The MagicalWords.net panels ended with a second “live action slush pile readings”. This time, A.J. Hartley narrated for Misty Massey, Faith Hunter, and David B. Coe. Originally they had planned to accept anonymous readings for both sessions (Saturday and Sunday), but there were so many submissions on Saturday, they closed submissions and continued reading those on Sunday. Without sharing content from the story submissions, I’ll make a sort of “laundry list” of advice from the pros as they discussed each piece.
- Battle scenes – short, sharp sentences that *cut*
- Long sentences are for reflection, quiet moments
- During a battle or high action scene, a character won’t be thinking of last names, titles, or explanations. They’ll be thinking “how will I survive” and what will help with that immediate goal. (again, immediacy in action)
- Cannot emphasize enough how important good grammar and vocabulary is to creating and continuing that good impression on the reader. Don’t screw up on your first sentence!
- Noir/crime feel – different from police procedural – must write with an awareness of today’s market – long description before anything has happened isn’t popular today
- You have to start at the right place – the key moment/action - *then* provide the detail
- Know the animals you include – would a moose be in the mountains? Yes, actually, but if it throws the reader/editor, maybe a better choice?
- Be wary of repetition – less is more
- It’s not a "sparse room”, the room is sparsely furnished
- The wrong descriptors will pull your reader out of the story, such as “the weak flames cast deep shadows” – the reader starts thinking about how that works, or doesn’t, instead of moving ahead with the story
- A shop/store shouldn’t be scary to enter – you’re supposed to want to go in and buy things – unless it isn’t what it seems / character knows something about it – this is a setting/scene issue
- Find your POV character and stick with them
- First person present tense is risky in today’s market, even though it worked for Suzanne Collins with Hunger Games
- In first person, leave self-description off first page – set the conflict first
- Female characters get described more than male characters
- Your choice of language (words, not English, French, Spanish, Elvish) can draw the reader in closer, or distance them
- Even with close 3rd person, you want the reader to be in your character’s head
- Don’t trivialize a serious moment with a throwaway like “ick”
- Use your character’s own knowledge to find their voice: “The car cost more than she made in a year” says several things, more than “the Jaguar F-type convertible”
- Don’t change mood so quickly that you leave the reader behind
And that was the end of ConCarolinas for this year. Time to walk around and say goodbyes, make plans to catch up online – and next year. I’m already signed up. How about you?
Rachel Portman, Chocolat soundtrack
June word count