Monday, May 03, 2010

Pikes Peak Writers Conference 4

What I'm reading: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June 2010

First – the moving update. (To go straight to the Pikes Peak recap, click the "keep reading" link below.)

Movers showed up with our stuff Friday morning. Although we got rid of (we thought) most of our stuff before leaving Florida, there were an awful lot of boxes and other bits and pieces. Hubster ran the checklist, and for most boxes, it was a matter of 'upstairs' vs 'downstairs. Rooms indicated on the boxes were relatively meaningless, as we don't have those rooms in this house. Plus, we plan to do some upgrades and remodels, so keeping non-essentials out of the way should make it a little easier. The 'fun' was that the labels on the boxes weren't necessarily indicative of the contents. Opening and unwrapping was like a day-long birthday party.

It's nice to have some furniture again, even if it's not necessarily where it will end up. And since I'm lousy at visualizations, I can finally see how things will fit and work. Of course, for all the boxes we unpacked, there are trees and trees worth of packing paper. Traversing the downstairs level is like parting the seas. And we learned that waste management up here isn't like our Florida home. There, our taxes covered pickup. Twice a week, as many cans or bags as you put by the curb. Major discards, such as furniture, etc. could be put out on Thursdays. Yard waste picked up once a week. Recycling once a week.

Here: you hire your waste management company directly. They will sell you ONE can, or you can use your own. That's it. Once a week, one can. We definitely have to look into how we can recycle all the cardboard, and what to do with the bags and bags and bags of all that packing paper.

We've had some regular visitors to the property. In addition to the critters in the picture, hubster put up a bird feeder and is happily marking off all the new species he's seeing. I've got my camera and binoculars on the windowsill of my office.

On to Pikes Peak recaps

Some tidbits from the romance panel: In romance, issues can't overpower the characters.

"Adonis" heroes are falling out of favor. Flawed heroes are more popular. Jodi Thomas mentioned making a funeral director a focal character, despite being told it would never work. There has to be something internal.

Small towns seem to be consistently popular in romance (good to know, now that I can observe firsthand!)

Today's women's fiction grew out of the "formulaic" category romance. People's reaction to romance has grown more positive; the genre is gaining respect, thanks to the efforts of the Romance Writers of America.

The next workshop I attended was on Micro-tension, given by Donald Maass. He spoke of keeping the reader turning pages, and it's independent of the type of story or genre of the book. The one thing an author likes to hear from a reader is, "I couldn't put the book down." The one thing an author doesn't want to do is have writing the reader will skim. What's missing from the pages we skim? Micro-tension.

According to Maass, the tension, the friction make the reader want to know the outcome of the immediate situation. It's not necessarily part of the overall plot. He suggested looking at any random page of a novel and studying the following three components: Dialogue, Exposition, and Action. He then asked for brave souls from the audience to hand over their own manuscripts, and he proceeded to have the group analyze a few paragraphs to see if we'd want to keep reading, then took suggestions from the floor to kick them up. Since the examples were from unpublished manuscripts belonging to conference attendees, it's not right to quote them here, so the following remarks are general in nature.

Keep in mind, we were privy only to a few paragraphs, and hearing the excerpts more or less out of context. But that's how an agent might be reading when looking to see if the writing shows merit. (You don't think they read every word when they request pages, do you?)

1. Looking at Dialogue
Escalating the language can add tension. Stronger verbs, more reactions, show friction between speakers. Raise the reader's apprehension.

2. Looking at Exposition and Interior Monologue
To add tension, try to add the opposite, or conflicting, or contradiction of inner emotions. Two ideas at war with each other—and this holds true for literary work as well as genre fiction.

3. Looking at Action
In action scenes, use less expected emotions that play off the action itself. Action does not create tension. The reader must be emotionally involved.

Tension comes from inside the POV character's emotional reactions to the action.

Tension can be subtle. It can appear in sub text.

Maass told us to read a favorite book—one that we read over and over—and look for the tension, because that's probably why we love it. To search our own work, he recommends printing the book, tossing the pages around the room and picking one up at random, then analyzing each sentence. Reading out of order will keep you from being engrossed by the fantastic story you've written!

Tomorrow, my guest is Amanda Flower, who's post is entitled, "Looking for the Blue Danube." You'll want to come back and read it! I've got a few more workshops to recap, and more house updates as they unfold. And maybe a bit more about writing, too!


Skhye said...

Great post, Terry! I've never heard Maas speak on this topic. But I call his micro-tension micro-GMC. I weave it in mostly through internalization. I tell the gals I've taught to do this that you have to line by freakin' line. ;) Wish I could have gone!!! Skhye

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Two things: First, why did you move from Florida to Colorado? What a change! There's a fascinating mystery story right there.

