James River Writers Conference
Saturday, October 9th
Last Day of Conference
The wonderfulness of this conference just continued on the last day. I must admit by lunchtime I was a nervous wreck. I had my five-minute agent pitch at 1:21 PM EST, which I'll talk about in my next post.(This post was also on Raven and the Writing Desk.)
First Page Critique
The first page critique is perhaps the best part of the entire conference. Here we hear people's first pages they submitted and three agents tear them apart. The tearing them apart wasn't too terrible, and I found a lot of things the agents said about the first pages, I was thinking too. The three agents were Michelle Brower, Lucy Carson, and Melissa Sarver.
Here are some comments about the first pages and what every author needs to consider for the first page:
Character first before details
Get rid of passive wording; find active wording
If your character is thinking, don't have that character think in complete sentences. People don't do that, I guess.
Don't bombard your readers with too much description
You must have action, character, dialogue
You can write A to C without describing B.
Short sentences pack punch!
Do not have your character wake from a dream. It's so cliché.
SHOW, DON'T TELL!!!!!
Description should be weaved in character and plot.
Attach your readers to people, not setting.
Trust your readers.
Sometimes less is more.
Watch for details that pull your reader out of the story.
Make sure language is evocative.
Don't explain a metaphor too much.
Watch out for abstract references.
Watch out for too many adjectives.
Pay attention to EVERY word.
One key fact I learned, the first page must have NO grammatical errors. An agent will reject you if there is one, even if it is a small comma out of place or a mistyped word.
Also, read first pages in your favorite books to see what grabs you and how the first pages work.
This panel included Jon Kukla, Dean King, Charles J. Shields, and Kirk Ellis.
They mentioned you have fifteen seconds to sell a book. Yes, just fifteen. Wow.
When opening a story, you need to take the reader to the heart of the story.
It's important to know the ending of the novel you're writing, so you can show the trajectory of the characters.
It's important to know when to stop scenes, tell the story of middles, and don't begin with the beginning or end with the end. Writers should write inside out, not outside in.
In writing history, you don't have to impress readers with tons of details. A writer must keep in mind to write what history was, not what it came to be.
Most of all, history was lived in the present, not the past.
This panel consisted of Michelle Brower, Jeff VanderMeer, Bill Blume, and Zachary Steele.
The writer must build the world. The more the writer knows, then the easier the story flows. The world needs to be accessible to readers and the description should serve the story.
They warned about using fantasy clichés, such as the orphaned child. It is almost important to use twists to open this new world.
Interview with Charles J. Shields
For the final session on Saturday, Dean King interviewed Charles J. Shields. Mr. Shields writes biographies, and he is currently working on his first YA novel while also writing a biography on Kurt Vonnegut.
For the writer, there are some key points I got out of the interview:
You must be willing to be revised.
You must be willing to take criticism.
Become a literary detective.
High moments deserve a scene; whereas others might deserve just a summary.
Overall, the conference was a HUGE success. I can't wait until the one next year. I just wish I knew some of this stuff before I began writing. If you ever get a chance to go to a writers conference, go. You won't regret it.