Once More into the Fray...
None of the five of us, all strangers to each other save two, had braved the food truck lines as of Saturday morning, so face-painted Matt-the-game-runner took the first turn. We were playing "Truck Off: The Food Truck Frenzy" for the first time. It's a terrific board game where each player operates a food truck and chooses which venue to sell at (sporting event, convention, brew pub, etc.). From moment to moment you can cooperate or you can screw the others (I found this latter most entertaining). It also uses polyhedral dice, but only a little bit. I did not win. I did get the secret password, "roadkill", to get a discount to purchase a copy at the Adam's Apple Games booth, which I did. (This game was successfully Kickstarted for original delivery in March 2017.)
Here We Go A-Paneling
He was late but it was still too early in the day for Patrick Rothfuss as he hurried into the packed meeting room. The ticket-taker caught up with him half-way down the aisle, "Sir, do you have a ticket?"
"I'm on the panel," Rothfuss replied clearly through his full beard and hurried on. The room cracked up and the tension retreated.
Geoffrey Girard was also among the panelists. I listened to his Cain's Blood after seeing him at my last GenCon. He's good. Girard own's his New Jersey roots and only moments into the panel he was self-deprecating and deferring to Pat Rothfuss, touching him briefly on the shoulder. "Pat does not consent," came quickly from Rothfuss's mouth. And the tension gripped the room once more. Rothfuss let Girard off the hook shortly, but not before he'd squirmed just a bit.
They'd demonstrated more than they could have planned for this panel: Writer's Craft: Resolving Tension While Holding Interest. Susan J. Morris was moderator again. Other panelists were Maurice Broaddus and Leigh Perry.
Example of opening with tension: "They say he rode into town on a horse the color of milk but I saw him come out of the woods." (Attribution?)
Write small or go home - P. Rothfuss. You don't need death-stakes for tension.
It's about desire and what do you as a reader feel - M Broaddus
Rothfuss: watch out for false tension, it's like a wine glass placed near the edge of a table, it distracts focus as all seeing it worry it will fall and the other drama fades.
Tension needs release.
"Can't have tension without expectation," said Rothfuss, "and managing reader expectation is the hardest thing."
He also told us about "bathos", that it is half of dramatic tension (Wikipedia: bathos is associated with anticlimax, an abrupt transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. This may be either accidental (through artistic ineptitude) or intentional (for comic effect)).
And then he plugged his Name of the Wind playing cards Kickstarter and offered preview art of the playing cards that could be shot and posted as selfies by us attendees. #NOTWArtDeck
Writer's Craft: Can a Hero Be Too Powerful? With Howard Tayler and I didn't note who all else. Short answer: Yes -- stories where the hero isn't vulnerable aren't very interesting, e.g. Superman without kryptonite, otherwise it has to be about the other characters.
My biggest takeaway was Howard's distinction among various types of good guys:
Hero - drives the plot forward
Protagonist - Has a story arc, i.e. character development, finds out who they are
Main Character - lots of focus on this person but they may have no power and may not have much of an arc, depending on who else does or what else the story is about
Writer's Craft: The art of Adding Details: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal with Steve Diamond moderating.
So this was essentially an unrecorded Writing Excuses podcast (missing Dan Wells, but they are often missing one or more cast members). It was sometimes silly and always fun, but still managed a few pearls.
Details: Focus - Internal motivation. Breath of Rhythm - Meaningful motivation
Mary gave nice examples of how details can change a scene:
1) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair.
2) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair with legs that went on for miles.
Zelazney: provide 2 details about a character, maybe later add a third.
Readers will fill in the rest, if the action is rich enough.
Exercise: take some of your own writing and pull out all the adjectives and adverbs. Put back just one or two per page. See which is better.
Scaffold and Fade (quoted from Kelly McCullough). Provide a few details and then just hint at the world around those details. Especially with dialect in dialog -- if you keep it up and keep it true it gets tiresome and distracting, but sprinkle them in to keep the characterization, distinction, and tone.
Writer's Craft: How to Write Micro and Flash Fiction with Karen Bovenmyer. This was a small seminar and Bovenmyer had PowerPoint slides, which was great. I wish more of these sessions would use visual aids. She has published a bunch of micro and flash fiction (typically under 500 words and 500 - 1500 words, respectively, though definitions vary and other terms and constraints are widely used). She also has a fresh novel out.
Someone said that of the 3 facets of story, character, setting and plot, a given flash fiction only really gets to explore any two of them -- but that may have been a different panel.
Bovenmyer uses the 7 point plot structure popularized by Dan Wells. The one time I really tried to use it I ended up with a 15,000 word novella, but she says it works. I plan to try. I liked her layout. The plot points appear in the story in numerical order, but you generally try to identify them in the order tagged by the letters, i.e. A then B then C, etc.:
1. Hook (A) Something to grab the reader
2. Plot Point I (D) Reveal of what the story is about
3. Pinch I (F) Bad thing happens/complicating
4. Midpoint (C) Characters commit to what's happening
5. Pinch II (G) Big bad thing, building to climax
6. Plot Point II (E) Climax itself, growth, attain power to win
7. Resolution (B) How things work out, or don't
I'll give a high level outline of her presentation, but not the details, you should really get that from her.
Character - what do they want (really?) why can't they have it. POV?
Language - engage the senses, evoke emotion through word choice
Setting - story could not take place elsewhere
Balance - short -- need to show but have to tell sometimes. Get in, get it done, get out
Editing - Sit on it first, cut 10%
Let it fly - get critique group feedback. Cry. Revise. Submit to pubs. Cry. Revise? Believe.
I was saturated. Left the Con for the night and picked up a local pizza en route back to my La Quinta home. Revised my piece for Sunday's professional critique. Fought with the hotel printer a bit. Channel surfed, and slept.
Everyone's a Critic
Sunday morning I read aloud two minutes worth from my WIP (Work In Progress) to two published authors and seven other writers who had brought something to be professionally critiqued. It was less painful than it could have been. (I've done this before. Still not easy.) Everyone got a crap sandwich -- some good comments, then some bad comments, followed by some good comments. Things which came up with more than one author went up on the wall.
I celebrated by hitting the expo again. I bought dice, including a 30 sided one. I got a free GenCon50 die with a coupon. I collected another button or two for my lanyard (note the Dicey Peaks one from when I played on the Expo floor a couple days earlier.)
Shortly after noon I pointed my car south. Despite total eclipse watchers gathering in Tennessee and slowing Nashville traffic to a crawl, it was a sedate drive. After the last four days at GenCon50 almost anything would be.