Second, Maas is such an impressive literary agent that I truly appreciate you sharing his thoughts and comments with all of us. The only book I've kept rereading is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
It's an amazing novel on many levels.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great points! Thanks for sharing them. Am tweeting...


Terry Odell said...

Skyhe - this was the first time I've heard Maas. Not only informative, but entertaining as well.

Jacqueline - After over 3 decades in heat, humidity, and flat, we were ready for a change. We got one. We're loving it, snow and all. And I'm always glad to share what I'm learning.

Elizabeth - As always, thank YOU for tweeting.

Marisa Birns said...

Followed Elizabeth's pointing finger here. I loved reading books by Maas and am grateful for your reminder why he is so good at what he does.

Thank you for this post. And enjoy your new place! :)

Debra St. John said...

Thanks again for sharing the conference recap! Good luck with all of those boxes...a day long birthday party sound slike fun!

Carol Kilgore said...

The information from Donald Maass is priceless, Terry. Thanks for sharing.

Good luck on finding a way to recycle your packing materials. When we lived in the mountains a few years ago, we had to take our own trash to dumpsters. There were plenty enough of them, but everyone used them and the trucks emptied them regularly. These came equipped with bear locks - that the bears figured out how to open.

Mona Risk said...

Terry, I still can't believe you left our sun-shine state for the mountains of Colorado, but I wish you the best. If you get cold check my blog for warmth and pictures of Ancient Egypt

I took D. Maass's workshop. He made a difference in my writing. His direct approach on how to write great hooks and improve the pace is unique. Thanks for posting about the mini-tension. I will keep it in mind.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any intentions of putting in a garden?
If you do, lasagna gardening would save a lot of work and take care of all the cardboard and packing paper quite nicely.

Terry Odell said...

Marisa - thanks for coming by, and I hope you'll stop here again.

Debra - now, if we only had places to put all the stuff we discover while looking for something else!

Mona - it's amazing how many former Floridians we're finding here. Not everyone can tolerate the heat and humidity, and living with the a/c running almost all year long.

mtz- I'll pass the link to the hubster; he's still trying to figure out how to deal with the deer if he does plant a garden.

Kerrie said...

Great post. Thanks for the recap of Donald Maas' session. What was the most memorable session you attended and why? As a conference director I am always looking for good presenters.


Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like the move is coming along nicely. Waste management is a big issue for small towns. Just keep telling yourself that once you have all the boxes and etc. from the move taken care of you, you'll be more efficient in the rest of your weekly garbage. Love the photo of the 'neighbors'.

Thoughts in Progress

Author Roast and Toast said...

Gosh I wish I could go to some of these workshops!!!
I hate living in the heat. I want to move up north a bit to get away from it!

Ray said...

Better you than me. I hope I have moved for the last time. I am enjoying you telling about it.

A funeral director could work as a character. You wouldn't have to spend much time with the character on the job. My dad was a business partner with a dentist whose brother was a funeral director. I went to school with his son. We just thought of them as another family in the community. But did we really know them? That son put a hose from his exhaust into his car in the garage. What secrets did that family have?


Pamela Nowak said...

My first book, CHANCES, features an undertaker as a hero. For years, I was told by contest judges and editors that this would not work. Five Star Expressions, however, liked the concept and signed me. The book is set in 1876 Denver and I didn't shy from using details of the trade as part of the plot and to characterize Daniel. I felt it made the story unique. Since the novel won the 2009 HOLT Medallion for Best First Book, readers apparently agree. For more details, visit


Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks again for the conference update. Always something new to learn in this business. It's nice of you to take the time to share your notes.

Terry Odell said...

Pamela, when I started writing, sports stars and famous musicians were taboo as heroes. The former were considered "too rich to appeal to readers" and the latter "too boring." It's a good thing writers ignore some of those rules and just write good books.

Terry - recapping my notes helps set them in my mind, so I'm more than happy to keep going! I'm glad others are finding my notes helpful on some level.

Terry Odell said...

Kerrie - email me and I can go into more detail.

Mason- craigslist is working well for getting rid of boxes, etc. I'll talk about water restrictions another day!

Ray - our next move will be our kids moving us into The Home, I think!

Terry Odell said...

Mary - I don't miss the heat at all.

Terry Odell said...

Carol -(excuse the hopping around the comment thread!) We were told to make sure our bird feeders were high enough so bears couldn't get them. Haven't seen any yet, though.

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Enjoyed reading about the conference. I've never heard Donald Maas speak. Something to look forward to.
Enjoy the snow. I'll soon be wishing I had some.
Ann Ambrosio

Maryannwrites said...

Great tips from Maas. Thanks again for sharing all you learned at the conference.

Sheila Deeth said...

Great conference post. Thanks.

And oldest son will soon be playing the moving game with me to assist.