At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference a while back, I introduced, and took notes on, a workshop facilitated by New York Times Best Selling Author and dynamic speaker, Robert Dugoni. The session, Creating Plots for Page Turners, was a combination of lecture and writing exercises designed to give participants a better understanding of classic story structure. Here are 10 tips:
A story is dialogue in action.
The purpose of a story is to entertain. The characters, not the authors, are the entertainers.
A story is a journey—beginning, middle, end—and is both physical and emotional.
The tone is set right away. What kind of story is it? (Make a promise.)
Interesting character should appear at the onset.
The beginning introduces the story problem. (Who, where, what does main character want, what stands in the way?)
The middle develops the problem through obstacles.
Stories should move! Excessive narrative—opinion, bio, flashbacks, info dumps, anything that can be presumed—should be cut.
The end must be satisfying (Keep the promise you made at the beginning.)
The 1st sentence in every chapter should hook the reader.
Many thanks to Robert for an excellent workshop. To learn more about Robert and his writing visit: www.Robertdugoni.com.
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To quote Jim Kukral, founder of the Author Marketing Institute and creator of this marketing summit, it is a “learning and networking event for new and experienced authors who want learn the best strategic ways to sell more books through innovate and proven book marketing.”
What was included in this event? Here is a sampling of the workshops:
Building Amazing Author Websites: the Absolute Necessities by Deborah Carney
Hit the Bestseller Lists with E-Book Pre-orders by Mark Coker
Path to a Best-Selling Book Launch: Multiple Books and Multiple Promotions by Joel Comm
Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans by Peter Shankman
How to Quickly Write, Publish and Profit from a Book That Will Grow Your Business by Adam Witty
Thirteen Reasons Are Not As Successful an Author As You Should Be by Jim F. Kukral
Was this conference of value? Yes. Here are the advantages:
ONE- STOP SHOPPING. In the past, I acquired marketing information sporadically, from tweets and blogs and webinars and books. To me, a veteran of garage sales, this event was like discovering a street on which fifteen houses were holding sales simultaneously. (Love those spring and summer Saturday mornings when I can just park and shop.)
CONTENT. Not all of the information in all fifteen workshops applied directly to me. However, there was a smorgasbord here; in an era that demands more from authors in terms of marketing, virtual summits such as this can benefit all authors–indie, traditional, and hybrid.
CONVENIENCE. I have attended many brick and mortar conferences, all of which require physical presence at events in real time. The Author Marketing Summit allowed me the option of attending in real time or watching at my own convenience; in fact, these workshops will be available to me for a period of one year.
COST. I discovered a link to this Author Marketing Summit on Twitter (Thank you, Joanna Penn, @thecreativepenn) When I followed the link, the price had been reduced from $399 to $149. I typed in the discount coupon code given by Joanna and the cost plummeted to $99 U.S. That was it, the total cost. I acquired tons of information without incurring a mountain of expense (e.g. travel, meals, and accommodation costs.)
This year, because I wished to include Blue Pencil and Pitch sessions, I paid the price of admission (Saturday only.)
My day was rich with many events: riveting keynote speech by Cory Doctorow, an agent/editor insight panel, SiWC Idol panel, Rookie Mistakes workshop, and a Creating Kick-Ass Characters workshop. In addition, I became reacquainted with conference buddies, and met up with author friends.
I’ve been writing for several years now and feel very comfortable walking into Blue Pencil and Pitch sessions; in fact, on Saturday, I did so without a twinge of anxiety. (It helped that a wonderful post jumped into my Twitter feed on Friday:How to Rock a Writers Conference.It was a reminder: have a goal, but have fun, too.)
Prescheduled on my agenda were two appointments: one Blue Pencil, one Pitch. Once at the conference, I lined up to sign up for a second session in each (first-come, first-served basis.)
My two Blue Pencil sessions were back-to-back, one at 11:15, the second at 11:30. For my prescheduled session, I chose a writer who was familiar with the Celtic world: I wanted to see if my second chapter, which references the Great Famine, rang true. She was lavish in her support of what I was doing and offered suggestions, such as the addition of a third element, to enhance it. I lucked out in the line-up-to-sign-up for my second Blue Pencil. My appointment was with a writing professor/accomplished author. I deliberately showed her a different chapter, the opening. Once again, I received great feedback and suggestions ( i.e. use more internal reaction of narrator.)
