Friday, October 24, 2008

Surrey International Writers' Conference - Day Two

You are getting very sleepy....very sleepy...

Well, at least I am. It was a big, full day at the Surrey International Writers' Conference.

By all reports, the best session of the day was Donald Maass's Designing Venomous Villains. Unfortunately, I did not choose this class. Major boo's on me. I always regret skipping one of Don's sessions. He has a talent for really making your think about your own work. But I sometimes think "Oh, I've heard that person talk before. I should try someone new." Next year, I'll remember to stick with the tried and true.

The beautiful thing about Surrey is that if you find yourself in a session you don't really like, you can just move to a different session! People are coming and going all the time (to attend blue pencil and agent/editor appointments), so this shifting of locations can be done with some grace, although when half the attendees leave a half-hour into a presentation, the presenter may want to reconsider their syllabus.

The first session I attended was Bob Mayer's "Plot: The Events of Your Story". Bob Mayer is perhaps most famous for his collaborative writing with Jennifer Crusie (Don't Look Down, and Agnes and the Hit Man), but has an extensive list of books he's published under his penname Robert Doherty. I recently read "Lost Girls", one of his recent books, and thought it was great.

Anyway, I was disappointed that the class this year was identical (to the best of my memory) to a class on plotting he gave two years ago. There was too much material. He talks too fast. And it was difficult to really get anything out of it. However, he did remind me of The Conflict Box concept, which both he and Jenny Crusie talked about a few years ago, and I think also covered in their one year writing class online. The basic concept is that every scene must have conflict between a scene protagonist and a scene antagonist (may not be the overall story antagonist. For example, this could be the best friend!). The protagnoist and antagonist should have competing goals.

Bob used an example from Lost Girls to illustrate this concept. The protagonist's goal is to discover the kidnapper. The conflict is that the kidnapping continues. The antagonists goal is revenge. His conflict is that someone is trying to stop him.

The protagonists and antagonists goals should work against each other.

Try this on a scene or two. If the scene protagonist and antagonist's goals don't conflict, there may not be enough tension in your scene. I know I have some better examples of this at home. If anyone's interested, I can post them when I get back.

My second session was Dialogue by John Lescroart. Unfortunately, the bulk of this session was structured around audience questions and answers, which tend toward the more basic sorts of questions, so I left after about 1/2 hour and moved to a basic blogging 101 (too basic for me). THIS was the session I should have gone to see Donald Maass. The best tip on writing dialogue was "Skip right to the point." Don't waste a lot of time with "Hello, how are you" and the like.

If you're here on my blog, you likely know everything Darren Barefoot had to say in Blogging 101. However, he seemed a good a knowledgable speaker. Wish I had time tomorrow to attend his blogging and social networking talk tomorrow!

Third up was Characters in Action, by C.C. Humphreys. Lovely British accent! The major point of his talk was that characters have objectives and obstacles (see conflict box above - goal and conflict). This seems to be my theme for the day. Mr. Humphreys uses an acronym to demonstrate his principals: COMOCA - Characters, Objectives, Meeting, Obstacles, Creates, Action. He also mentioned "The Rule of Three" - obstacle, failure, obstacle, failure, obstacle, success. Don't make life too easy for your characters. And finally, he said "get in late and get out early." Try to cut out as much set up and closure as you can in your scenes. Get right to the point (where the scene really starts), and finish immediately when the conflict for that scene is resolved.

It's all about the conflict.

Sessions were followed by dinner, followed by a night owl session led by Michael Slade and a re-enactment of an Old Time Radio Show! Michael slade is a storyteller extraordinaire, and accompanied by a cast including Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, kc Dyer, and others, they re-enacted two famous radio plays. Very fun!

Too tired for the bar tonight. Last night in the bar we were joined by Rachel Vader (agent), and a crowd of members from the Compuserve Writer's Forum. Surrey is such a great place to meet people, talk about writing, and just absorb the atmosphere. Can't wait for tomorrow!


Gerb said...

Sniff... miss. Surrey. : (