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What I Learned at My Writers Conference

I spent this past weekend at the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego. We started every day at 8am and went until well-past

midnight with what they call Rogue Workshops. We broke briefly for lunch and dinner, but the rest was meetings, pitches, chats, seminars and a fast-moving freight train of information on how to be a writer in the 21st century. Sessions included:

  • Crafting character and distinct voice
  • Give your character a memorable trait, or mannerism–something to refer to as they return throughout the novel. It might be a flaw in their appearance
  • Tell the reader only 1/7th of the story; let them figure out the rest
  • most writers use limited omniscient. Only change POV chapter-to-chapter
  • Creating unbearable suspense
  • Flash fiction: the Ultra-quick story market
  • Merging style and substance (great presentation)
  • New writers primer 1 and 2
  • Planning and plotting the mystery series
  • Revision–It’s more than just changing the font
  • Screenwriting Techniques (wonderful presentation by Derek Haas, the screenwriter of 3:10 to Yuma)
  • Creating compelling characters
  • Writing Memoir
  • Writing the Hybrid narrative
  • Why agents and editors say yes or no
  • From Zero to Rockin’ Writer Website in one workshop (I now have one, but it’s not live. Stand by…)
  • Grow your readership with Scribd
  • The lay of the publishing land
  • I’ve written ‘the end’–Pass me the Maalox
  • Query letter critique
  • Publishing law today (wish I hadn’t missed this one–it got rave reviews)
  • Marketing 101
  • Poetry
  • How to manage your writing career in the internet age (presenter was a Harlequin author who makes a good living writing. Wow.)
  • How to turn a book into a movie
  • What makes a good scene

What did I learn? Tons. Too much to even organize, despite that I’m three days past it and have been off work for winter break all week. I filled pages of notes from oodles of meetings. Until I get it-all organized, I’m just going to throw some of the high points out as a bullet list of what sparked my imagination:

  • don’t have speed bumps in your writing. Those are the hitches that stop the reader as they travel the path of your prose.
  • write a scene as though through a camera. Show your reader what the camera that is the POV character would see.
  • novelists write movies (a common theme at this conference). Don’t forget all the senses, the progression of Acts, the crises and climaxes that make a good movie–they also make a good story.
  • make a list of characteristics for your protagonist. Then narrow it to three and put those over your computer so you can refer to them every time you write that person in scene
  • characters must be flawed. When you distill the characteristics listed above to three, make sure one is a flaw.
  • have a climax three times in the story. That’s one per Act. The first is about 25% through; the second about 75% through, and then the final one.
  • remember plants and payoffs–plant an idea that pays off later
  • the first 25% of the story includes:
    • plants and payoffs
    • hopes and fears of the protagonist
    • a time clock for the rest of the story
    • an inciting incident
    • a call to adventure
    • a ‘promise of premise’
    • the story’s central question
  • the middle 50% includes:
    • testing the hero
    • pull the rug out from under the hero’s chances of success–over and over
    • lots more
  • execute your writing plan (this includes as an author and marketer)
    • prioritize
    • do what you can; delegate the rest
    • evaluate and re-prioritize
    • get feedback
    • don’t give up
  • marketing tools include:
    • your website
    • your blog
    • social media–twitter, etc
    • Scribd
    • your content
  • MUST self-edit before submitting
  • OMG is dated. OMFG isn’t.
  • it’s OK to upload one chapter of a book with a link to where it can be purchased (if you’re self-pub’d; otherwise–check with your publisher)
  • follow #amwriting on twitter
  • include your bio after each pub piece you post, as well as a link to your website and your picture
  • offer your services at HARO–Help a Reporter Out
  • Yesterday, agents/publishers were in control. Today, the writer is in control.

Sound interesting? Check back over the next few days. I’ll be adding:

  • a bullet list for how to grow your readership with Scribd
  • the W Diagram for plotting (as opposed to the episodic plot)
  • Great opening lines/Great last lines

Enough for now. Time to stop blogging and start making all the changes I found out I had to make. OM(F)G.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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16 thoughts on “What I Learned at My Writers Conference

  1. Pingback: Southern California Writers Conference « Jacqui Murray's WordDreams…

  2. I’m really looking forward to the Scribd bullet list when you have time to put it together. I’m starting to see a few sales from readers who’ve visited my Scribd site first for free downloads. But I know I’m not using that resource correctly/effectively.

    Sounds like your conference was packed with stuff that was really relevant to the things you’re trying to accomplish!


    • I set up a store on Scribd, but not much else. At the suggestion of one of the conference speakers, I’ve begun to interact with other authors on Scribd, post material to share. I’ve gotten quite a few blog visitors from Scribd–many more than I expected, and lots of comments on my writing. I’m becoming sol on Scribd! If you look for me, I had to sign up under ‘JacquiCMurray’ because the others were taken (one by me for my techie side).


  3. Pingback: Great Closing Lines from Famous Authors « Jacqui Murray's WordDreams…

  4. Pingback: 2 Months Straight…Let’s talk. «

    • That one surprised me, too. 50/50 would have surprised me–I want to challenge a reader’s intellect, trust him/her to figure out details, but not that much. As I ponder that number, I think they mean real ‘tell’ not ‘show’. In that sense, I agree.


  5. Pingback: Preparing an Oscar-worthy Pitch « Romancing for Thrills

  6. Pingback: Super-fantastic Opening Pages « Romancing for Thrills

    • I only go to the local ones. I’m in Laguna Hills and this one is in San Diego–about 100 miles south. There’s one coming up in Newport Beach–maybe 20 miles away–in September. Dunno if I’ll go.

      Nothing’s local for you in Alaska! I’d love to attend a conference up there, but I’m afraid the travel costs would do me in. Hope you enjoyed my rundown. Any questions–I’ll cover them in more detail for you. Stay warm up there!


  7. Pingback: Waiting for Critique « Anne Gallagher Website

  8. Cool recap. I’m a nonfiction guy these days, but still use the creative elements. I have to look into Scribd based on what you have here. You’re the 2nd reference to HARO I’ve heard, so I need to go revisit that as well. And I totally agree with the #amwriting tag!


    • You might call what you write–as others have–creative nonfiction. I think it’s a wonderful teaching/educating tool. Do look into Scribd. It’s a bit clunky for my tastes, difficult to get around but worth the effort. And HARO–I just discovered it. I’m excited to investigate. Thanks for dropping by.


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