I jotted down some excellent writing tips at the recent Surrey International Writers Conference, (SIWC) even though this is my fifth time there, three as an attendee and the last two as a volunteer. I was busy introducing presenters, acting as a monitor for their talks, working the registration desk and so on, but on my breaks, I was able to to sit in on some great workshops.
The three days were filled with presentations by bestselling authors, agents and editors covering many forms of writing: screenplays, novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories and children’s books. There were panels on queries and first pages, as well as sessions on branding and how to self-publish.And for those who wanted more in-depth instruction, there was a day of Master workshops before the conference even got started.
The whole event is a good place to mix with those who care about their work as much as you do. It’s also a good place to get some critiques on your work as well as to pitch to editors or agents who might ask to see more. And at the end, there was a multi-author book signing, which I was a part of. It featured Diana Gabaldon, Michael Slade, Meg Tilly, Hallie Ephron, JJ Lee, Jack Whyte and many more.
There are always some pointers that stand out, like the Ten Tips I got on Writing and Marketing.
On Creating Characters
- When you are creating characters in your story, think about contradictions.Writer and actor Tetsuro Shigematsu gave great examples of charismatic characters. The great examples he gave were: Terry Fox, a one-legged marathoner; a rock star geek; Darth Vader, evil incarnate but a family guy; Madonna, a sex icon but a feminist; Walter White of Breaking Bad, who, as a teacher, was totally against drugs, but became a drug dealer. You want those contradictions in your story – the protagonist isn’t totally good, nor is the antagonist, totally bad.
- Hallie Ephron, bestselling author of crime novels, said, “do not go too long without anything happening.” Make readers care enough to keep reading.
- Ephron said, that whenever you introduce a new character or setting, don’t start with dialogue. The reader needs to be oriented, know who’s speaking and in what context. Think of your opening as an audio book. Are you helping the reader know where they are, the timeframe, and the protagonist? Help them get into the world of your character before you get too far in your story.
- She also said, every story has suspense. Both Ephron and Dugoni (see below) gave the same example of suspense, one they learned from Hitchcock. Four men are sitting at a table playing poker. The audience knows there’s a bomb under the table and we also see a clock in the background, but the men don’t know. As the clock ticks forward, we have suspense. You need to write fear into your story. If what you write scares you, it will scare your reader.
- Agent Kari Sutherland talked about what she looks for in a story. Your first sentence and paragraph needs to catch the reader’s attention. She also said to remember to bring in your character’s internal thoughts when there is action and dialogue.
- Robert Dugoni, bestselling indie author, said don’t edit while you write. It doesn’t matter if you have a shitty first draft. If you’re constantly editing, you’re not letting the magic happen.
- Dugoni said the goal of writing is to entertain. When you are revising, look at places where you’re not entertaining, where you’re stopping the story. Places like backstory, flashbacks, data dumps.
- He also said, don’t use your fiction as a soapbox. No one wants to be lectured.
- Diana Gabaldon, celebrity author of Outlander, recommended writing at least 10 minutes a day. If you do that, by the end of the year, you’ll have a book.
10. Author Steena Holmes, shared how she managed to get a huge following online. She said “your brand should share your story…your life, lessons, passions and journey.” Readers want to know more about the authors they read. Think of your newsletter as your story. Be different and creative. And don’t be shy about asking your readers for help, like with a character name, or a plot problem. Keep them involved.
As always, after attending a writerly event, I’m inspired to keep writing. I’m already working on my collection of short stories and getting back to Along Came A Gardener, my non-fiction work-in-progress, combining my love of gardening with what I learned as a family therapist. If you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get a free chapter of this inspirational book.
Any comments are always welcomed.
- SIWC – An Exceptional Writers Conference in B.C.
- Musings About Immigrants at Pier 21