This morning I attended Mary Rosenblum's workshop on "Science in Science Fiction Without the PhD." Actually, the information she presented was applicable to any type of fiction. She recommended strategizing the research before diving in. Consider whether your main character will be an expert or non-expert in the subject matter. An expert will know the insider jargon and insider "rules." A non-expert will interpret the subject in common terms, ignore the rules, and use terminology instead of jargon. Unless you are already an expert on the subject, you will have to do extensive research to make your main character sound like an insider. The non-expert character will serve more like an interpreter for the reader. Ms. Rosenblum suggested beginning your SF research with popular science periodicals for a general overview, then go to scientific journals, and finally ask the experts once you have the basic terminology and grasp of the subject. Unless they don't have the time, most scientists love to talk about their work. Bottom line: You don't have to understand the science in your novel, you just have to sound like you do! And when building SF/F worlds, don't forget to research the "soft sciences" (social sciences, political sciences, etc.).
Bill Johnson presented an intriguing approach to writing fiction in "The Spirit of Storytelling." Bill noticed that some of his writing students produced protagonists that resembled generic characters that moved woodenly through the story. No matter how much he helped the authors, they always reverted to their symbolic characters. Bill came to understand that these writers were using their characters as vehicles to examine their own issues. The characters had no lives of their own in the fictional world. So Bill developed what he calls "Deep Characterization." During two brief meditative sessions the participants imagined sitting with their main character and asking what he or she wanted from the story and then asking a representative of their reading audience what they found compelling in the story. The object was to listen and then address the deeper emotions of the characters so they will act independent of the author. Participants had some enlightening thoughts when they opened themselves up to their characters and readers.
Back in the Children's/YA track, Rosanne Parry presented "Character and the Seven Deadly Sins: Developing Depth in your Characters." She explained the "sins" are habits of thought that are harmful to the person who chooses them and discussed how this might be manifested in character actions. She provided examples from popular sources as well as books for very young readers that addressed each "sin." For the younger crowd, Lust may be expressed as an excessive interest in physical pleasures like beautiful objects, luxurious fabrics etc. Gluttony may be displayed as the excessive consumption of anything, like thrills or shopping as well as eating. The sins also have their positive opposites that can serve as character development. Pride or vainglory can become confidence, envy can evolve into admiration and emulation. At each pivotal moment in the YA novel, consider whether your main character will choose the "sin" or the virtue.
My final workshop of the conference was Jill Kelly's "When is My Manuscript Ready to Pitch or Publish?" Ms. Kelly discussed useful tools for reviewing our writing, such as a Plot Map and Character Cards to track the rising and falling action of the story and to ensure consistency. She suggested a pass through the story reading only the dialogue. Description should serve a purpose and move the story forward. Since it can take months or years to complete a novel, Ms. Kelly suggested a Style Guide to ensure consistent spelling of character and place names, and to prevent errors when moving characters through the novel landscape. As she put it, don't "clunk" your reader with awkward or unnecessary passages.
The message throughout the conference was Write Your Book or Script. Don't write to the marketplace. Write what you want and need to write.
Today's lunch speaker, Julie Gray, summed it up nicely: Just Effing Entertain Me.