Friday, July 18, 2014

Con Report: ConGregate, Winston Salem, Sunday (Day 3)

...Continued from Day 2

Having learned our lesson about breakfast options on Saturday, my friends agreed to meet at 8am for the hotel buffet—and more omelettes!

First up for Sunday programming? The Magical Words “Live Action Slush Pile” – hugely successful when debuted last month at ConCarolinas. In fact, the ConGregate staff heard about how popular and successful this event was and worked out a repeat appearance at Congregate on the spot!

The idea is to bring to life an overworked editor’s attempt to slash through their daily slush pile. The “editors” are founders, Faith HunterDavid B. Coe, and Misty Massey  Participants anonymously submit one page—the first 300 words—of a manuscript. A guest reader, in today’s instance, A.J. Hartley, reads each page, and as each “editor” hears something that would cause them to pass on the manuscript in their slush pile, they raise their hand. When all three hands are raised, they stop and discuss what “killed” the story for them. Sometimes it’s as simple as poor grammar or structure or word choice in the first sentence. Sometimes it’s an overdone trope or theme or scene (beginning with someone waking up, for instance). Every once in awhile, they reach the end of the page. And once or twice, a manuscript gets a spontaneous ovation from the room. After their comments, they invite the author to “out” themselves, though it’s not required.

My submission almost reached the end of the page – and A.J. actually asked to read the last two lines, because he thought they would influence the listeners’ opinions. Thanks for that, A.J.! As at ConCarolinas, the panelists gave excellent feedback and ideas which immediately had me busily rewriting the opening scene, definitely for the better (including getting to those 2 lines a little sooner).

After the LASP (tm), I headed across the hall to the Social Media/Marketing for Authors/Artists/Others. GailMartin served as moderator, with panelists Jennifer McCollom, Nicole Kurtz, Randy Richards, Tricia Barr, and Sharon Stogner. Interesting debate/discussion over (primarily) Facebook vs Twitter as the current “king”. I think the key takeaway was find what works for you, where your community grows, and continue to build that. Randy “lives” in Facebook, and finds Twitter more or less a bust, for instance, while Tricia thrives in the Twitterverse, and indeed was live-tweeting throughout the con – and, impressively, even throughout her panels. Jennifer discussed the differences for her as a film special effects artist – much of her work is under wraps until the film’s release, so she *can’t* display or talk about her work in the same “real time” way that writers and other artists can (usually) talk about – and share pictures of –theirs.

I asked about the challenges working with Facebook, because of the kingpin’s control and limitations of newsfeeds, fan pages, etc. Is it better to have an individual account, or a business or fan page, for instance? Some found the advertising a waste of effort and money, while others found it worthwhile. No clear answer, it seems. YMMV.

Interesting discussion about blogging and across-the-board cross-promotion in social media, reflecting much of what Sharon and I had discussed the day before. People are willing to boost each other—share, and ask!

In fact, I am just now realizing we didn’t have a discussion about any of the negative aspects of social media, including trolls or bullying. It’s on my mind from an unpleasant incident earlier this year, and it’s certainly something I hear more and more about on social media (very meta) and in real life, unfortunately. I will have to remember to ask if people have dealt with these unpleasant circumstances and how successful they have been in resolving them (i.e., making them go away).

Since I had to make an early return home, my last event of the day was the second half of the Magical Words Writing Workshop. David, Faith, and Misty continued their manuscript critiques. I’ll share the more generally useful comments here:

Misty recalls a great piece of advice on where to start your story: Start where things begin to go wrong!

The reader should know what the book is about by the end of page 2…the central conflict(s) should be introduced in the first 500-1000 words.

Trust your reader = trust yourself as a writer!

Names that sound or look too similar can be confusing to readers – consider whether you can change one.

Point of view (POV) is one of the most vital aspects of strong storytelling – be consistent!

Said-bookisms are words used instead of “said” – for awhile people said to avoid “said”, but it’s now considered “invisible” – les distracting to the reader than other words.

Introduce elements with brief phrases and lines – you can flesh them out later.

Get rid of POV self-aware phrases like “I saw”, “I felt”, “I knew”, “I noticed”, “I thought”…start with what comes next (i.e., instead of “I watched them dancing and knew they were falling in love”, you might say, “They danced with exuberance until the music slowed, then they pressed their bodies together, cheek to cheek, lips moving as they whispered to each other under the cover of the music.”

If you have a flashback scene, it should be near the end of the 2nd third of the book – the reader is fully engaged by then and will be ready/want it.

Vernor’s Law (Vernor Vinge):
Develop Character
Further Plot
Fill in Back Story
If you’re not doing at least 2 of these 3 things in any given scene, you’ve stalled your story.

So with a flurry of hall goodbyes, I headed home from ConGregate. So many panels I wished I had made, so many people I saw in passing, with never enough time to stop and talk. The ConGregate folks threw a fine shindig, and I plan to return next year.

Time writing
~1 hour

July word count

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