Tag: Larry Brooks

This Writer’s Second Conference

I attended my second in-person writer’s conference August 7th and 8th. It was at the same location as the first conference. You can read about my first experience by clicking here.

For some reason, I wasn’t nervous about attending this year. In fact, I gave only a small amount of effort to preparing the pitch for the two meetings I scheduled with an editor and an agent.

Part of this could have been because I had company the week before the conference. Or it may have been the fact that I thought I would have to be attending all alone.

As it turns out, another writer from my local writing group was going all three days. She offered me a ride on the days I attended. (If you read this, thank you, Linda!)

It was wonderful getting to know her better, listening to her pitch and having someone to eat lunch with on Friday. The fact that I didn’t have to drive? Extra bonus.

Friday

I loved the keynote speaker at the opening session. It was William Kenower, and he made me laugh so hard I forgot to be nervous.

I barely got a taste of the 9AM session since my first pitch was at 9:40 a.m. What I did learn is that agents respect writers who attend conferences. Whew! It isn’t the Big Bad Wolf I’ll be facing in a few minutes *wipes brow*

I met with an editor from a small press that was established in 2012. She ADORES dragon stories and has been searching for one starring REAL dragons since she began working with this house.

That means she liked my pitch and asked me to send her pages. And a synopsis *gags*

I used the extra time between my pitch and the next class to get a critique on my manuscript. They have authors who run a “Manuscript ER” servce for free – first come, first served.

“What do you want me to critique?” I wanted to know whether my beginning would hook that dragon-loving editor who requested twenty pages.

“I’m hooked.” And she offered sugestions about the two places where she had to re-read because what WASN’T on the page confused her. Easily done.

Yes, I was probably glowing for the rest of the morning. So who cared that the next session wasn’t compelling? Not me?

After lunch, it was back to the workshops. In this case, a delightful workshop presented by fantasy author Karen Azinger. She has an epic fantasy series out and idolizes Brandon Sanderson as much as I do. I immediately searched for her books on Amazon (and was disappointed not to find them at the conference’s bookstore).

The workshop was all about world-building. She gave me tons to think about to sprinkle the “flavor” of government and culture into my novel. I loved her energy and passion. Maybe I will grow up to be her one day.

The final thing in the afternoon was an opportunity to plot out our novel using the system of a children’s author. I love my Scrivener, so I didn’t really get much new information from this session.

Saturday

The two best things about this day:

  • Another yes from an agent at my 9:20 pitch meeting
  • Listening to bestselling authors who live in Oregon answer MY questions during lunch

I was disappointed to leave the Larry Brooks Storyfix session early for my pitch, but he gave us a link to the power point slides. I’m hoping to get the checklist for revision from that (at some point after I get the queries out).

The revision workshop at the end of the day was helpful, but there was too much for the presenter to cover in 90 minutes. I got a few good ideas about fleshing out my setting, though. It was fun to interact with the other writers in the room and hear a published author talk about her revision process.

Afterward

This post is making its way up on my blog quite late for a Monday showing. I would apologize, but I’ve been busy reading through my manuscript – sanding away the rough edges.

I sent the query letter and the first thirty pages off this afternoon to the agent I met with on Saturday. I hope she gets hooked like the woman who gave me a read in the “Manuscript ER” room at the conference.

Of course, she can’t respond too soon, because I still haven’t finished combing through the OTHER 300 pages of the manuscript. It needs primping and perfecting, I assure you.

Also, I’ve been reading Linda’s first fifty pages. I want to give her feedback she can use to beautify her manuscript before she sends it off to the three agents who gave her the nod at the conference.

If you’re trying to get a traditional publishing contract, attend a writer’s conference. Cough up the extra cash and pitch some agents who represent your genre.

Have you attended a writer’s conference? Pitched to agents or editors in person?

Story Engineering

At the behest of my Jedi Master, Kristen Lamb, I’ve begun dog-earring a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It’s a masterful guide for creating a strong, complex story.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve got story structure down,” I thought similarly after highlighting James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure into rainbow-like proportions. Brooks subtitled his book “Mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing.” Structure is only one of the six.

Two hours on the phone with Kristen reiterated for me the fact that I’m still a noob in the writing arena. Sure, I’ve been writing stories since I was nine. Does that mean they were well-written stories?

