Wow. What a conference!
This was my first Pennwriters Conference, and only my second writers conference. The first, over ten years ago, left me feeling energized but lonely. It was a commercial conference, not directly affiliated with any particular writing organization. I recall feeling that I got my money’s worth of instruction, but didn’t get much in the way of networking. I left Pennwriters with half a dozen new Twitter followers and at least a dozen new acquaintances, and I wasn’t even staying at the hotel!
There were several pre-conference sessions on Thursday. I chose the “Many Genres, One Craft” track, thinking it would give me the most bang for the buck. Yes, I’ve got a novel done, but I know I need to improve my craft.
MGOC is a collection of lessons from the faculty, students and alums of Seton Hill’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. The pre-conference is described as Six workshops for craft and career. The three morning sessions focus on plotting with Victoria Thompson, character with Timons Esaias, and setting with Heidi Ruby Miller and Jason Jack Miller. In the afternoon, sessions focus on pursuing publication with Natalie and Matt Duvall, building a brand with Mary SanGiovanni, and investing in your writing with Michael A. Arnzen.
The sessions were shuffled a bit due to last-minute schedule changes. Tim Esaias started us off with his Character session. The takeaways from that were many:
- You can reveal characters through their “stuff.” We read excerpts from several books, including Devil in a Blue Dress, Empress Orchid and The Decanter of Tokay, and deconstructed the first pages to learn about the characters. Very revealing.
- You can find out more about a character from the way they describe stuff, such as Phillip Marlowe in The High Window when he first arrives at the Murdock home.
- Get your readers to care about your characters first. Then give them a reason to worry about your character.
- Think about what touched you in something you read, then do that to someone else.
Next up was Jason Jack Miller, talking about “Building A Vocabulary For Our Stories.” His handout led off with this line:
Be yourself, be our guest, be all that you can be. Be anything but a Be verb (or a dull noun).
Lots of tips here.
- Strong nouns and verbs can render descriptors futile, making your prose move faster.
- Action verbs create drama and don’t give readers a chance to slow down.
Jason had an entire page of discussion about how the devil is in the details. Vocabulary detail such as regional dialect cements the setting. Everything from local colloquialisms, food and restaurants to events in local history, and even smells.
Matt and Natalie Duvall introduced the FreyReDuv Plot Method, combined from the Freytag and Regis plotting tools. Very interesting concept, and I’m going to be giving it a try on my next story.
Heidi Ruby Miller gave a great session on building your brand. There were several such sessions throughout the conference, including a focus on social media.
Matt and Natalie came back with their “Paths to Publication” session. They asked us what publication meant to each of us. I came up with this big flowery twenty-word passage, but one of the other writers really nailed it: “Finding an audience.” The follow-up question—what’s the best path to publication—got a similarly short answer from the same writer: “Whatever gets me to my definition of publication.”
Michael Arnzen wrapped up the day with “Investing in Your Writing.” What does a writer have to invest? Plenty: Time. Ideas. Skills. Money. Property. “Every heartbeat is a moment you can be hitting a key.” His discussion included a comparison of investment strategies to writing and pointed out that writers who chase trends probably won’t catch them.
Thursday was a great day, and primed us well for the rest of the conference. More about that Wednesday.
Typewriter Photo R. Schmidt, Kronberg/ Germany, www.club-pac.de