Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Con Report: MarsCon, Day 3, Conclusion

Sunday programming at MarsCon. After the “does strong = kickass” panel, I said goodbye to friends and I was just a little late into the “Fairy Tale Rewrites” Game, in which the panelists were busy rewriting a fairy tale (or tales), and the audience worked on a long, complicated Mad Lib. Sorry to say, it went on a little too long and I decided to bail before the guests were ready to read their stories.

A quick trip up to the fabulous consuite – seriously, the MarsCon consuite is legendary for good reason – and I was fortified with a quick lunch to make it through the afternoon.

I sat in on the last half of the Princess Bride Roundtable. Enjoyed the conversation so much, I didn’t take a single note! Seriously. None of it was really new or even brilliantly insightful, it was just such a pleasure to sit around with people who know the film so very well and can make comparisons to other genre works, including a long sidebar discussion on Star Wars trilogies. I didn’t know a soul in the room, but it was like sitting around with best friends talking about one of our favorite things. :)

My last panel for the day was Carrie Ryan’s “Story Structure, Tension and Pacing” writing panel, a broad-based approach with a YA focus. So here again are my “stream of consciousness” notes:

Tension: Have to get in to the story fast and keep the pacing moving along

Ed Schubert (who was with us) talks about “pricetags” rather than rules. The choices you make – the length of your novel, the language, the violence, the sex, all cost “points” – so they come with a pricetag. That is, how hard is it for you to sell to your editor? And so on up the chain to the reader.

A comment about hearing things more than once (like participating in workshops) – sometimes you have heard something before, but this time you *hear* it in a different way.

Writing a book is really, fundamentally, about telling a story
[how can you use “telling the story” to outline your manuscript?]

Ask yourself:
1)   Who is your main character?
2)   What’s their desire/goal?
3)   What are the obstacles in their way?

This trifecta of Character – Goal – Conflict are what make up your story
They all work in tandem

The reader has to care about your character, or they won’t care about the conflict – they have to be invested in your “hero’s journey”

“In a movie, we watch the story. In a book, we’re *in* the story.”

All characters have flaws

Michael Hauge’s http://www.storymastery.com/
Five ways to identify with your main character:
1)   Make your hero sympathetic
2)   Put your character in jeopardy – something that is important to the character (job, friend, family, life, the dog)
3)   Make your character likeable
4)   Make them funny
5)   Make your hero powerful and good at what they do
Use at least three of these things before you reveal a negative aspect of your character – they should be flawed, but the reader needs to be on their side

Establish the character, then the goals – but the 1st goal you set can’t be the final goal of the story – it won’t sustain across the whole arc – goals come in stages, usually one leading from the previous

1)   Set up an evil force
2)   Take something of value/bring it back
3)   Escape imminent danger
4)   Desire to *win*
5)   Romance (win each other’s love)

“Happy people make short stories.”

Ask yourself (as the writer), “What’s the worst that can happen?” And *DO THAT*!
Make your readers sweat!
Torture your characters!

Obstacles have to be 1) Deep 2) Believable 3) Complex 4) Universal
Readers must relate, and if it’s not believable to them, it doesn’t matter how “possible” or “realistic” it is!

Emotion comes from conflict
People don’t change without conflict –they have no incentive to do so otherwise!
Make characters act toward their goals

Sometimes you don’t know the final goal until you get to the end of your story!

Writing to YA
What’s important to a teenager isn’t the same as what’s important to adults
Teenagers don’t have all the experience filters that adults have accumulated – every thing is for the 1st time – good or bad – love, betrayal, the shock and heartbreak of “kill the dog” – they don’t have the inner voice saying “You’ve been here before – you’ll get through this”

Publishing definitions – main characters 12 years old are “middle grade” / 13 years old are “young adult”

In terms of the “pricetag” items such as swearing, sex, violence, you have to ask 1) how important is it to the story and 2) will readers buy it?

“New Adult” is a new category following “Young Adult” which includes sex on the page (instead of “fade to black”)

55% of YA was bought by adults in 2013

World building:
The reader has to suspend their disbelief to enter your story
Carrie calls this “gimme points” – if you get 100 to “spend”, consider carefully how you do that. She spends about 50 just on zombies!
Fiction has to make sense – reality doesn’t!

Structure consists of the balance and interrelationship between Character – Goal – Conflict
Combines the Hero’s exterior journey and interior journey
The hero often starts off and fails, then gets serious about their quest and succeeds – that’s the story arc, the hero’s journey
Then at the end, there is a final test that they succeed – opening and closing echoes

So my conclusion about MarsCon remains the same as last year – what a great con! Strong programming, can’t-throw-a-light-saber without hitting a friend, fun parties, and a great con suite. I definitely plan to return in 2015. 25th Anniversary. Check it out. http://www.marscon.net/

Dogs in house
Houdini, Brindle

Electronic Transmissions Sampler

Time writing
~1 hour

January word count


  1. Thanks for the updates and notes Margaret. Wish I could have gone this year.

    1. I encourage you to get there if you can, Ken. As I've said, it's a great not-so-little con. I've had a blast my two years there.

  2. Thank you, Margaret! I was looking forward to your notes from this workshop and they didn't disappoint! You're the best! xox

    1. Thanks, dear Princess! :)
      I hope they're helpful.
      Until next time!
      Curtsies, Margaret