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).
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.