The Write Stuff conference, sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG) and held this year on March 16th and 17th, is one of my favorites. When I found out that James Scott Bell would be the keynote speaker and presenter of a day-and-a-half pre-conference workshop, I signed up as soon as registration opened because the things he says about writing make a lot of sense to me. It didn’t occur to me until a few weeks later that the conference was only a couple days before my grandchild’s due date. Since babies often arrive ahead of schedule, perhaps I should have passed on the conference this year. I took the chance, however — and kept my cell phone in my pocket set on vibrate. No call interrupted the conference … and we are still waiting for the baby to arrive!
Some conferences offer more workshops and panels slanted toward writers at the beginning of their writing journey, but The Write Stuff has plenty of choices for those who are further along in their writing, writers who desire to hone their craft and work on revisions of completed works. The in-depth, pre-conference workshops are a bonus that few, if any, other conferences offer. And lunches are included for the pre-conference workshops as well as breakfast and lunch for the conference — a great deal for the price!
James Scott Bell’s workshop — Novel and Screenwriting Intensive — proved just as valuable as I’d hoped. I took sixteen pages of notes the first day and nine pages the second (half day). By the end of the day on Thursday and Friday, my brain felt stuffed to overflowing and I was so exhausted I had to take a nap before dinner!
James Scott Bell advised us that agents pass on manuscripts that are not memorable, not surprising, or too put-downable. A writer needs to create a simple plot about unforgettable characters. He advised all of us to think about which of the seven critical success factors in writing — plot, structure, characters, scenes, dialogue, voice, meaning — are personal weak spots and suggested we devise self-study programs to improve those areas. He spoke at length about each of the seven success factors, gave us writing exercises and suggestions for finding a character’s voice and identifying the theme, and offered tips for proceeding when stuck in a scene. He punctuated his talk with scenes from movies which effectively illustrated his points.
If you missed The Write Stuff and are interested in taking the seminar, Jim will present it three more times this year: in Austin, Texas on June 16-17, in Nashville, Tennessee on August 11-12, and in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 15-16. He will also be a presenter at the Writing Boot Camp in Manitou Springs, Colorado on June 1-2. If you can’t make any of these events, you can check out his writing advice on the group blog The Kill Zone or buy one of the five books he’s written about writing.
I also attended the three-hour pre-conference workshop Friday afternoon with Gayle Roper — Ten Crucial Questions to Ask about Your Novel. Gayle said that a writer needs to have a passion for the story and characters because he or she will have to live with that story and those characters for at least two or three years, from the novel’s inception to its publication. She advised writers to look for what makes each character different from all others and to give that difference a purpose in the story. Character motivation is affected by personality, background, and the stresses of the situation in the story.
In the first session of the convention, Friday night’s Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution, Associate Literary Agent and author Marie Lamba called the current market situation the Age of the Author. She advised writers to know the business, get found (have a website and participate in social media), and get read (get short stories published or offer free short out-take scenes from your novel on your website).
On Saturday, five session times are offered, and attendees have to choose from four offerings for each session. The first session I attended was The Agent Panel with Katie Shea, Lauren Ruth, Marie Lamba, Rachel Stout, and Carrie Pestritto. Moderator Kathryn Craft asked each to relate how she became an agent, and most had become agents through an interning experience.
My next session was Power Revision — How to Get Your Novel in Top Shape with James Scott Bell. Jim recommended that a writer develop a strategy for revision. His own strategy involves letting the manuscript sit for three weeks, printing a hard copy with a cover page, and reading through the manuscript like a reader, taking minimal notes to indicate places where the story drags, where sentences are clunky or unclear, and where more explanation is needed. Then he looks at different elements in the novel, such as dialogue and theme. The last step is the final polish.
Author Joyce McDonald presented Writing for Young Adults: Reconnecting to the Teenager in You. Joyce urged YA writers to read YA literature. During the writing process, a YA writer must let go of the parent and the parent’s instinct to protect the child and remember the feeling of being a teenager. The teenage years are all about emotion. Create a mood and atmosphere appropriate to the teen audience. Sensory details are important, and the story should have more action than interior thought.
After lunch, I attended Gayle Roper’s session, Building to Your Story’s Emotional Peak. Gayle suggested identifying your story’s overarching issue or them and giving that issue or theme a face. The main character should confront a major dilemma, and he or she should have something in his/her past which makes facing the dilemma even harder. The story should progress to a moment when the character must make a choice that has serious potential consequences, and the choice should not be made for personal gain but based on moral or spiritual grounds.
My final session was Keep Them Turning Pages: Suspense Secrets of the Masters with James Scott Bell. Suspense arises when something in the story is unresolved. Ways to raise suspense include using cliff-hangers, having a ticking clock, raising the stakes for the characters, and throwing in plot twists and turns.
These, of course, were only a few of the offerings at the conference. The others sounded just as interesting, and as usual, I wished I could’ve been in more than one place at a time. I leave the conference eager to apply the ideas I’ve garnered to my own writing and to share them with my critique partners.
Have you found writing conferences helpful? Maybe I’ll see you next year at The Write Stuff!