Just got back from the Writer Unboxed Un-Con a couple of days ago and like many of my peers, I’m having a hard time adjusting to real life again. It was so great! What’s Writer Unboxed? I guess I’ll start at the beginning.
WU is a wonderful blog (www.writerunboxed.com) that’s all about the craft of writing fiction and providing moral support for fellow writers. I’ve been a member of the “family” for a few years now and I can say that it’s been invaluable.
This was the first conference and it was held in Salem, Massachusetts and what a wonderful time of year to be there! The leaves were gorgeous and it was right after Halloween so there was still a magical feeling in the air.
The days were packed with classes and workshops. I literally filled my notebook with notes. I wish I could tell you everything I learned and the insights I discovered, but that would take pages and pages to do. So instead I’ll share some granules of wisdom and some links so you can delve further on your own.
My first class was Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. I’m now a groupie. It was about how stories are the most powerful form of communication and our brains are literally wired for story because that’s how information has been passed down for generations. When someone says, “Let me tell you a story…” your brain releases Dopamine and you’re ready to experience the story. A good story is more important than beautiful writing because you’ll get a better reader response. She compared it to a tricked out car with no engine. It’s pretty, but it won’t get you anywhere. And most importantly—story is internal, not external. It’s what happens to your characters. Lisa has a TED talk all about this. I highly recommend it. It’s almost more like learning philosophy and about writing.
Learned about Setting as Character taught by Brunonia Barry and Liz Michalski. Both are from the area so not only was it a good class about describing your setting, they offered some new insights into the area. Most of it was a writing exercise and some of us shared what we wrote.
Velveteen Characters taught by Therese Walsh. Therese is a founder of WU and organized the conference so she is a powerhouse, to say the least. Basically she said that all of your characters are important, even the secondary ones. You should try to give each one a quirk or flaw, it makes them more real and will enhance the story. She suggested for a writing prompt to make 5 assumptions about a character and flip them. See what happens!
vs and Story taught by Lisa Cron, Brunonia Barry, and Donald Maass. This was a biggie. To sum up copious notes, story is internal and the changes that happen within your characters. Plot is actions, events and things that affect your characters. Also a side-note, every single scene should have conflict, action, suspense, and a turning point.
Where Story Comes From led by Meg Rosoff. Basically, you are unique so your voice is unique. It was about tapping into the conscious and unconscious mind, to get to those memories, fears, and feelings that are real. If you can convey those feelings, your voice will be unique and you’ll connect with the reader.
Donald Maass’s class on How Good Manuscripts Go Wrong. So many notes! He talked about how to make your characters deeper and more interesting by giving them flaws and obstacles to overcome. Does your MC (main character) do something that no one else can do? Does your MC know something that no one else knows? And don’t forget to add tension to every scene. Most books don’t have enough tension.
The last day was an all-day long workshop about 21st Century Fiction. It seems that genres are starting to cross over and readers are expecting it. Plot driven books have deeper characters and literary books have more suspense and action. His method was to ask questions which make you think about your characters and the events. Many people, myself included, had “aha!” moments which made us look at things differently. So insightful.
That’s it in a nutshell. I’m including a video of me singing the Un-Con song. It’s embarrassing and the quality isn’t great, but it was fun.
Posted in Conference and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Brunonia Barry, Donald Maass, Lisa Cron, Liz Michalski, Meg Rosoff, Therese Walsh, Un-Conference, Writer Unboxed by VP with no comments yet.
I wrote a book review for Burrows by Reavis Z. Wortham. The review is over on the Austin Mystery Writers website. Go check it out and see what I thought of it! Austin Mystery Writers
Posted in Review and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Must reads, Mysteries, Reavis Z. Wortham, Texas mysteries, VP Chandler by VP with no comments yet.
Scott Montgomery addressing the crowd
A spine-tingler of a gift!
Reavis and Janice
More chairs? No problem
I made Reavis laugh!
Scott Montgomery speaking with Karen
Reavis entertaining us.
Karen giving great advice.
Gale raffling off another item.
I'm picking up character descriptions from the audience.
Creating great characters
Reavis is having too much fun.
This will be a short article, but I wanted to say a little something about our first writers’ workshop for Austin Mystery Writers.
First of all, I’d like to thank Book People and Mystery People for allowing us to use their space. And huge thanks to the writers Reavis Z. Wortham, Karen MacInerney, and Janice Hamrick for giving of their time to share their knowledge with us.
Lessons I learned:
1. Mysteries come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, but good writing is good writing.
2. Take out as many of the dialogue tags as you can. (he said, she said, he yelled, etc.) Try to change your description and action so you don’t have to use them. Reavis called it “trimming the fat”. Actually, I think he said, “It’s trimming the fat, y’all. You don’t need it.”
3. Your story will drive the pace of your writing. Slower action will probably have longer chapters, faster action will have shorter chapters. The shorter chapters will make it move quickly.
4. It’s good to have a little humor to break up the heaviness of the drama. But don’t force the humor, some people just aren’t funny. (Surely I don’t have that problem. Right?)
5. Most writers probably write to work out something from their past. (I can see that.)
6. Karen said, “Read, read, read your genre!” You should know what is expected of your writing. A cozy mystery will have a different form and elements from a hard boiled mystery.
7. Your MC (Main Character) has to have a reason for solving the mystery. They can’t just “be there”. They have to have a stake in the outcome. (I knew this, but for some reason I’ve had trouble applying this to my current WIP, until Saturday. I had an “aha!” moment and fixed the problem.)
8. Janice talked about creating great characters. She had the audience do a simple, yet effective, writing exercise. She asked us to write down a description of a dotty old woman. The descriptions varied widely. She gave a scenario and told us to write the woman’s reaction. Boy! Even more variety than the first descriptions! She said that it goes to show that no two people write exactly the same way.
9. The one thing Janice said that really stuck with me was about adding depth to a character. You can start with a stereotype, but add an unexpected twist to the character. For some reason that really stuck with me. So many of my favorite characters are flawed heroes. It works.
10. Janice also recommended you Google a character’s name before using it. Make sure you don’t accidentally give your hero the name of a famous killer.
There was so much more to the lectures, but these were the things that struck a chord with me. We had such a good time laughing and learning and giving away prizes! We are already talking of doing another on in the Spring.
P.S. I think my cookies helped make it fun too. 😉
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Book People, Janice Hamrick, Karen MacInerney, Mystery Writers, Reavis Z. Wortham by VP with 6 comments.