March 24, 2016

8 Quotes from the Writing for Charity Conference

Saturday at 1:30am I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to go to a writing conference at 9am. It was a 1.5 hour drive each way, I already had plans, and it would take the whole day, so of course I said, sure! Let's do it! I'm so glad I did. It ended up being a fantastic conference, and I can't believe I hadn't gone before. If you're ever in the area, check out Writing for Charity, a conference that donates the proceeds to helping children in low income schools afford books.

I didn't go to all of the classes (of course), so I'm sure there's a ton of great information I missed, but here are my favorite quotes of the day from the classes I attended.

1. Shannon Hale gave the keynote on diversity and gender. I wish I could write down the entire talk, because all of it was fantastic. But if I had to pick, here are two I loved. "It's not that hard to write someone outside your experience if you believe they're a human being. Pro tip for you there!" and "Boys are not incapable of empathizing with girls, but we predetermine it for them."

Okay, one more. "Give your kids books that are different than themselves." She was amazing, and by 10am I'd decided even if Hale was the only person I heard, it was worth the long drive.

2. Matthew Kirby spoke on creating strong characters. He talked about character biases, scripts, inconsistencies, inhibitions, and fears. He said, "Each of these things form a layer that filters, shapes, distorts, and focuses the unique ways each character sees the world."

And I loved his reminder that in real life, we don't only like/empathize with people like us. It makes sense that we can identify with characters who are also different from us.

3. Jennifer Nielsen gave an awesome class on plot twists. Hers was one of my favorites. She gave a lot of information on types of plot twists and how to accomplish them. My favorite advice from her was to find the balance between giving the readers a chance to figure the plot out, then misleading them enough that they can't. Treat the readers fairly--they're smart.

4. Jessica Day George talked about writing fantasy with hook. She's funny and successful and hates fantasy gibberish names and words as much as I do! She recapped Heinlein's Rules for Writing, and said: Don't get caught up in descriptions--everything should mean something to the plot, otherwise cut it. If it's not vital to the story, it doesn't belong.

5. Lindsey Leavitt's class was on writing humor. Not surprisingly, it was hilarious. What was refreshing though, was she didn't just try to be funny, she had a lot of practical, applicable, measurable advice for adding humor to your writing.

She said all writing should have some level of humor. Humor has the ability to soften and enhance your writing, it bonds you to the reader, it lessens tension, and gives a breather in stressful situations. She also talked about the value of writing humor--that a lot of people, kids especially, have a lot of darkness in their lives. Funny writing gives them bursts of sunshine, as well as tools for coping with hardships in their own lives.

6.  J. Scott Savage talked about tension--when it works, when it's too much, and how to use it to your advantage in writing. When I think of tension, I always think of it as a positive thing, but Savage talked about how you shouldn't sustain tension. It's about knowing how to use it to engage readers, evoke emotion, and get them to turn pages.

My favorite takeaway from his class was that tension is not about what is happening in your story now, it's the anticipation of what may happen. What are the consequence of the character's actions? If there are no consequences, there is no tension.

7. Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is a literary agent with Liza Dawson, and she gave a lot of good information for people who are new to the querying process. One thing she said that I'd never thought of before: "At the query stage, agents are working for free." It helps put all those form rejections and no responses into perspective!

8. Tricia Lawrence is a literary agent with Erin Murphy. She talked about leaving the need for perfectionism behind and focusing on the things you can control. Publishing moves slow. It happens when it happens, but your writing, your inspiration, your determination are all within your control.

Lawrence's final quote was one from Audrey Hepburn, and it sums up the feeling I always have when I leave a great conference. Hepburn said:

"Nothing is impossible; the word itself says I'm possible."

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