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<== Click to receive a free copy of my short story Crystal Servants and learn about some of the major players in Crystal Kings, my upcoming novel due out this September.

Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 Day 3

It's been a very long but fun three days. I was able to get to four panels, all related to writing in one way or another. Also I managed to bring my "writing notes" notebook with me, so I didn't have to take notes on my phone, or borrow my wife's notebook.
Me and Kelly steam punking
My wife and I actually had costumes that went together for day three.  Day one, she was Rapunzel and I had my lab coat. Day two, she was steampunk, and I wore a Pinkie and the Brain shirt. Finaly, we go together.

Jodi and Joe Milner
Jodi Milner and her husband stopped by the Xchyler author table to say hi. She's in one of the anthologies we had for sale at our table. They were merciless and didn't stay to help at the table. :)

The First Five Pages: How to Hook you Readers Instantly
with your Novel or Screenplay
I took more notes at this panel than from any other the whole week. We learned a lot of what editors look for and what will get a story dropped for not starting out well. If you haven't given the editor a reason to care by page three, then you don't have much chance for success.

Some of the good points to cover are to generate detailed questions in the reader's mind with the problems you pose. Start out with something happening, which I've heard multiple times as starting on the day that's different. Avoid having a character wake up at the start of the story (unless it is really important and plays into the story somehow).

While the conflict, setting, and voice are important, the characters are critical because that's how you snare the reader's interest.

The biggest part of my notes related to the question, how do you learn the craft? Rather than just ways to learn, the list contained things to learn as well.

  • Read and analyze good stories (books and movies) as you would a textbook.
  • Get into a good critique group and find alpha readers who will be tough and honest.
  • Are you blocked or bogged down? Just write through it with whatever you can do and come back to edit later.
  • Listen to critiques, but more in aggregate than as individual messages. You'll never please everyone, but if 80% of your alpha readers dislike something, you should probably fix it.
  • Identify when someone else's book is good by noticing when your internal editor goes quiet.
  • Read the first page or two of every story in an anthology. Identify why some are more interesting.
  • After you finish something, write something new before going back to edit. It's sort of a palate cleanser.
  • Read lots of story beginnings. Identify what the good ones have in common. Do this in genres you don't normally read.
  • Promise a good character, theme or setting up front.
  • Promise conflict in page 1 or 2, then keep piling it on.
  • Scenes are new openings. Treat them as you would a story opening.
  • Editors need to see the author's confidence by how you write.
  • Don't start by pulling all the stops, because you won't have anywhere to go that's more extreme later.
  • Don't kill characters until the reader cares about them.
So that's the panel's list of advice.


Writing MG/YA Fantasy
 Similar to one of yesterday's panels, they covered ages for mid grade and young adult. MG is typically 10-13, while YA is 13+. The difference is that MG is often about belonging and finding your place in the world filled with external pressures. YA is more about individuality and finding yourself, with internal pressures.

James Dashner told about a horrible romance scene that was cut from Maze Runner. It's fun to hear about some of the things which end up on the cutting room floor.

They all agreed that you should not change the way you write based on the audience. Things like altering vocabulary and style don't do what you would expect for younger kids. Vocab and style are not the things that make it YA or MG.

James A. Owen talked about pigeon holes authors could get stuck into in the past, making them forever YA, or MG, or some other category or genre. That's not nearly the problem it used to be, and lots of authors do cross-overs to other areas these days.

This panel's list of advice: (as with all advice, some things may conflict, and some won't apply the way you expect.)

  • Find a favorite book. Highlight favorite scenes. Break it down and analyze it.
  • Don't write based on market analysis. Use your own voice and preferences.
  • Don't end the writing day at an end point like a complete chapter. Leave it where it's easy to pick back up.
  • Enhanced dumb ideas are no longer dumb ideas. You don't need to start with pure genius.
  • Sometimes the ideas you think are scary or hard are the best choice because they stretch your abilities.
  • You must make the kid be the hero in MG and YA. Don't ever send the adult to fix the problem or the story fails.
  • On a series, don't start book 2 until book 1 sells, because you may end up with serious editing passes which may invalidate anything you do.


Creating Good Characters
I heard some new things here when talking about creating good characters. Rather than just being sympathetic, good characters are fun, interesting, intriguing, and cool. There should be layers to what makes them tick, and those layers should be revealed over time. If you write your character true to all their layers but reveal them slowly, your reader will have "aha!" moments.

Good characters will take action rather than respond to it. Reacting is weak, while acting is strong. Their actions must matter to themselves.

The difficult balance is to make them imperfect so they have room to grow or make mistakes, because their ability to lose is important to the reader. If the reader believes a character can't be hurt, no amount of peril will make a difference.

Whether hero, villain, or side character, they're the hero of their own story. The real hero of your story just gets more attention from you as the author. One of the few differences is that villains often will have certainty where your hero is conflicted.

Characters need to have different voice, humor and attitudes so they don't all end up sounding the same.
Urban Fantasy
Like Friday, I ended the day with a heavy hitter panel full of successful urban fantasy authors. There was a lot of overlap between this one and last night's panelists. They were (left to right) Shawn Speakman, J, R. Johansson, Larry Correia, Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, and Kevin Hearne.

One theme they covered is that normal is boring. Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden character was built to be unusual. He's six feet nine inches tall, and has a mixed bag of really odd traits.

For every fantastic thing you add to urban fantasy, a good rule of thumb is to add two normal things to balance things out and make it not be all weird and new, which can lose a reader's interest.

The panelists described their favorite characters, monsters, and other writers that they liked. Nope, Jim didn't choose the T-Rex. The skin walker won that contest.

Now it's time to prop the feet up for a bit of rest and recovery and a day at church before the day job calls me back to the real world on Monday.

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