Sunday, June 1, 2014

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2014, Saturday (Day 2), part 1

A decent night’s sleep and a relaxed start – unusual for a con, but I’ll take it!

Saturday was a busy day of writing panels, but also included plenty of fun(as always).

My first panel of the day was one of my most anticipated: the Magical Words Live Action Slush Readings. David B. Coe, Misty Massey and Faith Hunter listened to Emily Leverett read submissions and each raised their hand when they heard something that would cause them to reject the manuscript. When all three had hands raised, Emily stopped, and they discussed what had caused them to stop reading. They were really good about providing encouraging feedback as well.

I submitted a story that I’ve been shopping around with no success. They actually listened to the very end of the sample, and gave me some great feedback, including some ideas for strengthening the “hook” in the opening lines. I’m looking forward to working on this one and sending it back out to seek publication!

More generally, they talked about some of the critical aspects of storytelling, especially in the opening lines/scene, when you have very little time to grab the attention of any ready and draw them in further, especially an overworked editor with a large slush pile to wade through!

Character, setting, and plot are the “triumvirate” key elements to a successful story. Without describing each story, I’ll note the critical “killer” points, which provide an excellent “don’t do this” list!

  • Don’t start with too much setting before you introduce character (this “3rd person omniscient” narrative style was in fashion 20 years ago, but not now)
  • Don’t refer to POV character by full name, title, etc – that person would not think of themselves that way – distances the reader
  • Be mindful of POV transitions in general
  • Don’t start with “it” – a vague pronoun with no antecedent.
  • Don’t user over-long sentences at the beginning – immediacy comes through short, punchy phrases.
  • Don’t start with character waking up – it’s been done and done and done
  • Perhaps, “Damn, what’s my name?” as a first line, which communicates a lot with very little.
  • Use active description rather than exposition. “Tree bark exploded over my head and I ran into the darkness” carries more punch than “I was being shot at….”
  • It’s okay to use contractions in dialogue. Really.
  • Pay attention to details. For example, a future “hovercycle” would more likely have electronic sounds rather than mechanical engine sounds
  • Split sentences with conjunctive clauses into shorter, punchier sentences. During action, adrenaline pumps heart faster, thoughts are choppier.
  • Avoid “he heard”, “she felt”, “He saw”, etc. Show, don’t tell. If you’ve got the POIV voice right, we will know it’s them. More immediate immersion for the reader.
  • Evidentiary – get your details right. Too many readers will know the difference
  • Subtle details provide setting, like a brocade gown and a Derringer sound steampunk
  • Avoid using names that are too similar. David relates in one of his books, he had characters names Travis and Tavis, and his editor cried foul.
  • Let the reader discover with the character. Don’t tell the reader and make them wait for the character to catch up!
  • In a dangerous situation, give the POV character’s emotional response – if it’s not what the reader would expect, then begin to explain why (hints, not an info dump)
  • “Said bookisms” like “he hissed” or “she glared” are out of fashion
  • Watch your grammer! Misplaced modifiers, unclear antecedents, and adverbs, adverbs, adverbs!
  • Immediate POV draws the reader into the story – don’t distance them with reflective description and details that a person wouldn’t think, such as “My best friend since childhood, Molly Brown.”
  • Misty got a rejection letter from Marian Zimmer Bradley advising “Start where things begin to go wrong” – find the right place to start your story!
  • Dialogue is tricky. People don’t use each other’s names very often, nor continual endearments. Also do not heed the poor advice to avoid “dialogue tags” like “he said” and “she said”. The reader skips over them, but can be confused without them.
  • Prologues are very much out of fashion. Can you layer that information in elsewhere?
  • Start with the right *character*, which may not always be the main character
  • The characters engage the reader
  • Sharing information is like making a lasagna. Don’t dump it all in, prepare, chop and layer it across the entire piece.
  • Introduce your conflict, the central plot line, as early as possible.
  • Show the emotional and visceral responses of the characters so readers will connect with them
  • You shouldn’t write *for* the market, but you have to write in a way to sell in todays market. Know it. Respect it. Make it easy for an editor to want to buy your story, and a reader too!
  • The narrative can’t contradict the POV voice: “They didn’t give me half a chance”, but the character rolls over and doesn’t move when “they” come into the room.
  • In a dangerous or desperate situation, character shouldn’t remain calm!

Lunch with a group of friends, back at the next door sushi restaurant. The food is excellent (sweet potato yakatori and “surf n turf” sushi roll today), but very slow service. Almost a two hour lunch! Lots of great conversation about writing and editing, so absolutely time well spent.

I took the afternoon off to work on some editing, speaking of, and a brief nap.

Back into the fray for the Magical Words Beginnings seminar, again with David, Misty and Faith. But I have stayed up too, too late, and now must sleep. So more details on fun panels tomorrow…

Time writing
I can’t even

May word count


  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, reading back up to where I was before plus spot edits Ch16-19

    Time: ~40min

  2. Good tips! I like the idea of 'info lasagna' :)