My first attempt at young adult fantasy flopped because I didn’t understand my antagonist’s motivation before I started writing. In the past, I had an idea and I sat down and wrote it. That might work for a short story, but all it provides in the novel-writing world is 60,000 words of warming up to the real story.

Trust me. I was halfway through the revision process when Master Lamb tapped the major plot points with her force push. The resulting pile of rubble buried my heart. A novel shouldn’t be a wobbly house of cards. It needs to have bones of steel beneath its thin skin (or maybe it’s the writer who has thin skin?).

Most of us right-brained artistic types see the word “engineering” and lose our appetite. Isn’t engineering all about calculus and equations with 18 variables and figuring out how to use all the buttons on a $200 calculator? So not interested.

The point behind Brooks’ use of “engineering” in his title is that writing a great story doesn’t just happen. We all know that only a fool would run out to build a tower without having blueprints and expertise. Brooks presents a logical (yes, very left-brained) argument for planning the major plot points and character arc before you attempt to build your novel.

The six core competencies of writing according to Brooks are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution
  • Writing Voice

I was directed to this stellar directory for story-planning for the lesson in story structure. I started with Part Five of the book so I could take my medicine and “do” rather than “try” to plan a successful novel.

In reading the entire book, I see that Brooks marries character arc to story structure in a way that simplifies the planning process. He offers sage advice for weaving theme between these major elements, as well, and erases the gray area between concept and theme.

In short, this book should be required reading for newbie writers. Using a conversational tone, Brooks invites the panster to do a little planning and gives the outlining mavens a blueprint to follow. He never talks above our heads or down his nose and he uses examples from fiction and film to illustrate every point.

Is your work in progress a mess of Bondo? I highly recommend Brooks’ book. It works better than an air sander at smoothing out the rough spots.

Words of Power

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” – Proverbs 18:21

Langston Hughes spoke to me in his poem “A Dream Deferred.”  Many other words, written and spoken, altered my chosen path on the highway of life.

A similar conversation happened on the phone recently. I took a class from WANA International, which I recommend to those looking for inexpensive ways to learn more about the craft of writing. Part of the price was a one-to-one telephone conversation with Kristen Lamb, founder of WANA and instructor for the class I took.

Anticipation of the call is a mild understatement. “MY WRITING JEDI MASTER IS GOING TO TALK TO ME ON THE PHONE AND WAVE HER LIGHT SABER OVER MY MANUSCRIPT AND IT WILL BE PERFECT.”

Have I mentioned what happens when we have high expectations? If so, it bears repeating. High expectations can only be dashed while low expectations might be met or exceeded.

Boy, that Kristen has a powerful light saber. She filled my ears with wonderful advice and my head with plausible options for the fantasy world I had created. My idea was good and the theme (once we found it) will be a powerful one.

Bottom line: scrap that manuscript.

Okay, there goes the months of writing and the weeks of revising. I knew there were problems. I begged her to reconsider and give me ways to fix my hours of blood, sweat and fears (not a typo).

The woman is a rock. “You don’t want Bond-o holding it all together,” not exactly Yoda-speak, but true nonetheless. The infrastructure was shaky and too many patch jobs were needed. In the end, it still might not be something that an agent would buy.

I pulled out Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and skipped the first 50 pages. Actually, I skipped directly to the plotting portion. I promise to go back on read about character and theme. After all, according to Brooks, there are six elements in successful fiction and I want to master them all.

At this point, my job at the school district is looking better and better. Oh, right. I quit and they’ve hired my replacement.

Fine. All those emails I get from Career Builder and indeed.com will lead me to a new job. Instead of writing, I’ll fill out some online applications and send out my resume.

Writing is the dream. I’ve deferred it for too many years to list here and maintain the façade surrounding my true age.

I knew it would be work. The learning curve is steep. I thought college coursework was difficult? Ha! This is Mt. Everest to that Bunker Hill.

Kristen believes I have the foundation and that I’ll do the work. To encourage me, she offered to give me some names of people who could read and blurb my book ONCE IT’S READY TO PUBLISH.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Master Yoda and Master Lamb, I bow to your knowledge of The Force. Time to get back to work writing.