GenreCon 2015: what writers talk about when they talk about writing

I recently attended and participated in GenreCon15, held in Brisbane, Australia. I did a write up on my other website and I thought it was relevant to post here too, as we discussed writers' groups and support on our panel.

Enjoy!

GenreCon15 is over and a whole bunch of writers left the building on Sunday feeling inspired, challenged and grateful to be part of a supportive community of creative souls. I didn't know many people attending the event but quickly connected with some fabulous human beings. 

Self-publishing, dialogue, world-building, making friends with characters, plotters vs pantsers, the joy (!?) of research and the dreaded slush pile, GenreCon15 covered all of this and more. In this post, I've covered a few of the sessions and included highlights of the discussions and recommended authors and resources (for homework!). 

Panel: Blistering banter

The panel began by covering the fundamentals of dialogue: it should characterise, move plot, provide exposition and it should do more than one of these things at any one time. It also delved into the power of silences because what is not said is just as powerful as what is.

The wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal introduced us to puppetry and did a clever little trick (with a scarf!) to physically show how subtext informs word choice, tone and body language in an exchange of dialogue. She also raised the use of humor. Making readers laugh gives them a release but not at the sacrifice of any story tension.  

A final piece of advice from C.S Pacat was a goody: Choose a piece of good dialogue, study the technique that makes it work and use that technique in a section of your own work.

Recommended reading: Dorothy Dunnett, Scott Lynch, John Scalzi, Mark Twaine, Aaron Sorkin and other screenwriters.

Recommended website: writingexcuses.com (short podcasts on all things writing).

Panel: Mining myth & history

It quickly became clear that Sulari Gentill and Kate Forsyth had very different ways of approaching their work and completing their research. Sulari writes very quickly, completing a manuscript in as little as 3 months and doing research along the way while Kate's approach is to do the lion's share of research at the start. 

Kate Forsyth began the discussion by reminding us that research is simply reading with a purpose. She immerses herself completely in the time and era of her project by reading everything she can get her hands on from that time. She usually begins her first draft after her research and only after she feels she knows everything about the world she wants to create.

Sulari, on the other hand, scaffolds a world that already exists and writes into it. She doesn’t start a world from scratch and usually researches as she writes. She’s also married to a historian, which helps! 

It wasn't surprising that the pantsers versus plotters debate raised its head during this panel and both authors spent some time on articulating the issues on each side of the argument. In the end, it was decided that writers generally sit along a spectrum but even those who will not have a hard outline to work off, do plot, just differently. They may internalize the process but it does happen. 

Recommended reading: Imagine, How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Workshop: The power of premise

What is a premise? A statement of character and conflict.

Goal, Motivation, Conflict = hero wants (goal) because (motivation) but (obstacles). 

Nailing the premise is important, it's also very difficult and Christine Wells took us through a few exercises to hone ours.

The value of research was a hot topic at GenreCon and Christine reinforced the fact that we should all know the books in our genre - the classics and the bestsellers. It pays to know the debut hits, the popular tropes and the emotional experiences on offer in our genre and to be aware of the comparative titles and authors in that space. 

What experience do you get from these books? How can you instill some of the tone and emotional flavor of that experience into your premise? Sometimes it's word choice, or the use of familiar tropes. Sometimes it's a decision to change the title.

Studying the premise of books, TV shows or movies is another great way to become familiar with the appeal of a well-crafted one. 

Recommended resources: IMDb has a list of high concept tag lines on their website for movies.

Panel: How to find and keep your readers

Talk of finding readers quickly focused on the product and the first piece of advice, to write a really good book, kept popping up on other panels too. The best part of a writer’s day should be spent on writing the book and any leftover time should be spent on social media and cultivating a following.

C.S Pacat said that a good course of action, when dealing with readers, is to be genuine and professional. Readers love regular contact so if a writer promises to post three times a week, stick to it. She also advised us to do one social media channel well, rather than 10 poorly.

Recommended reading: Amanda Palmer, Felicia Day, YA authors onTumblr such as Sarah Rees Brennan.

Panel: Five ways to avoid screwing up your novel

The panel all agreed that showing, not telling, was key in writing a solid story. Kim Wilkins elaborated a little and went on to say that she recommends writers just say it, don't hedge. Be specific, be clear. Plotting was another tip to avoid screwing up. Each author had to agree that having an outline helped writers avoid getting lost in the brambles of a story and scaffolding allowed for greater freedom of creativity in the actual writing. 

An interesting discussion ensued when Kim Wilkins advised writers NOT to write for the market. While Charlotte Nash agreed with Kim's sentiments, she did point out a few points for writers who will ignore that advice and go ahead anyway.

So, for writers who do want to risk it and write for the market:

  • you have to write quickly!
  • find your book within that (hot) segment of the market, a type of book that you love
  • be prepared to write more than one book in that segment 
  • it has to be amazing and it has to have a fresh take/voice/twist

Finally, a word of wisdom for writers who want do to it all: manage your time and write one novel at a time! Spend time with it every day, give it love and stay with it.

Panel: After GenreCon is over...

I had the pleasure of speaking on this panel with Mary Robinette Kowal and Beth Driscoll and it was loads of fun.  We started by talking about the value of writer's groups and Mary had a fantastic way of describing the role of such groups. She described it like running a clinical trial on a new drug. As a writer, you're testing the story to see if it is producing the desired effect on readers. Writers generally only require a report of symptoms. They need to know what's happening and the response to the 'drug' as a diagnosis from the reader is almost always wrong. 

Talk moved to the importance of external motivators, such as NaNoWriMo and online support groups, and how to start a writer's group from scratch. The pros and cons of building a writing community was relevant, considering we were coming to the end of GenreCon15 and we finished with a few tips on how to access the right resources and people and where to start. 

Recommended resources: local/state writers' centres, national associations (such as Romance Writers of Australia), festivals, Australian Society of Authors.

In conclusion

Inside the GenreCon 2015 conference program, Peter Ball (AWM Manager) welcomes delegates by sharing the idea at the heart of the event: good things happen when writers talk to one another. The panel discussions and the talk during lunch reinforced to me the idea that writers are people with vast resources for creative sharing. We love words and understand that though we spend many hours locked away in our own heads, we value the time with others too. Maybe it's because we're intensely curious about the world and others but whenever the panels had question time, hands shot up. We want to know how other writers do life and sometimes the most wonderful thing is to feel that we can work differently and in diverse genres but hold very similar motivations and find common ground in our desire to craft the very best stories for our readers.

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