Saturday, July 31, 2010

A-ha Moments from the 30th Annual RWA

"Learned a lot" doesn't even begin to cover how I'm feeling less than an hour after the conclusion of the 30th Annual RWA Nationals.  It was wonderful putting online names together with their beautiful faces.  It was exciting meeting so many new and encouraging authors.  It was nerve-wracking in the best possible way to get to meet and speak with agents and editors.  It was thrilling to receive manuscript requests--two partials from agents and one full from an editor.  And it was beyond fulfilling to have this dedicated time to be among writers, really think about writing, and get so filled up on inspiration and enthusiasm that I feel like I could jump out of my skin.

Here are some a-ha highlights from the conference, in no particular order:

1) Identify your core story--not in a particular book, not in any given story--but the central theme that most engages you as a writer, that you want to explore no matter what the setting or even the subgenre.  And I figured mine out.  I wrapped my head around it and it so well sums up everything I've written and everything I've got in mind to write.  For me, it's about every person's, every being's (I add, since I write so much paranormal...) search for belonging, for a place where they fit, for the connection that grounds them in this world.  Lucien's desire for a second chance at a family, Caden's hope that Makenna could accept him despite his scars and piercings and tatts, Sasha's need to reconnect with her husband--despite the different genres, each of my characters wants, needs, that basic sense of belonging and connection.  Identifying this, and being able to communicate it successfully to an agent (which I did! and she totally got it!) might be the single biggest thing I got out of this conference.
2) Nora Roberts's advice to writers:  "Ride the hard" and "Eat the hard."  I want the t-shirt.
3) 50-70% of readers and 66% of booksellers read the first page of a book before buying it.  Openings, openings, openings.  This was the message of at least three workshops I attended.
4) Linda Howard's workshop on the 12 Steps of Intimacy:  I think I knew this instinctively as a writer, but she explained so well using biological, genetic, and historical studies the fundamentally important role sexual intimacy and the sex act specifically play in establishing and maintaining pair bonding in humans.  It's not about the physical, it's about the way the physical cements the emotional and the psychological.  This is phenomenally relevant to my current WIP, Fantasy Life, but also so very applicable to our real-life relationships.
5) From a workshop on setting: "The reader will focus on what you focus on"--So how much detail do you really need about the setting, about the character's backstory, etc.  And if you do need that detail, do you need it right at that moment in the story?  Great way of thinking about it.
6) Similarly, "Your reader will care in direct proportion to how much the character cares"--so make the stakes high and keep raising them
7) To heighten tension and pacing, try to include something about as many of these as possible in your sentences: 1) setting, 2) action, 3) emotion, 4) senses, 5) complication, 6) introduce something new about your character.
8) To raise the tension in the story, break things, frequently; make the characters make bad decisions with hard consequences.  And then resist the urge to fix it!  Don't make it all better too fast.  Make the reader feel that all is lost, that it couldn't possibly get better.  Maybe even makes things worse.  Delayed gratification and escalation will keep the reader turning the page.

This just scratches the surface, but hopefully gives you a flavor of what the conference offered.  If you attended, what were your a-ha moments?

Thanks for reading,


Lillie said...

Loved this article, Laura! So wish I could have been there, alas, RL got in the way. Would love to read your notes, though! Congrats on the manuscript requests! :)

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Oh... I wish I'd been there!

Laura Kaye said...

I hope you'll both be able to come next year. I know some others prefer some of the other smaller and more reader-oriented conferences, but I think there's a ton to get out of RWA Nationals. And New York will be great!