As you may or may not know, I went to San Fran recently for the RWA National Conference. This is what I learned from my 4 days there. You may already know this, but it’s worth a Tuesday 10.
1) Always check weather.com for the 10 day forecast. Seriously, you might not think so, but there’s nothing like getting there and FREEZING because you didn’t bother to check weather. I did check weather.com, so dressed accordingly for the unexpected 60 degree weather.
2) Pack comfy shoes! Forget the heels, no matter how business-like you think they are. You’re walking, baby. Walk in comfortable shoes. It’s a must.
3) Like your roommate. Seriously. I LIKE the woman I roomed with but was so ready to murder her about 1 am when the TV was still on, she was sound asleep, and I couldn’t find the remote. Talk about things like this in advance. She may think the TV was low, but once it’s quiet, that light’s off, and you’re ready for some zzzzzzz’s, it’s as loud as a disco.
4) Schedule in advance. You want workshops in Sierra J and Golden Gate Hall C1? You’re walking. They’re far apart (like 2 floors and a block or so), they’re crowded and you’re most likely sitting on the floor. You really, REALLY want that workshop of dialog? Get there early. Don’t dawdle, don’t talk, if you must use the ladies, grab a seat then go.
5) Take notes. I can’t stress this enough. Sure, you can always buy the CDs later, but there’s always that right now you’ll lose if you don’t take notes on everything you’re thinking and they’re saying. Think that line about tags just helped you cure your problem? Jot it down (and don’t lose the paper!) It’s invaluable alter when you’re going over your story and think, “Hmm, wasn’t there something…?”
6) White Space. Now we’re into what I really learned while I was there. Readers no longer like long pages of 1 paragraph worth of NOTHING. Break it up, especially with dialog. Using dialog is the best way to move the story along. If your character has no one to talk to, and she won’t look stupid talking to herself, do that. Make it into thoughts (italicized). Cut any back story that isn’t needed in the info dump and can be sprinkled later.
7) Arc-ing. I went to a wonderful workshop given by Susan Mallory called The Arc of the Trilogy. Yeah, it was on writing a trilogy, but it can work in any story, single, duo, triplets, or more. Plus, she’s hysterical and a great speaker.
So…arc-ing. Pick a Big Bad and make him relevant in each story but also have 3 other baddies you get at the end of each of the 3 books. This makes it a closed story a reader can enjoy without being pissed off she came in the middle and has no idea what’s going on. If you’re writing a story about a commonality (rather than a baddie) it’s also a good idea to make sure your H/H from books 1 & 2 are in 3. Not overwhelmingly, but enough so the reader can reconnect with beloved characters. It’s why series are so popular, after all.
8) Plotting. Again by Susan Mallory and her critique/plotting group. They use others to plot aloud. This helps with holes, gaps, walls, ad corners. Sure, another opinion might not be what you’re looking for, or not to your taste but it’s something you haven’t thought of and that’s what counts.
Trapped in a hotel twice a year, each of the 5 member team gets 2 90 minute sessions to plot two entire books. You’re supposed to send ideas/outlines beforehand, but for the pantsers amongst us it can be as little as “I wanted my heroine to find a baby in a life-sized Nativity.” [Maureen Child‘s Some Kind of Wonderful St. Martin’s Paperbacks December 30, 2003 this was a actual example she was kind enough to share.] It’s then up to the group to blurt ideas, but you to say what you do and don’t like. If you don’t want your heroine looking like an idiot for the sake of plot, just say no. No matter how much everyone else likes the idea, it’s your story.
9) Hooks. Took 2 workshops on this. The best, by far, was given by…it’ll come to me later. I’m still sleep-deprived and not nearly at my best. Anyway, hooks. Each sentence builds on the previous one. So, if your first sentence is “I’m going insane.” Then your 2nd sentence shouldn’t be “Three days ago I was walking along the path by the water when I noticed the pretty fall foliage.” No, it should build on the insanity sentence. Why are you insane? Who are you talking to? What’s their response to this sentence?
If you need all that previous info, you’re not starting your story in the right place. If the catchiest line is on page 6, cut pages 1-5. Don’t eve think about the prologue, though Hilary Sayers seemed to be OK with them if they were relevant to the story and didn’t introduce a character in dire straits then go into chapter 1 of the ‘real’ story. Big no-no there.
Ending hooks. Always end our chapter on either a hook or wretched emotional drama. If you have a 3 page chapter, so be it. The goal is to keep the reader wanting more. And by wanting more, they always want to read the next sentence/page/chapter.
10) Historicals. We’ve all heard the ‘they’re hot’…’they’re not’ bit but frankly they’re still selling. It’s all about the writing. OK, and marketing. But if the story’s good they will come. So, what’s the best way to write the hot historical? Research. Sure, you may not think that they’ll never notice you used a sub in April 1861, but trust me…they will. And you’ll get nasty emails about it.
Have a crazy tidbit from the past you think would make a great story? Go with it…but don’t forget the research. Not 3/4 of every page steeped in historical fact. Sprinkled throughout. Clothes, words, accents, scents (very important), sights. Political gossip. It’s the little things that make the story, not a dissertation on Dracula. (If you ever read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova you’ll know what I mean. Sure it was a great story but in serious need of cutting.)