GenCon had been highly recommended to me by the principals at Writing Excuses, specifically Howard Tayler, Dan Wells and Mary Robinette Kowal (authors all), but not as the mega gaming convention that it is -- not in my case, leastways -- but for the Writer's Symposium.
GenCon has been growing every year as the premiere gaming focused convention in the country, some 60,000 attendees strong at the Convention Center in Indianapolis. There is also a much smaller contingent of writer-wannabes. Some of these writers-in-development also love to game; or to write gaming adjuncts. There are whole novels set in Dungeons and Dragons land or in the card realms of Magic the Gathering. But here I know not what I speak of. I know more about the couple hundred who go to hear authors share their wisdom with us, mostly for free -- or more accurately "at no additional charge". (GenCon is fairly cheap as these things go, a full four day pass was just $88.00 -- but a fair portion of activities have add-on costs.)
But let's get back to the authors -- or in this case, the teachers. (I was quite happy when, one day on the dealers floor, Howard introduced me and 3 fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumna as "some of my students.") There were names whom we may not have heard of like Josh Vogt, to some of the biggest names in the SFF genre such as Patrick Rothfuss and Terry Brooks (yes, for those of you as aged as I am that is Terry Brooks author of The Sword of Shannara. Turns out he's a very nice and insightful person and not the devil incarnate that some of us thought he must be to dare imitate our favorite J.R.R. Tolkien back in 1977. By the way, MTV is bringing Mr. Brooks' book The Elfstones of Shannara to the small screen in January 2016. I'm reading my personally autographed copy now.)
First Panel: Let's Get Emotional
The first panel I attended was on "Eliciting Emotional Response". And for the most part the sessions were the typical panel format: one moderator and 3 or 4 panelists. The moderator would spark the conversation for the first 30-40 minutes and then the audience would ask a few questions for another 10 or 15 minutes. John Helfers, Editor/Publisher moderated this first session. Gregory Wilson was one panelist, among other things he runs speculatesf.com, a podcast, with Brad Beaulieu, something I hadn't been aware of but that I plan to check out.
Here are some tidbits from this Thursday morning at 11 session:
1) Beware the "audience insertion character" -- you may try to use a generic anyman character to get at your readers emotions but you will often be better served by creating a character that the reader wants to be, or wants to love -- or that is interesting (example: The Talented Mr. Ripley)
2) Create 3-D villains -- they are easier to hate and possible to empathize with
3) Readers love SFF worlds, but in the end the "dongle of flarnovar" is not what they ultimately care about.
4) Useful characters run toward the sound of gunfire.
5) Conflict among an ensemble cast can be fun. (Notice during the weekend, those of you who game, the people interacting at your role playing table.)
6) The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie is less good than the first in part because Jack Sparrow is more caricature than character -- he's hard to connect to (a bit of a counterpoint to the watch-out-for-the-audience-identification-character above).
7) Use voodoo: hurt/help the reader by hurting or helping the characters.
8) Need highs and lows -- lulls in emotions allow the reader to recover a bit and then attain new levels: action, action, action (or emotion, emotion, emotion) tends to desensitize
9) Movie recommendation: "Run, Lola, Run"
10) Someone quoted Chuck Wendig: "Treat humor seriously"
11) The cake is gone and I didn't get to eat it either