James River Writers Conference 2013


Thanks to a tip-off from a good friend of mine, I was able to attend my first writer’s conference right here in Richmond. My first impression was, Boy, there’re so many serious-looking writers. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor and charisma of speakers Brad Parks and Christopher McDougall (author of Born to Run).

I was kind of put off by how some speakers derisively labeled New Adult as soft porn. They obviously have not read Colleen Hoover’s Slammed and Hopeless series. There wasn’t much smut in Beautiful Disaster either. I think they should not ignore the generation of readers that Fifty Shades of Grey have spawned. I myself have no interest in reading pulitzer-prize winning pieces, because I love my smutty reads. 😉

I had my eye on the Improving your Craft track. Some were helpful, some were not what I was expecting.

Suspense across Genre

Always lead with your best stuff. Create compelling characters—balance the good and bad in him. Make the readers care for that character and then raise the stakes. Chop up the suspense—no info dumping. Build the suspense, but slow it down at some points.

*My own thoughts. Since I write romantic suspense, I build the characters by having them react to the circumstances/danger I throw at them. How they react will shape their existing characterization helped along by a backstory. Create life-threatening scenes, although, since I write HEA endings, these make them a bit trickier to be suspenseful.

First Draft Method and Madness

Don’t get too attached to it. The predominant advice was to push through to finish your first draft. Cut out the editor in you. If you have to use the word “Suddenly” to introduce a scene, do so. If you have to use adverbs to get it moving forward, do so. It’s important to get all the way through to the end to get a sense of your plot…to see if it’s working or not.

I’ve also read this before. The first draft is always messy. If it’s so orderly and clean, then you did not allow yourself to give it your all. And that’s what you have to be: reckless and crazy.

Ernest Hemingway once said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Revising like a Rockstar

So you have your first draft. It’s time to cut or to add in. Revising is NOT editing. So turn off that little editor in your head. If a scene doesn’t advance the theme, cut it out. The best thing to do is to distance yourself from your work, so you can come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

I’ve done this with Silver Fire. I let the manuscript sit for a few weeks before going back to work on it.

When you are ready to edit, read it aloud. See where sentences are bleeding. An attendee suggested diagramming your sentence.

Take a look at the Paramedic method, by Richard Lanham for a way on writing concisely.

Now, some of favorite authors like Kristen Ashley have a way of writing run on sentences that have so much heart. To be honest, sometimes too perfect sentences are boring. Don’t you think?

Be careful not to edit out your voice.

**** I was disappointed in the last two sessions because they were the ones I was most excited about. I am the first to admit that I do have a problem writing run-on sentences and dangling modifiers.

Word nerds Unite! Advanced Techniques in Sentence Fluency

There were no advanced techniques given at all. I mean, the speakers just gave us what were their worse writing ticks.

  • Between you and me
  • Preposition with no object
  • Comma before which -> I covered this in an earlier post
  • Using that instead of who
  • Watch those adverbs
  • minimize helping verbs

You need clarity when writing a scene.

One of my goals this year is to let go of the conjunction “as” when writing action scenes. I seem to be using it too much like a crutch when describing simultaneous actions. There must be a way to rewrite sentences to avoid too much repetition.

Plot Mechanics

So I was hoping for something like Larry Brook’s story engineering—how to keep the plot moving forward, but all we got was a dissection of the authors’ book, which was also good to see how they plotted their novel. I think the engineer in me wanted to break down a book into parts (1st plot point, build up, 2nd plot point etc.), but what they’re trying to say was that writing is organic and you should just let your characters flow.

Know the vague end, because it may still change.