me a story she had self-published that was engaging from the get go to the very end.
This is a PIECE of what happened to my brain today…and it’s huge and wonderful…and tiring. I’m off to bed to prepare for ANOTHER crazy day tomorrow.