Event: LSFWriters Create Something Magical Conference – Workshop Notes Part 1
Liberty States Fiction Writers Create Something Magical Conference
March 17, 2012
Confession: I’m a compulsive note-taker. I was one of those students who took copious amounts of notes in class and then typed them all up outline-style before a test. But wait, I do have good reasons for this behavior: I remember what I read and write, not what I hear. I simply won’t remember anything from class lectures. But if I write it twice and then read it countless times in the hour leading up to the test? Consider it aced.
Anyone who knows me (or follows me on FB) can tell you that I like taking classes and learning about things. (I just don’t like homework.) So it should come as no surprise that I took a ton of notes at the Create Something Magical Conference. I’m not going to type up everything, but learned so much useful information that I have to share my favorite bits from the workshops and panels I attended.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of the event, I went to 4 workshops and 2 panels. This post includes notes from the first two, Pitch Perfect with Pattie Giordani and Tina Gallagher and Novel Structure with Maria V. Snyder.
Pitch Perfect with Pattie Giordani and Tina Gallagher
This workshop dealt with developing a pitch for your work, as well as agent/editor appointment etiquette. Pitch sessions are usually somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes long. A good pitch is 1-3 sentences OR less than 150 words. (The goal is really to narrow it down to a one-sentence elevator pitch.) Introduce yourself, but just talk about that book. The goal is to use compelling sentences that will make the agent/editor want to ask you questions. A pitch is not a summary of the whole story, just a brief statement giving the core idea or main themes. Check out the summaries of movies shown in the digital cable guide for inspiration. Use short talking points and let the agent/editor ask questions. It’s okay to use less than the allotted time to give them breathing room between appointments, and if you hear “send it to me,” thank them and walk away.
When developing your pitch, start with a few paragraphs and keep editing it down until it’s less than 150 words. At the beginning or end of the pitch, include the title, genre, and word count. Do your research: know your genre, audience, the person you’re pitching to, and where the book would go on a bookshelf. It’s expected that you will have your pitch written down, but be able to deviate from the script if they interrupt with a question. Be positive, but not conceited. Don’t be negative or criticize anyone else’s work. Don’t give them a printed manuscript at the appointment. Don’t follow an agent or editor into the restroom. In short, don’t be crazy, and remember, agents and editors are people, too.
After covering this material and more, the panelists invited the audience to read their own pitches for critique. The entire workshop was really, really helpful.
Novel Structure with Maria V. Snyder
The main theme of this workshop was “Don’t confuse your reader.” Regarding flashbacks vs. backstory, Ms. Snyder suggests dropping “had” after the first paragraph in a flashback, and then bringing it back for the last sentence to indicate that the flashback is ending.
Whatever genre you’re writing, you should also be reading, in order to know what structures are used and acceptable to the audience. If there’s a publishing house you want to go with, look at their newer titles.
We were given Anne Lamott’s ABDCE formula for the basic structure for writing: Action Background Development Climax Ending. There are some popular exceptions, but you generally want to start with the action. Your opening scene hooks the reader when something changes and the action starts. The background (or backstory) shows what got the characters to this point and who they are, but you want to dribble this in, as opposed to throwing in large chunks of exposition. What are the motivations of your characters? Determine what they really want and then throw lots of obstacles in the way.
Development really hit home for me. Ms. Snyder calls the middle part of the story, which is about 80% of the whole thing, a “long, cold slog,” where it’s easier to go back to the beginning to endlessly revise what you’ve already written or succumb to the “siren song” of another project. (She said if you’re continually revising your first few chapters, you’re lying to yourself. I’m so guilty of this! I’m scared of the long, cold slog through the middle!) Don’t rush the climax, and the ending is the resolution.
I have lots of notes from the other workshops I attended, so please keep checking back throughout the week.