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Workshop takeaways from the 2012 RWA conference

Laura Griffin and me out for a run in Anaheim

 

My annual trek to the RWA National Conference is about more than reconnecting with friends–like my running buddy Laura Griffin–networking with other authors, and a chance to dress up. It’s also about learning.

Sometimes one sentence can cause a major shift in your understanding of a topic. Which is why I try to attend as many of the RWA National Conference workshops as possible. Even if I feel pretty well versed in a topic, I usually learn something new, forge a deeper understanding of the subject, or have an epiphany about my story while listening to the speaker.

This year I attended a fair number of workshops and speeches, all of them excellent. With my trusty new iPad and Evernote, I took a lot of notes. Below are some of my favorite takeaways.

Keynote at the Kiss of Death annual general meeting (Brenda Novak)

  • Innovation requires no special thought process. Creative people simply put their mind to the task of being creative.
  • Our creativity suffers when we worry too much about what others will think.

Conflict (Debra Dixon)

  • Push your characters to the breaking point, farther than they’re willing to go. They must act against their best interests to achieve the goal. Leave them no other choice but to do the one thing they don’t want to do.
  • Every scene needs three reasons to be there or it’s not working hard enough. One of those reasons should be to establish the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict.

Emotion: the Heart of the Novel (Brenda Novak)

  • Active writing invokes emotion. To keep the reader in the action, start in the present and move forward in real time, using specific details and “showing” language.
  • Types of writing ranked from least to most active: internal thought, then dialogue, then deep POV, subtext, action, metaphor.
  • The reader needs conflict to really enjoy the happy ending, just like a close game in sports is more exciting than one team trouncing the other, even if the outcome is the same.
  • The conflict has to grow and change if it’s not strong enough to carry the whole book.

How to Put the Thrill in Your Thrillers (James Rollins)

  • High concept: the fewer words needed to describe book, the better (e.g. Jurassic Shark)
  • The character’s goal should be something he has a personal stake in, even if it’s a world threat.
  • The hero has to take active steps toward that goal, not just avoiding the villain. Making choices, etc.
  • Incorporate research so it doesn’t feel like info dump. For example, have people argue about it, which feeds info and creates conflict.

Make ’em Cry, Make ’em Scream, Make ’em Laugh (Charlotte Carter, Debra Mullins, & Lori Wilde)

  • For greater impact, put the character in a place where the emotion is unexpected (e.g. crying at an office party instead of a funeral).

Plotting via Motivation (Laurie Schnebly Campbell)

  • A goal is term limited and concrete, tangible.
  • Motivation is not term limited; it’s a way of being. Motivation doesn’t go away even when the goal is achieved.

Treasures, Artifacts, and Curses: Archaeology 101 for Writers (Rachel Grant and Mary Sullivan)

  • Indiana Jones was not an archeologist; he was a looter. 😉
  • 90% of archeologists work in the private sector (as opposed to academia).

Photo Credit: Copyright Laura Griffin. Used with permission.

0 Comments

  1. Reply

    This was great, Gwen. Thanks so much for sharing your learning. I’m also one who spends a lot of time in workshops when I go to RWA. Looking forward to next year in Atlanta.

    • Reply

      Absolutely, Mary! Last year I didn’t get to attend very many due to GH festivities–not that I’m complaining–so this year I practically OD’d on workshops. I have tons of notes on Evernote, so it was a good exercise to go through and pick out some of the best parts. I hope we can meet up in Atlanta. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Links of the week #32 « S. J. Maylee

  3. Reply

    It’s always amazing to me that everyone seems to attend a completely different conference; RWA is so easily tailored to each attendee’s needs! I didn’t go to any of the workshops you did, but had an equally terrific experience. Maybe I’ll blog about my conference take-aways this weekend! Thanks for the great idea. 😉

    Here’s what I wrote about RWA a couple of weeks ago: More than Shoes http://wp.me/pCirG-cq

    Happy writing!
    Diane

    • Reply

      Diane: I love the way conference flexes to meet the needs of so many people who are at different levels and have different interests. Thanks for sharing your post. It sounds like you went to all of the social media workshops. I’m glad you had a good time! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

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