This is the forth part of my wrap-up of the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2018 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah between February 15-17.
Keynote Guest of Honor: Jo Walton
Jo Walton said the secret of writing is to just do it.
Her speech overall focused on the question: Ask not what your field can do for you, ask what we can do for our field? Writers should read widely, not just within their genre, but also outside it, including non-fiction, in order to bring new things into the field.
In her opinion, there’s too much adventure in science fiction due to early Sci Fi starting out as a spin-off from men’s pulp magazines. Science fiction and fantasy can examine human nature better than other genres, but we can still do better than we have been. In fantasy, contrast human nature with elf or dwarf nature. In Sci Fi, we examine what human nature means when it comes to things like cloning, etc. Adventure isn’t obligatory. Instead of adventure, you can use mystery or romance.
Fiction is better if it’s more intellectually challenging. Sci Fi should be based more on current scientific findings than on previous science fiction. Many Sci Fi writers keep having light speed work the same way as their predecessors did.
You need great characters, but also don’t make them more complicated than they need to be. Unlike in realistic fiction, you need to explain the world. Info dumps can work sometimes if they’re interesting. We can’t predict the future, but try to at least envision every aspect of society, not just one area of technology.
Don’t write what you think the market wants, since the market will change by the time your book is published. Do something different and just have fun. Join the conversation of the field.
Publicizing Your Novel: What Works, What Doesn’t
Angie Fenimore made many of the same points from her earlier Slush Pile Simulator presentation. She stressed that marketing is more important than writing. Great books get turned down by agents and publishers due to the writer’s lack of social media presence. Marketing changes so fast that what worked just six months ago won’t necessarily work now.
Jennifer Jenkins said she knows someone who spends so much time marketing, they can’t finish a book, so it is possible to go overboard when it comes to marketing. When marketing, try to create an emotional response with your audience. Surround yourself with people you can talk to about writing.
Myke Cole said there’s no one way to do anything. Don’t write for the market. Art is subjective, luck plays a role in getting published, but generally good writing sells. You should focus on writing before marketing. Focus on what you love. Books sell by word of mouth. Twitter is better than blogging due to people’s short attention spans. It’s a good idea to create a sense of intimacy with fans by liking or favoriting their posts. He said you should be political on twitter. Even though it will cause you to lose readers, you’ll also gain some. He said an ongoing twitter fight he has with another writer helps him build his fan base.
Writing the Opposite Gender
Johnny Worthen said that when writing the opposite gender, you should treat them differently, but also don’t treat them differently. Avoid cliches. Empathize with your character. If you’re not comfortable writing from the point of view of a diverse character such as someone who is gay, at least throw some diverse characters into your story to acknowledge they exist.
Ginny Smith had her husband read something she was writing and he said men don’t think in the same romantic terms as women. Men just think about sex. (Johnny Worthen replied: “Not true. Sometimes we’re hungry. Or sleepy.”) Ginny Smith said don’t write men or women, just write people.
Brandon Mull said everyone’s different. “I don’t write a generic 15-year-old girl; I write a specific character.” He’s able to write from different points of view using a mixture of observation and day dreaming. He hasn’t written a gay character because he’s afraid of getting it wrong. He also doesn’t have many black characters because he doesn’t know that many black people in real life. (I’d suggest he should take his own advice and not try to write a generic gay character or black character, just write a specific character.)
Kathryn Purdie said if you have good instincts, you don’t need to plan out everything. You can write a query letter as a way to organize.
D. J. Butler likes to start with a single image or idea that he calls the feather from heaven. Ask yourself what your character wants to accomplish, what’s preventing them from accomplishing it, and so forth. Just like you can’t explain why you do everything you do, characters are the same way.
David Farland recommended creating the world and the characters before coming up with a plot. Dreams can help inspire you. Ask yourself how you want to move your reader and go from there. Writing is performance. Everything you write is practice until it’s published and that’s the performance. When writing the history of your world, include both events that happen before and after the events of the novel.