PPWC: Saturday


Agent Pitch to Cherry Weiner (wee-ner). I'd been hearing I was getting too long for my story. Cherry said, "70K? And you're trying to cut words? No, honey. Add 30K and send it to me." I don't know if I'll get that many in, but man was it a relief to hear that. I've been wanting to flesh out some scenes that I cut down. Dance on air :)

Graphic Novels, Part II. Everyone threw ideas at the Simonsons. Here was mine:
The Magic Thread, set in modern-day Japan, Manga. A thirteen-year-old girl who hates her family has to save her mother from an evil snow goddess and an ancient whale curse using a magic thread that can find anything. However, she's derailed by a promise of "help" from a petulant fire god looking for his mortal body.
Walter said he didn't know much about manga, but Louise liked it.

Various comic companies mentioned as possibilities for everyone's ideas:
  • Vertigo (Karen Berger)
  • Devil's Due (likes to get movies made, pays for squat)
  • Darkhorse
  • IDW
  • TokyoPop
  • Papercutz
Basic Screenwriting with Kenny Golde. We covered the basics of screenwriting. Playwrights and screenwriters seem to know structure in a way novelists can only dream of. He sketched out the basic structure of a movie, which other people have covered better so I won't.
Main points:
  • Every moment of a movie is based on a goal.
  • The clearer the goal, the more engaged the audience is.
  • Comedies often have the most specific goals.
  • Each goal must be crossed by some kind of obstacle.
  • The characters should never achieve goals as they expect to.
  • Bad drama has simple obstacles.
  • The level of obstacles should build through the movie.
  • Good movies have character crises, or moments when the character cannot directly achieve the goal because of the nature of the character. Example: The end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy can solve everything by shooting the ark with a bazooka -- except he's an archaeologist, and he can't.
  • Never take the climax out of the protagonist's hands.
  • Read bad scripts as well as good. Try www.script-o-rama.com.
  • Transcribed scripts are made after the movie. Draft scripts are more valuable, because you can see what was cut.
  • Linda Seger's Making a Good Script Great is good.
  • Final Draft software is the industry standard. You can format your work using MS Word, but if you sell it, buy a copy of Final Draft or you won't be able to trade your script back and forth.
Keynote Speaker was David Liss. He reminds me of Lee's brother Mike, both physically and characteristically. Very funny.

It's No Mystery with Alane Ferguson. Not the talk I was expecting; this was about some simple steps you can take to improve your writing. She was very interesting, but I knew most of this stuff already -- but if I'd known it when I was sixteen, I would have saved myself ten years. (I say this because a fourteen-year-old was in the class; she'd won an award for her YA work. Fourteen...an award winner...already going to conferences...clearly, she's smarter than I ever was.)
  • Plot is a skeleton. Refine your conflict until you can write it in 2-3 sentences that revolve around the protagonist.
  • Don't add too much backstory; use "markers" to sum it up. Example: Mona had a tiger tat on one arm --> we conclude Mona is the kind of person who'd do that, and whose parents couldn't stop her.
  • Cliche'd characters are dull.
  • If you're looking for color words, check out the makeup aisle.
  • Use adjectives on a jewelry principal; some accessorizing is good, but don't get tacky.
  • Let us know the characters' motivation.
  • Using one POV is easiest.
  • Choose descriptions based on the impression you want to give, not on a literal description. (Don't say "brown eyes" when you want to imply attractiveness, say "chocolate.")
  • Stories are made of plot, characters, and dialogue. Weave them somewhat like a braid in your scenes, so we get a little of each: "Outside, a dog yapped. Mandy opened the door to let in a ball of wet, stinky fur. 'Schatzi! Where have you been?'"

Writing a World that Works by Carol Berg. This woman is my hero of the conference. I've been stuck on Iron Road since November 15th, when my characters traveled out of realms I could reasearch (Iowa, 1946) to the strange place known as The Land that Could Not Be Googled.

  • SF/F worlds aren't the only ones that need to be developed; anything out of the audience's experience has to be handled the same way.
  • A setting is a simple where/when description of a scene. A world is the backdrop, an interconnecting reality.
  • Settings are more vivid if you develop a functional world, even though 90% of the world is an iceberg below the surface. Use the 10% above water to hint about the other 90%.
  • Don't do it all up front. The world should service the story, not the reverse -- unless you're writing a "world" story.
  • Establish how earthlike the world is. For stories very earthlike, research the earthlike bits (Chicago) and design the rest to fit seamlessly.
  • If not, borrow elements of other human cultures, so you can do some research.
  • Check out Patricia C. Wrede's world-building questions. Don't bother answering the ones that don't apply.
  • Check out Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland to help weed out cliches.
Four main categories of often-ignored aspects of a world:
  1. Economics. How do people make money? How is food grown -- using slaves, agribusiness, feudalism, or tenant farmers? What does the middle class do, if there is one? How does trace work? What's imported? Who supports the aristocrats? What's valuable? How are materials transported?
  2. Diversity. Is there a trade language? What's the civilization before this one? Are there ruins? Are the settlements meant to defend things, keep people out -- or in? What are the race and gender roles? Religion, science, and beliefs evolve. Early adopters contrast Luddites. A lack of homogenity is a source of texture and conflict. Empires aren't grown overnight, but on years of conquest and diplomacy. How much do people know about the rest of the world? What would cause isolation -- people tend to spread out.
  3. The Supernatural. What are the bounds of magic, divinity, myth, and science? Where are frictions/resentments? Do the people believe the gods are real? Is the cosmos the way the characters believe it is? How did the world come to be? Legends, rituals, feast days, superstitions. Magic has to have rules, limits, and consequences if it isn't a copout. If everyone can do magic, how could anybody starve? What are "Newton's Laws of Magic" in your world? Swearwords.
  4. The Outside. What is the wider world like? Wars your character's not involved in. What would your characters see if they turned aside from your plot?
What makes a rich detail? Details are rich if they cause emotional reactions and reveal something about the characters -- not just the world.

  • List five items found in a garbage heap that your characters have passed by.
  • Walk outside the boundaries of your fictional starting location. List five items your character would see.
  • Now list five things your character would notice if he were blindfolded.
  • What are your character's reactions to each of these items?
Graphic Novels: State of the Industry with the Simonsons and Steve Saffel. Anybody who's been keeping up with comics knows the industry has changed: lots of retailers carry comic books...er, I mean, graphic novels. Manga has drawn in more readers. Lots of material is being repurposed -- both novels converted into graphic form and graphic works with novel spinoffs. The field is more diverse. Perseopolis. Blankets. Y. Jodi Picault's Tenth Circle even includes comic-type material. However, the limited shelf space is going to have to be honed. Bookstores are a dangerous market: bookstores can return copies for no charge.

Mainstream publishers are going to be more inclined to sign on finished work; they don't maintain "bullpens" or collections of writers, artists, letterers, etc., the way Marvel and DC do. Writing comics (without creating the art) is hard to break into, but be wary of brining in the wrong artist just to have a partner: in the editors' heads, you're married.

You don't need an agent as much as you need to meet other people in the field, so go to comic cons. A lot of big publishing houses are showing up at comic cons, looking for graphic novels to publish -- completed graphic novels. One-shot comics are still a possibility, but most writers have started to work in 4-5-issue arcs to boost the possibility of getting them republished.

Electronic comics publishing is waiting for better graphics on book readers. Some names thrown around as favorites: Dr. McNinja, Zot, Megatokyo, Zuda comics at DC, Freak Angels. And an audience member threw in DrunkDuck.

Keynote Speaker was Vicki Lewis Thompson, who led a round of Mad Libs. I miss Mad Libs...