James River Writers Conference
Friday, October 8th
First Full Day of Conference
The conference is completely awesome! I feel like I'm learning so much, and I hope I can put that learning to practice from now on. I attended several sessions, and I'll talk about each one below. (This post is also on Raven and the Writing Desk.)
Pitching an Agent
Pitching an Agent was my first session on Friday. So far, it might be the most important one, since I'd pitch my novel Virtuoso to agent Melissa Sarver from the Elizabeth Kaplan Agency on Saturday at 1:21 PM.
Katharine Sands was the agent who spoke with us. She's a vivacious woman, and I feel like I learned so much from her. She talked about what she terms "pitch craft." There are three important things: getting ready, getting read, and getting readers. She explained the difference between a writer and an author. A writer is the solitary act of writing; whereas being an author is the complete collaboration of the project.
For the pitch, it's important to pitch ONE idea. That's right. Just one. Your pitch needs to answer the question "Why does the world need this book?" Also, there are three important things your pitch needs: setting/place, protagonist/person, and problem/pivot. Ms. Sands mentioned that you shouldn't waste the first paragraph with useless salutations. There are six words that are important to pitches: "love, heart, journey, fortune, dream, and destiny." Those six words are from from agent and author Don Maass. You don't have to have all of them in there, but they're important.
And, most of all," Ms. Sands said, "Be a happy hooker." The hook is important to the pitch.
You also should think of your pitch as a movie trailer. Very good advice.
Finding Your Inner Teenager
The second session I went to was "Finding Your Inner Teenager." Erica Orloff, Meg Medina, Lauren Oliver, and Jacqueline Woodson were on the panel. First, they clarified the differences between Young Adult and Middle Grade. Young Adult fiction relies on the moment the character is in. There is some redemptive quality. The character is very internal or about self. In Middle Grade, the fiction focuses on children between ages 9-12. The protagonist is a similar age, and the characters have outward adventures, such as saving the world.
In writing teen fiction, it is important to remember the child you were. You must write for reality instead of an ideal. Everything is very enclosed to the characters.
In general writing, you need to "aim for truth, so beauty will follow," have discipline, and remember "a writer isn't something you become because it is something you are."
After lunch, I went to the Character 101 session. The panel included Paul Whitlatch, Clifford Garstang, Michele Young-Stone, and Patty Smith.
Characters must be three-dimensional. Characters need an element of originality, but they must be recognizable. Characters can give a sense of voice and place. We all have the same emotions, even though we have different experiences. A writer must add some empathy in bad characters. Characters need to create conflict and make a scene where life intrudes. Mr. Garstang mentioned the Iago character, or the character that stirs things up.
In order to create three-dimensional characters, it's important to explore their background. Mr. Garstang creates a file and makes biographies of his characters. Michele Young-Stone keeps character blogs, which I thought was such an intriguing idea!
There are a few things to keep in mind about characters. Keep the rule of three when it comes to a character's details. Trust your readers to fill in the details. Also, try not to have names starting with the same letter. It can confuse people. Google your character's name, so you don't create a name of someone famous or infamous without meaning to.
Another way to get into a character's mind is to learn about how an actor gets into a character's mind. A good book is An Actor Prepares by Stanislavsky. (I may have the name wrong, but I think that's the name of the book and such.)
The panel for Setting 101 included Shawna Christos, Dean King, Lucy Carson, and Susann Cokal.
Setting is very important, but a writer should strive for atmosphere, or the feeling you get from the setting that is evocative. Setting can be locational, temporal, and situational. Setting needs mood and feeling. A writer should look what can be found and use experiences where you find them. A writer needs to approach setting as if a reader doesn't know it. Setting should feel exotic and adventurous to the reader. Even in fantasy and science fiction, the setting should feel true, even if it isn't. All five senses need to be used to establish setting. Also, a writer must learn X, Y, and Z about a world, but please remember not all the details have to be in the novel. Like characters, a writer must trust their readers to fill in the world.
As for setting, it should contribute to the characters' experiences. Everything should be relevant. A writer needs to use concrete words and be very careful about adjectives and adverbs when they describe setting.
Relationships: Writers, Agents, and Editors
The last session of the day on Friday was about writers, agents, and editors. Michele Young-Stone, author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, her agent Michelle Brower, and editor at Simon and Schuster's imprint Scribner spoke.
Michele Young-Stone had a great suggestion when writing a novel. Once you finish the first draft, let it sit for thirty days before you go back to it. It's something I've heard before, and she's very correct about it. When you finish a novel, as well, the work isn't done yet. That first draft is really just the beginning to the real work.
In query letters, you shouldn't be too vague. You must translate enthusiasm. As for agents, you need to find the one that isn't promising you the most but the one that's saying the smartest things.
As for editing, the author and editor should be a good fit and want to make the best product possible.
By the way, Michele Young-Stone had on the coolest socks. They had skulls on them. She rocks!