This is the fifth part of my wrap-up of the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2018 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah between February 15-17.
I didn’t take a lot of notes for this panel. John M. Olsen said steampunk is often focused on aesthetic rather than technology. For example, steampunk machines use brass because it looks cool even though aluminum is lighter. He recommended including all five senses when writing. Include the smell of burning coal, the sound of gears and whistles, etc.
Scott E. Tarbet said what sets steampunk apart from other science fiction is that the technology is pre-electric, pre-nuclear. In steampunk, technology is our friend, it’s not scary. Gaslamp is a similar genre to steampunk since they both take place during the same time period, but gaslamp isn’t focused on technology the way steampunk is. He said a trope is a cliche that hasn’t been worn out yet. He also said the real life Victorian era was full of mad geniuses like Kaiser Wilhelm, Edison, and Tesla.
Keynote Guest of Honor: Todd McCaffrey
The theme of Todd McCaffrey’s speech is that our lives are built on trust. We trust strangers with our lives anytime we travel by airplane. Society is built on trust. We also trust in the future. Some cathedrals took over 150 years to build, longer than a single human lifetime. We invest in creating tomorrow.
He said we actually live in a fantasy world now. A hundred dollar bill is only valuable because we share in the fantasy that it means something. Gold is only worth something because we’ve agreed it does. However, a billion dollar bill is worthless because it’s not included in our shared fantasy.
We also live in a science fiction world. Smart phones might as well work by magic as far as most people are concerned.
Crafting Good Subplots
David Farland said each scene should accomplish multiple things so it doesn’t feel flimsy. Explain backstory and have character growth in addition to the action. Ask yourself what deficits a character has. If you dig deep enough into a character, the subplots will present themselves. He pointed out that best sellers have 20 percent more internal dialogue than books that don’t sell as well. More internal dialogue indicates the characters are more complex.
Kathryn Purdie said romance and character relationships make for good subplots, especially if the characters can’t escape each other due to family or living in a small town. Be sure to give your villain an arc as well.
Charlie N. Holmberg said if your story is a sentence, subplots are the adjectives. They support the emotional core of your story and slow down the action. A good way to create subplots is by giving your characters secrets.
Brandon Sanderson said you should give each character an arc. You can mix it up by including a relationship plot, a mystery plot, an apprenticeship plot, etc. Subplots humanize characters. The movie Wonder Woman added several subplots to the main save the world plot: a romantic subplot, a fish-out-of-water subplot, and a moral conflict with society subplot. The main plot is the what, the subplot is the why. What the character thinks they want at the beginning should turn out to not really be what they want by the end. If you’re writing a series, you can give minor characters their own book later on. Stories are about promise, progress, and payoff. If you’re writing a series and the payoff doesn’t come by the end of the book, hang a lantern on it. Remind the reader what’s still left to do.
What It’s Like: Writing in Somebody Else’s Milieu
I didn’t take many notes for this panel. Each panelist had written in someone else’s world. Brad R. Torgersen has written in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters universe. Karen Evans has written for the 1632 series. Sarah E. Seeley has written for A Short Stay in Hell and Valcoria. Todd McCaffrey wrote for his mother’s Dragonriders of Pern series. Brandon Sanderson wrote for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.
Brandon Sanderson related how excited he was when he was asked to work on The Wheel of Time. He tried to imitate Jordan’s voice at first, which turned out to be a mistake. So he just wrote in his own voice. Since Jordan’s wife was the editor, she was able to blend together the parts Jordan and Sanderson wrote fairly seamlessly. Brandon Sanderson also mentioned that fan fiction shouldn’t be derided since it can sometimes become a best seller like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Karen Evans spoke about the 1632 series which has over 7 million words in print and 168 coauthors. They have a convention each year just to make sure everyone is on the same page. It can be a challenge to work on such a project since you can’t overlap with what other authors are doing, plus you have to be careful not to hurt other author’s feelings. She also mentioned that writing in someone else’s universe isn’t considered fan fiction if you get paid for it.