Thursday, October 23, 2008

Surrey International Writers' Conference - Day One

It's day -1 at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. The regular conference does not start until tomorrow (I still have 10 minutes until tommorrow!), but today was Master's Classes. Since I come so far, I always try to attend both Master Class sessions. This year, I chose Janet Reid's Query Roulette and Don Maass's The Tornado Effect. Both good picks this year!

A Master's Class is 3 hours long (as opposesd to the 90 minute sessions on Friday and Saturday, and 75 minutes (if I remember right) on Sunday.

Janet Reid's class was outstanding. There were 18 registered participants, and we all had to submit query letters in advance. She went through each query letter in detail, on an overhead, pointing out what worked and what didn't. We then spent the last hour trying to fix what we'd written. I think if she'd rated them best to worst, mine might have been on the bottom. She probably spent the shortest time of all on it, and had neither anything outstandingly wonderful or horribly awful to say. It was uncommentable. Ah well... I did learn a lot anyway.

Janet had 6 tips for "A Good Query Letter"
(1) Short - 1 page is best. 2 pages is okay, but probably means there's something you could cut out. 250 words maximum.
(2) Readable (lot of white space. Spaces between paragraphs)
(3) Don't forget to include your contact information
(4) Tells, in 5 sentences, what the book is about (no more than 50 words)
(5) Include the word count (not the page count)
(6) Surprise the agent in a good way

For #4, the exercise we did was to write 5 sentences (no more than 50 words). Introduce the main character and setting (if necessary). Explain the problem and the choice(s) the main character must make - what's at stake. (PERIOD)

No set up. No backstory.

It's harder than it seems!

Donald Maass - the Tornado Effect
Donald's workshops are always one huge, 3 hour, brainstorming session. You come out with a whole fresh perspective on your story, your writing, or a particular scene or character. Whatever it is, he really makes you think!

The Tornado Effect focuses on how to make one scene really shine. It's difficult to summarize his 3-hour sessions in a few paragraphs here. Don mostly asks open ended questions that set your brain on fire. But at one point, he summarized The Tornado Effect as a way to make a scene more dramatic by having the scene event impact more than one character. Whatever it is that is happening, show how or why it's important to multiple characters, and how each of those characters is changed in some way at the end of the scene. As a way to get to this, re-write the scene from several different points of view.

Well, it's officially "tomorrow" (12:01 am), and time for my head to hit the pillow. It was a great day! I'll post some about Surrey social life tomorrow, along with anything interesting I pick up at the workshops!


Cate said...

Sounds like you're already having a great time.

Thanks for the updates: next best thing to being there. (Okay a really distant second, but second nonetheless.)

*hugs to everyone!*

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

Well, as far as I'm concerned, having you read my post rather than sit next to me is waaaay worse that second best! Good luck with NaNoWrit month!

Gerb said...

Taking two master classes is ambitious! They are so intense that after six hours, you must have been drained! But what better presenters to spend those six hours with than Janet and The Donald?!