LTUE Part 3

This is the third post in my series recapping the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2017 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah earlier this year. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

“A scratch and sniff erotica book isn’t for everyone.” – Overheard at the conference.

Dr. Lauren Fowler and Dr. Sally Shigley Presentation: Literature and the Brain

Dr. Fowler and Dr. Shigley spoke about a study in which people watched Wit, a play about cancer. It turned out physicians had less empathy than other people. However, this is actually a good thing, because nurses and physicians with more empathy burn out faster than those with less. Also, physical fatigue can cause residents to have less empathy. Another interesting fact is that patients need less pain medication if their doctor is empathetic. So being empathetic is better for the patient, but worse for the doctor. (This reminded me of when my grandfather died and one of the nurses was crying. It made me feel a little better that she was empathizing with me, but another nurse chastised her for it.)

Empathy can be learned through literature which activates more areas of the brain than reading a newspaper or textbook. Our brains light up the same way when reading about something as when we actually do it, but empathy works better if a reader likes the character. Reading helps us see different perspectives at a deeper level than watching television. People feel more empathy for actors in a play than actors in a movie, so the type of media matters.

However, empathy can be bad in some situations. It causes us to focus on the individual rather than the group. (As Stalin allegedly said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”) Empathy causes us to lose objectivity. Feeling a lot of empathy once a year, like during Christmas, will prompt people to make donations, but will also make them less likely to feel empathy the rest of the year.

Robert Starling Presentation: Creating Trailers for your Movies and Books

A panel about how to make trailers. First, start with a script. How much of the story should you reveal in the trailer? Whatever it takes to get a customer. You can make it seem mysterious, use endorsements, etc. You can use public domain images, stock photos, music, and sound effects to save money, or commission an artist or musician to create images and music for your trailer. It depends on how much you have to spend. If you only have still images, pan and zoom over them to make the trailer more dynamic. You can generally use historical photos or art.

It’s more effective to engage both the eye and ear, so it’s better to have a narrator reading the script, not just printed words on the screen. If you’ve got a lot of money, hire actors to act out scenes. Make sure you get permission to use images or music if it’s not free. One and a half minutes is a good length for a trailer. People will lose interest and start to tune out if it’s much longer than that. (I heard somewhere else that three minutes is the point most people will stop watching YouTube videos.) Put a call to action at the end. Let readers know when and where the book will be available. Someone in the audience mentioned that Fiverr is a good place to hire contractors.

Traveling and Time

A fun panel about time travel in fiction. Each panelist was asked which time travel movie is the best. I was thinking Groundhog Day and sure enough one of the panelists, Dan Wells, said what I was thinking. (This is something I probably should have brought up later when I was getting a book signed from him instead of standing there in awkward silence.) He also mentioned another one of my favorite shows, Futurama, specifically the episode in which Fry becomes his own grandfather which I loved.

One of the panelists said Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is actually the first time travel story, which makes sense. Howard Tayler said Doctor Who has no consequences and breaks its own rules. The first Weeping Angles episode set the bar too high and the following episodes weren’t able to stack up, which is a problem you get with a series.

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Amy Beatty

Amy Beatty Presentation: Story Structure Models, Speed Dating Style

This was the most crowded presentation I went to. Not only was every seat filled, but some people were sitting on the floor up front and some were standing in the back. Amy Beatty defines a story as a cause and effect chain that involves problem solving. She went over different story structures and explained how they’re pretty similar. This is the classic 3 Act structure:

Beginning – Present the character, genre, tone, and setting. Introduce a problem and opposition. Indicate what’s a stake and end with the point of no return.

Middle – A series of set backs, try and fail cycles, in which the protagonist(s) proactively tries to solve the problem. Rising action. Stakes are raised. Present clues and revelations. End with the point of highest tension.

Ending – Falling action: watch how the dominoes fall. The final confrontation. A decisive outcome, the payoff, and a glimpse of the aftermath.

4 Act, 5 Point, 7 Point, and 8 Point structures all add more detail, but they’re basically the same structure. Save the Cat is a story structure developed to use with television, Hero’s Journey is based on the work of Joseph Campbell, The Virgin’s Promise is a feminist reaction to Joseph Campbell, and finally Story Trumps Structure claims you don’t need a structure, but it’s actually a story structure itself. You can of course mix and match the different story structures to come up with something new.

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