The good news: Despite not having a completed manuscript, I pitched agents and editors, and received requests for partial pages from Putnam and Wild Rose Press, as well agents with Kimberly Cameron, 5x5 and Victress.
The bad news: I got sick the day after stepping off the plane from Seattle, so those requests will go out this week.
The break-out sessions were well organized, and the Thriller/Suspense panels were set up in such a way that I could go through the entire day’s sessions, one after another in the same room, and not have to carry all my paraphernalia with me. Thank you, PNWA organizers!
by Robert Dugoni
Several good take-aways from this presentation that I intend to incorporate immediately into my work in progress.
First, my victim, Abby, needs to be more ‘relatable.’ Does she have to be likeable? No, but she needs to have something added to her backstory, some type of wound (aside from her husband’s affair), that helps readers relate to her. Then they will care deeply when she is killed. Luckily, I figured out what that wound will be, and I can’t wait to add it.
Dugoni told us he didn’t think prologues were automatic death, it depends on how they are used, and he used an example of how he used a prologue in one of his own novels. I’ve been struggling on how to introduce my murder-minded husband, Jace, at the beginning of the book, without confusing readers (and agents/editors), having them think he’s my main character. A Jace prologue would solve my problem, leaving Rumor, the protagonist, to debut in chapter 1.
But the bit of advice that will help me the most often is how to avoid writer’s block. “If you’re stuck on one scene,” he says, “put down a place marker. Don’t worry over it or stop writing. Just go to a scene you can write, and want to write, and do it.” He said not to fret over the action before or after that scene. Just write it. Then write the action around that scene. And continue on from there. “Once I learned to do this,” Dugoni said, “I never have a bad writing day.”
By the way, have you ever met this man? Besides being a NYT best-selling author with millions of books sold, he is a workhorse for PNWA. They are so fortunate to have him.
The Inner Journey
By Donald Maass
Questions to ask your character to delve into his/her resistance to change.
These can help bolster a sagging middle story.
Maass gave us a gigantic list of questions, but these are the ones I am going to use, as needed:
- I can’t change because I have a responsibility to ___ who I must take care of.
- The person I can’t disappoint is ____and if I did, this is what would happen ___
- If I were different, I’d have to admit that I am ____and that’s something I don’t want to do.
- The thing that makes me rage out of control is____ and what I say or do is ____. To whom? _____
- The thing that feels best to let go is ____
- What is the one thing I can’t do, won’t even try ____. I don’t want to do it because ____. What could occur in story to challenge my protagonist to try? _____
- What is comforting to your protaganist? ____ (Don makes spaghetti sauce)
- What is the moment he must show courage? ___ Justice? ____
- What I the very last moment for a declaration of love? ____
- What lack of action would make him die inside? ____
- What is his/her big, symbolic, maybe even public, act of courage? ____. The more public the confession, the bigger it is. What’s the most dramatic place that it can happen? ____
- moment of crisis: If I don’t do this (or confess to this), I’ll lose ____.
Panel: Bob Dugoni, Kevin O’Brien, Ingrid Thoft, Mike Lawson.
First, it was obvious that these guys are friends off-stage, and their good-natured teasing made the session more fun.
One of the first questions the panel members were asked was, “do you plot?” I admit I was surprised by some of the answers. Bob and Mike both said “no.”
Mike Lawson didn’t surprise me, he comes across as a seat-of-the-pants guy. But I was surprised by Bob Dugoni’s answer. He was a lawyer in his previous career, so I expected him to plan the hell out of his stuff. It certainly reads like it’s closely plotted.
The panelists all stressed to make sure every chapter has an obstacle that either reveals character or moves the story forward. And remember, a ‘fork in the road’ situation can bring in both obstacle and character reveal.
I had several flashes of insight regarding my own characters during this panel discussion. First, my killer should go through his own cycle of change, and modify his behavior, not kill Sadie because Coop loves her, and Coop has done something kind to him, something that shows he understand the killer’s pain over losing his family. I know that sounds vague and convoluted, but you’ll just have to trust me. You’ll recognize it when you read it in the book!
Also, the killer will either end up confessing, or he will put himself in a situation where the sheriff (Coop) must kill him (atonement). That’s all I’m saying.
There was an interesting discussion on how to ratchet up tension in a flat scene. The comment was, “Don’t go with your first thought. It will be the obvious one. Think of several more scenarios. Go with at least the third one, not the first couple.” Okay, I thought, time consuming, but worth a try.
But there was more. “Then,” they said, “find a third element.” Think about the movie “The Untouchables.” Remember the scene where Kevin Costner and his crew were hot on the trail of the bad guys, in a building with a tall flight of stairs. Remember the lady with baby carriage, trying to maneuver it down those stairs, right in the way of Kevin Costner? That tension, caused by that lady with the baby carriage—that was the third element. What fun!
Another interesting take-away from this panel was Kevin O’Brien. I hadn’t read any of his stuff, but when Bob said, “I don’t read him. He’s too scary,” I immediately made a note to pick up one of his books from the conference bookstore. I started reading They Won’t Be Hurt on the flight home. Yes, O’Brien’s mind goes to warped places. You’ll be seeing a review on his book next month.
See you in two weeks.