Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2

Thanks to Ann for giving us that insight into setting. I've got mixed feelings myself—the hardest book to write was Nowhere to Hide, my July release from The Wild Rose Press, because it was set in Orlando, where I'd been living, and I was being very careful to get all the details right. Making stuff up, while maintaining the flavor of a locale, seems to be my favorite approach.

First, a quick personal update. We will have been in the house 2 nights when you read this. We're getting acquainted with how everything works, and spending a lot of time and money at places like Wal-Mart, Costco, and BB&B! I have some new pots and pans, but we're still using paper plates. Tumblers, but no stemware. Clothes are stacked and heaped—not enough hangers. But we're slowly chiseling away at the basics, and hope to start on some of the upgrades soon.

Now, back to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

One interesting item I omitted on Monday was the final topic of Barbara Samuel's workshop on Story Design and Values. She presented the Principles of Antagonism as set forth by Robert McKee, in his book, Story.

She demonstrated the four values we should be looking for in developing characters and stories: Positive, Contrary, Contradictory, and the Negation of Negation.

Some examples: The positive value of TRUST has the Contrary value of Mistrust. The Contradictory is Deception, and the Negation of Negation would be Deceit masquerading as trust.

Following those categories are:

Success; Compromise; Failure; Selling Out
Freedom; Restraint; Slavery; Slavery perceived as freedom

She also mentioned that Story is about principles, not rules. We should be looking at archetypes, not stereotypes. At realities, not the mysteries of the publishing business. At mastering the art rather than second guessing the marketplace.

The next workshop I attended was Pacing, given by Kelley Armstrong. Since pacing still tends to be a challenge for me, I was looking forward to this one, and I wasn't disappointed.

She told us to look at every scene, every plot point, and determine if it was active or passive. Too many active scenes can leave the reader exhausted, as well as immune to the growing conflict. With the possible exception of the Hubster, most folks would burn out at a movie that was nothing but battle scenes and car chases.

But passive scenes, where the characters are interacting, have to be more than fun chit-chat. They still have to move the plot forward.

Active does NOT necessarily equal ACTION. Anything that grips readers will keep them turning pages.

Demonstrating how to keep things moving, she used the example of characters who are faced with breaking into the villain's lair. They have to plan how they're going to do it, then do it, then go back to the rest of their cohorts and explain what happened. While this is important for the writer, putting it all on the page would bore the reader. Go straight to the "do it" phase. She repeated something most writers have heard: "Go in late; get out early."

She stressed that there's no need to show the "business" of getting from A to B. We don't need to show every minute of the character's day. Readers can fill in the blanks. Saying, "after lunch" tells the reader that the character has eaten without going through every bite.

Even dialogue can slow a story. It must move the story forward. It's OK to summarize the basics. She warned of rehashing events in dialogue. No small talk. Armstrong then progressed to elaborate on one of Elmore Leonard's rules: "Don't write the part that readers skip." What do readers skip? (Not all true for all readers, of course).

Technical details
Researched facts
Characters on Soap boxes
Lyrics and poetry
Flashbacks and back story.

For all of these, a little goes a long way. Break it up.

She also reiterated the importance of stopping chapters where something is about to happen. It doesn't have to be a cliffhanger, but it should make the reader want to know what actually happens.

I'll be continuing my workshop recaps, so please keep coming back. And if you found this helpful, please share.


Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent points. Thanks again for sharing with us. Congrats on being in your new house. Have fun making it your home.

Mason Canyon said...

Interesting points. I have read books with too much action. You have to stop after one chapter just to catch you're breath it seems. Have fun with your move.

Thoughts in Progress

Terry Odell said...

Carol - thanks. There will be more -- I think there were 5 or 6 workshops a day, plus great lunch and dinner speakers.

Mason - I recall one book where the plot revolved around some rescue/escape in the far, far, frozen north, and there were no breaks in the action or conflict. I was exhausted reading it.

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

It sounds like the conference is very productive. I have come from movies feeling exhausted from the fast pace. Very good advice the speaker gave you.
Enjoyed answering posts from my piece on Saratoga. Thanks for the opportunity.
Ann Ambrosio

Carol A. Strickland said...

Very much enjoying this! And darn it all, I bought "Story" last year and haven't begun reading it! I'll pick it up this weekend. Thanks for the reminder.

Terry Odell said...

Ann- the pleasure was mine. I enjoyed having you, and I'm glad you had fun. Hope to see you back often.

Carol - As I recall, Barbara called STORY a 'very dense book' and said she read it in bits and pieces, always finding something new. I think I'll have to add it to my library now as well.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great recap, Terry! Am tweeting...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lisa said...

Really like the breakdown on pacing. Thanks so much for the recap!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks for sharing this, Terry. I love these helpful tips. I own Story. It's written for screenwriters but it's also helpful for novelists. I read it in bits too.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, especially for the recap on the pacing session. I love to read thrillers with non-stop action, but find it's pretty exhausting to write that way -- the characters need a break and so does the author.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth thanks for the tweet.

And everyone -- please keep coming back. I'll be continuing these recap posts.

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow. Thanks. I think I'll go check out the earlier post too. Very helpful.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila - no problem. Have to start working on tomorrow's post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Excellent suggestions and advice. That's why it's so important to put our work away for a while and then come back to it later for edit.