Saturday, August 8, 2009

Willamette Writers Conference, Day Two

Today I mixed it up some and got outside the Children's/YA track a couple of times: Blood, Roses & Mosquitoes: Writing with Details, Jessica Morrell; Hitting the Sweet Spot in Middle Grade and YA, Jennifer Mattson; Dr. Frankenstein's Character Laboratory, Craig English & James Rapson; The ABCs of Saleable Fiction, Eric Witchey.

Jessica Morrell is a developmental editor and a Willamette Writers gem. She contributes a column to the monthly WW newsletter, she has a monthly on-line newsletter of her own (The Writing Life), and has several how-to books in print. Per usual, I learned a lot about selecting and using details. Per Jessica, selecting the right details "proves" that the fictional events are happening.Don't bloat the story or book with details, but sprinkle them throughout so the reader will experience the story along with the characters.

Jennifer Mattson is an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, a groundbreaker in representing children's writers exclusively. They do everything from picture books to YA. It's always good to hear from an agent or editor what they look for, and what raises red flags. Jennifer was most helpful in clarifying the distinctions between Middle Grade (ages 10-14) and Young Adult (14-16) novels, such as content, style, etc. She, too, mentioned creating a sensory experience to put the young reader into the story. Lucky for me, Jennifer is seeking fantasy novels and "subculture" stories about "unfamiliar" worlds (could that include the horse show world?!).

Craig English and James Rapson discussed a couple of methods to assist in character development. Not just appearance and favorite baseball team, but the personality of the characters. Selecting traits that will make for an interesting story and make the reader develop empathy for the characters. We participated in listing "masculine" and "feminine" traits and discussed "hardwiring" versus cultural roles -- and doing a switcheroo to create an interesting character. They also apply Attachment Theory to assist with the development of the character's coping mechanism to protect his or her vulnerabilities. Put the character in a sticky situation and see how she or he responds!

Eric Witchey's session was the highlight of the day for me. He imparted extremely useful information in an entertaining manner and had everyone engaged in the process. The ABCs were: Agenda, Backstory, Conflict, and Setting. Every character in every scene has his or her own agenda, whether it's solving the murder or delivering the pizza. Conflict is created when these agendas run up against each other. Backstory helps make the story seem real because the characters have lived lives prior to the opening of the story that have shaped the person they are. And how the character relates to the setting reveals their personality. The character's response to conflict reveals who they are, as well as how important his or her agenda is.

Each session helps place the pieces into the puzzle.

I met a student from Linfield College (my alma mater) attending the conference. We compared profs, dorms, and majors. That was great fun. I also took advantage of the author signings to get a book or two personalized.

Approximately 800 people will attend the conference over it's three-day run. The Saturday luncheon for the WW Conference is the largest meal that the Portland Airport Sheraton serves all year! Hey! Writing is hard work!! We need brain food. :-)

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