After I finished my Blue Pencils, I lined up for a second Pitch session. Not one of the agents I wanted to see was available, but there was one free “now.” I jumped at the opportunity and switched to ‘pitch’ mode. After initial introductions, the conversation, paraphrased, was: Me: “They just offered me this slot and I jumped, without knowing what your area of expertise is.” Him: “I am looking for stories to turn into screen plays.” Me: “So you’re looking for another Gone Girl?” Him (eyes bright): “Do you have that?” Me: “Nope. Do you mind if I just practice my pitch with you?” Him: “No problem.”
So I pitched my historical fiction trilogy. He offered advice that would improve my pitch. I listened. During lunch, I received and overheard tips about presenting a pitch. Here’s the rundown:
Memorize, don’t read, your pitch.
Focus on story.
Insert history afterwards (if, like me, you’re writing historical fiction).
Be prepared to say who the comparable writers are (I floundered a bit on this one. Know better now.)
Know your word count.
Be prepared to answer the question “why are you writing this?”
I incorporated all of the above at my 1:40 session.
Overall advice? Go with a goal. Be prepared. Be open to everything. Enjoy the opportunity to have professionals offer advice. Be determined to have fun.
My thanks to all at SiWC, including those amazing volunteers, who made my experience so enjoyable. I left feeling inspired!
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This past weekend, I took part in the 2nd Annual Federation of British Columbia Writers’ Retreat at the Rosemary Heights Retreat Centre in South Surrey, BC . Such a welcoming venue! The staff was friendly and accommodating and the food was delicious and nutritious. Each attendee had a single room with ensuite bath. The wing assigned to the group had a meeting room, a living room, a dining area, and a kitchen. In addition, there were quiet places (both inside and out) for reflection.
So what did I do there?
I wrote. I chose the tactile approach this weekend, meaning that I printed out my three-hundred-page manuscript and took it with me. I read through it, looking for plot holes and character blips, liberally marking it up as I went along.
I attended workshops. There were three excellent presenters (Lois Peterson, Ben Nuttall-Smith, and George Opacic) and a smorgasbord of workshops: Character, Point of View, Voice, Show vs Tell, Oral Reading, Query Letters, Writing to View, and Digital Publishing.
I had a Blue Pencil Session. I greatly appreciated seeing my manuscript through the eyes of another author: strengths glowed; weaknesses glared. (These insightful sessions were available daily. Thank you, Ben and Lois!)
I met other writers. In between sessions and at meals, we shared life experiences, suggested great reads, and tossed around writing ideas.
I reflected. I abandoned the grid in favor of a time free of distraction, a time to focus, a time to create ‘white space’ in my overworked brain. I frequented the chapel to meditate, found space to do Tai Chi, and wandered the wood path (nothing like nature— a symphony of chickadees, the scent of pine and cedar, the sponge of mossy carpet, the vibrant green of ferns, the rustle of autumn leaves—to bring stillness to the soul.)
This was my first writers’ retreat. I returned home with a better handle on my manuscript and new avenues to improve it. Oh, yes. And inner peace.
Overall, a fabulous experience, one that I highly recommend!
Worked with countless, seemingly tireless, extraordinary volunteers
Mingled, shared and, on occasion, commiserated, with many aspiring writers
Developed a sense of the workings of the writing industry as a whole
Observed how busy this world is for publishers, editors, and agents
Attended, and took notes on, all the workshops I monitored or introduced, including:
Writing Query Letters, a Panel Discussion with Stan Wakefield (editor), Verna Dreisbach (agent), Valerie Gray (editor), Rita Rosenkranz (agent), Claire Eddy (Editor);
Social Media aPanel discussion with KC Dyer (author), Kathleen Ortiz (agent), Rebecca Balwit (author), Sean Cranberry (author);
Inside Canada’s Largest Publishing House with Valerie Gray (Executive Editor of Mira Books and Spice Books, both imprints of Harlequin Publishing);
Rambo Editing and Creating Plots for Page Turners with Robert Dugoni (New York Times bestselling author);
The New Era of Publishing: How to Make it Work for You with April Eberhardt (April Eberhardt Literary Agency);
Screenplay vs Novel with Grant McKenzie (author, screenplays and novels); and
Successful Self-Publishing with Jodi McIsaac (author, self-published, highly successful).
By giving to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I received, not only knowledge that I can apply to my craft, but also an understanding of the business of writing, a sense of belonging to a community of writers, the inspiration to persist within the field, and the determination to ‘give back’ as I go along.