Friday, September 04, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 2

Part 2

So after what would have been a very tolerable 6 hour drive to Indianapolis my first observation was that the area was very flat. "The map is not the territory." Maybe, but it was certainly flat enough to be a paper map. Why wasn't the drive tolerable?  Mostly it was the cracked windshield caused by a truck-spewed rock just north of Nashville. But also the thunderstorm as I descended into a valley someplace in central Kentucky was just plain frightening. Armageddon-end-of-the-world, what-on-earth-are-all-you-drivers-doing-away-from-your-loved-ones frightening. But we all got through it -- as far as I know.

Second Panel: Atmospheric Writing

This one included Dan wells, Kerrie Hughes, Erin Evans and Elizabeth Bear.


1)      E. Bear will step into a void and fill it with her opinions. That's not all bad, but wore on me in later panels. She quoted Emma boll: "POV is everything". Also word choice as mood lighting. Give some "telling details".

2)      Erin:  let characters mood show through the POV narration. E.g. for a rustic feel: "It was darker than 2 feet down a cow's throat."

3)      But not just snark. "So, no shit, there I am driving down the road and this truck..."

4)      Use "Just in time" exposition to create atmosphere

5)      When you're juggling, use both hands.

6)      Have someone describe your story back to you after they've read a bit -- they may get the plot right but if they don't mention it's set in the South then you may have failed to convey the atmosphere.

7)      Paragraphing: an art for changing atmosphere.

Third Panel: Editing your work (Susan Morris, Erin Evans, James L. Sutter, Howard Andrew Jones and Matt Forbeck

1)      Watch out for variance in voice, and inconsistent character arcs

2)      Finish your story, then polish it. Later events may shift earlier stuff and early polish is wasted.

3)      Put it away for a week/month then attack with fresh eyes.

4)      Read your work backwards -- not maybe word for word but scene by scene to avoid getting caught up in it.

5)      When a scene just isn't working, ask: what do the characters that are present want?

6)      Talk it out -- maybe draft an email explaining -- send it or don't. Or muscle through it.

7)      Again:  Finish your story. Write or die software makes you keep writing.

Panel 4 (Hell, yes, it's still Thursday, only 2 pm) Defining Genre and Why it Matters

I will recommend that you pull your itinerary together early for at least the first day and get those tickets mailed to you with your convention badge. Even though these writing seminars are mostly free, they still had tickets. There were about 100 seats or so in the rooms and usually far fewer people than that, like 35, but if you wanted a seat up front you wanted a ticket, non-ticket holders had to wait and enter the rooms last. And picking up a packet of late ordered tickets in the Will Call line on Day One meant waiting in a line that was hundreds of yards long. No joke. But it actually moved well, less than 30 minutes to wind through much of the convention center. Still not a fun time, but I chatted with my linies so not too bad.

Steven Diamond, Django Wexler (are people really named Django?), Brian McClellan, Geoffrey Girard, Steven Long.

Geoffrey Girard is an author I hadn't heard of. He's also an English teacher in New Jersey. He started as a short story guy, winning a Writer's of the Future a decade or more back. I enjoyed his flippantry and chatted with him a couple times between sessions. I'm currently listening to his novel "Cain's Blood", a bit gory but you can see the short-story-guy bleeding through -- some chapters could stand alone.

Notes from Defining Genre...

1)      Girard: Horror doesn't sell, Thrillers sell. My novel, "Cain's Blood"... running gag joke as he held his new novel aloft several times through panel.

2)      For marketing, once committed to a genre, need to hit it 90% (can't drift too much or be too mash-up-y and get good placement at Barnes and Noble)

3)      Steven Long has an article defining essentialelements of fantasy and 6 sub-genres. I haven't read it. I expect that statement to be true a year from now. Two. Three....


I did skip my 3:00 panel -- I hit the street outside the Center and selected a food truck for lunch, had some Moroccan shawarma. Good flavor, a bit chunky.


Panel 5: Killing Off Characters: John Helfers, Dan Wells, David Farland



1)      Need to care about villains, make them real, or their death doesn't matter.

2)      Guides and sidekicks, too (Obiwan)

3)      "Fridging" a character: Green Lantern's girlfriend was stuffed in his fridge so he got motivated to be Green Lantern but was no emotional impact on reader.

4)      Killing a character can indicate danger to our protag: Indiana Jones and choosing a cup as Holy Grail (No frequency of Indiana Jones references did not seem greater than it would have been had we not been, you know, in Indiana)

5)      Good: instilling a sense of "is it safe to keep reading" -- the characters are in real and certain danger.

6)      Death can't be the only thing for main / recurring characters -- it just ain't gonna happen.

7)      Reference to Robert McKee who has theories about "Story"

Panel 6: Researching Your Story (Geoffrey Girard, Dan Wells, Thomas M. Reid, Delilah S. Dawson)

I've researched a little -- spent a night at a monastery for example. (Curiously also in Indiana).


1)      Docents at museums. Some of these geezers will talk to you for hours. And they know their shit.

2)      Have something that you explain in unnecessary detail. Covers a multitude of later sins.

3)      Have something that you don't explain enough (boldly make them assume that you, too, know your shit.)

My final activity on Thursday was "An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss" (2 hours). I didn't know Rothfuss, only vague rumblings that he is a bit bigger than life. And has a beard. I still haven't read any of his stuff (although he read a couple snippets to us). This was in a bigger room. Packed. About 300 people. Some folks without advance tix did not get in. He regaled us with stories only tangentially related to questions asked from the audience. He was good at it. And we all promised that tidbits would not be repeated out of context. And so I won't. But if you get the chance, let him entertain you. Different than, but almost as recommended as any similar event with Neil Gaiman. Inspired me enough to buy his latest book and have him autograph it, "The Slow Regard of Silent Things". I've also bought the first book on audio, but haven't started listening as yet: "The Name of the Wind". It's a tome.

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