While a lot of time is spent roaming the halls, hugging and chatting with friends, I am also making a point to attend several panels and seminars, since the con does a great job putting together a track for writers, as well as artists, media fans, and gamers. This afternoon I started out with the Writers Reception, where John Hartness served as MC, inviting each writer guest to introduce himself or herself, and briefly mention new or upcoming publications. This is a great open venue for attendees who don’t know most of the guests, and it is nice to hear what people are up to. But I keep up with most of these folks on Facebook and various other social media, so this was a pretty social rather than informative event for me.
I skipped out of the end of the Writers Reception to attend my first “real” panel, “Can’t Stop the Signal,” because, well, Firefly! And I know panelists writer guest Misty Massey and music GOH Mikey Mason, although I didn’t know the 3rd panelist, Tony Finkelstein. I’ll confess, I didn’t stay long. The panel had gotten way off topic by the time I came in, and they were having a hard time wrangling the discussion back to an interesting Firefly-focussed theme. *shrug* That’s the way it goes sometimes, but I decided I would go check on a few dealers I knew who should have been setting up in the dealers room by then.
The dealers’ room was half empty close to 5pm? Weird, because I knew at least three dealers who were missing but had planned to arrive even earlier than I. Well, I made the circuit and said hi to several more folks that I knew – I’ve spent a lot of money in dealers rooms over the years.
Waiting to catch up with a couple of friends for dinner, I stopped in to the “50 Years of Doctor Who” panel, where I knew Davey Beauchamp, Angela Pritchett and Drew Meyer would be waxing eloquent about all things Doctor Who. Joined by K.G. McAbee and Jaysen Buterin, they thoroughly entertained the audience with discussions of favorite Doctors, favorite Companions, best story elements, theories on the successful longevity, and more.
Another swing through the dealers room connected my dinner party, and we enjoyed walking across the boardwalk to the Bad Dog American Pub. Coming back, we admired the Gotham car and the Ghostbusters car outside the hotel.
The highlight of the Friday sessions for me was the first Magical Words Seminar, “Choosing the Right Words,” led by Misty Massey, David B. Coe, and Faith Hunter. Misty pointed out that telling a story is essentially painting with words, and choosing the right words is so much more than throwing darts at a thesaurus list. David staked his position that every writer needs a good *print* dictionary and thesaurus at hand when writing, though Faith argued that there were certainly good applications or even online resources available. An audience member asked if the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is still the “gold standard,” which the panel agreed. David said he happily uses the Merriam 11th Edition, which includes the 1st date words came into usage, which is important when checking for historical accuracy. A few fun examples:
- “Par the for course” would be well after the late 1800s when golf was first established in Scotland.
- Paranoia was a concept 1st expressed in the 19th century. An earlier character wouldn’t even recognize the term, even if they were familiar with feelings of fear, distrust, etc.
- Misty pointed out the use of “You’re okay” early in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It bothered her to hear, but upon checking, the word “okay” was in use at that time, although perhaps not by a young English lady.
There was a long discussion about the use of “said” attributing dialog. Often called the “invisible word,” some writers (and even some editors) mistakenly engage “said bookisms” to avoid overusing the word, choosing words like “retorted, opined, declared, etc.” instead. Faith pointed out that writing dialogue itself is creative, but the effort of going through and making sure it’s all properly and clearly attributed is just must-do technical detail.
Another interesting discussion point centered around point-of-view (POV), especially the “headhopping” or omniscient narrator of the 80s, which seems to be resurfacing lately.
This led to a discussion about the constraints editors face in today’s industry. Where they used to have greater resources and time to devote to each book, now the author must take more responsibility to make sure their work receives a thorough editorial review. David said he thought that reviewing his own work with a critical editor’s eye was one of the greatest strengths he had honed over the past several years.
Long discussion on word choice in the narrative context. That is, you would use different language to describe a fight scene – fast, exciting, sharp, brutal, strong, powerful – vs a love scene – tender, romantic, steamy. Faith mentioned a very successful, pithy scene written in the Stephanie Plum novels, which was not explicit, yet the word choice was so well done that the effect was electrifyingly steamy!
This led to a discussion of the absolute necessity to read! Read! Read! Find authors you like and study the *way* they write to better understand how you can craft your own voice.
Read aloud—often when something needs work, it simply does not sound right.
Have someone else read—with a different voice, out of your head, you can hear how it will sound to a 1st-time reader.
Print it out and read it on paper (if you’ve written on the computer) – seeing it in a different medium can make a big difference in how you “see” something.
David also suggested reading an old work of yours. First, it will be better than you expect, but you’ll likely recognize deep-rooted tendencies or flaws in your writing style that may appear in current work and help you change them.
Funny discussion about unintentional mistakes people make in word choice or pronunciation. Check your words, including how to pronounce them. And I do wonder what “excruciating potatoes” would taste like! An audience member noted a story with a strong narrative voice in a dialect that grew “old” before the end of the story. If you’re going to use incorrect grammar or speech, make sure it’s clearly the character’s voice, not the author’s voice!
Quick discussion about word choice for the YA market. One audience member said Lemony Snicket did a great job of introducing higher level vocabulary and explaining it in context without talking down to the readers. Faith said she knew editors often said that writers needed to “dumb it down” for kids, but that kids don’t like it. They’re not afraid to admit they don’t know a word or to look it up, while she thought adults sometimes resisted doing so. Another audience member said R.L. Stein has said he used big words for kids and little words for adults.
Final quick note about cursing, not just for the YA audience, but in general, that the usage seems to have been dropping in recent years. David pointed out that cursing well done can be almost poetic in its delivery.
A “bottom line” point was made that writers are market oriented and do/should write in the language that will be most accessible to the broadest spectrum of their potential readers (and buyers).
This point was central to the tail end of the other seminar I attended, “Writing the Other”, which was largely off=topic by the time I came in. But the point was made that bookstores were marketing to customers in ways to get the product into their hands and the money out of their wallets as quickly as possible.
I enjoyed some more hall conversations and decided to turn in early tonight. Tomorrow will be a very long, fun, and interesting day!
Rachel Portman, Chocolat
May word count: