@knightauthor's place

Lessons from SWA

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Just left the Southeastern Writers Conference on St. Simon’s Island. As is the custom at such events, there was the usual advice: don’t think you are going to get rich writing, and write what you love, blah, blah, blah. But what I really want to share is the important stuff that came out of this one.

First, children’s book author Lola Shaefer shared her 25 questions to ask your characters. This helped us to really think about who they are through a personal interview. Those questions were things like what is the character’s favorite color, does she have siblings, what does he fear, etc. It really helped me think critically about who I am writing about.

Then suspense author Michael Wallace told us 9 ways to fix a scene that is not working, first ask:

1. Does the character have a goal for that scene?
2. Is the main or sub character passive?
3. Can someone who is passive pick up more of the load?
4. Is there strong enough opposition to the goal?
5. Make a character act on faulty information (dramatic irony). Reader knows something character does not.
6. Raise the stakes in the scene. Protagonist faces an obstacle that prevents her from getting closer to the goal.
7. Try to mix up your characters who may not get along with each other.
8. Add a ticking clock; a deadline for accomplishing the task.
9. Things get worse but not because of a No answer. In other words, instead of the attempt failing, let it work but let the result be different than the character expected.

Finally, historical fiction author David L. Robbins showed us the 5 levels of POV, which was extremely helpful in turning a ho-hum sentence into one that delivers. He uses the example sentence written with 5 different approaches:

1. Action – John ran across the street.
2. Internal – John could not wait to get across the street.
3. Intent – John hurried across the street.
4. Voice – John scooted across the street. (as is typical for his personality)
5. Thought – John thinks, ‘I’ve got to get across this darn street.’

The higher the number, the deeper the POV. With each level you are moving from what the camera sees (Level 1), to things only the protagonist knows, thinks, or remembers (Levels 3-5). He suggests you number your own work to see where your sentences fall among the levels.

Robbins also emphasized the need to not just ‘kill your darlings’ but to never give them life in the first place. Essentially, he advised that we keep the non-cooks out of the kitchen: if they do not play a role in moving the story forward, they should not be there taking up space.

The conference goes on for a few more days, but my husband and I had to get back. Even though I only got one day in, it was worth the trip. I intend to start applying all the tips I received as soon as we start the ride home.


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