Some authors discover powerful sparks in the quiet of parked cars or eating an apple under the Arc de Triomphe every morning (as suggested here). But for the typical explorer of words and stories, stepping out of the cocoon of a writing nook and into a hall filled with like-minded authors can rejuvenate the soul.
Organized by the Henderson Writers Group, the 2012 Las Vegas Writers Conference ran from April 19th to the 22nd. Like most conferences, this one offered workshop sessions on topics spanning the publishing globe: e-books to editing, articles to dialogue, querying to time management. Here are the top five tips and ideas that struck a chord with me. I submit many have taken on my own spin, but concepts worth thinking about are also worth framing through a unique lens.
1. “Writers must dream big but start small.” Amusing and knowledgeable Chuck Sambuccino (blog) urged us to seek small, local, and new markets to score publishing credentials. I also take the quote to mean major projects are won not through giant leaps but through the particulars of each word, every sentence, and one page at a time.
2. “Focus on what I control.” According to Sambucinno, successful authors concentrate on three things: a. Writing well. b. Building a platform. c. Moving forward. All the other variables of the publishing world are out of our hands, so we shouldn’t waste time and energy thinking about them.
3. “Give characters attitude.” Chris Roerden (website), editor extraordinaire, shared some tips about dialogue: Use asymmetrical exchanges (not answering directly or changing the subject) to heighten tension. Let speakers vie for control of a conversation by asking questions. Make your protagonist’s best friend brush off his concern and thereby sow tension. Allow a speaker to lie or answer with silence. Have a speaker leap ahead in the conversation by assuming what will come next. Dramatize a scene of dialogue by setting it in a high tension location, such as a sporting contest.
4. On showing character emotion, author Kirt Hickman (website) encouraged us to explore the nuance of character emotion rather than exclusively using the ends of a spectrum, like joy or misery. Also, he pointed out that characters sometimes experience more than one emotion at a given moment. Concrete, specific details can be used to accentuate sentiment. For example, not just a flower, but a rose. Not some music, but a specific song memorable to the character.
5. “Put down the remote.” Chuch Sambuccino hammered home the idea that success at writing takes time. This was supported by Chris Roerden’s handout. On it, she says one of the top ten reasons for not getting published is, “feeling devastated when your first few efforts are rejected, believing becoming a professional writer should not require the same years of practice and development that becoming a professional violinist or surgeon requires.”
Until the next publishing contract, here’s to dreaming big and starting small.