Dear Readers, Writers, and Scarecrow Junkies,
This last weekend I had the grand opportunity to attend the 64th Annual Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. What an amazing experience! I personally chatted with bestselling authors Jonathan Maberry and Caridad Pineiro, while meeting dozens of other accomplished and aspiring writers who came together to find their community. At the corner of 4th and Arch in Center City, we found those that mean so much to us, that we never knew, that we had lost in some dramatic separation at birth.
I’ve been dreading the composition of this post, mainly because I want to include the entire torrential downpour of knowledge I barely floated above. Here are a few droplets that I think are useful:
1. Facade (credit to Merry Jones, author of the Zoe Hayes mystery series)
The facade of a character is the exterior combating the feelings within; essentially it is a struggle between persona, a character’s front, and true desire, an internal driving force that influences a character’s intentions. Many writers find trouble in developing characters that are round, psychologically complex and interesting because of it. Understanding a character’s facade, and even knowing how to eventually expose this character’s dark side, makes for a dramatic underlying conflict that, in fact, is not contrived.
2. Platform (credit to Randall Brown, editor-in-chief of Matter Press and director of the MFA program at Rosemont College/credit to Caridad Pineiro, bestselling author of The Lost)
Becoming a successful writer requires developing a fanbase. Developing this fanbase means selling yourself in every combatant zone of the social media spectrum: this is your “platform.” This requires making cards with your information, having a website (with a real domain name), having a Twitter, blogging, Youtubing, reading at coffee shops, imitating snow crab, whatever. If a publisher is considering two manuscripts, and both are tantamount in quality, said publisher will Google Search those authors’ names and find out which one has a better platform. If you are putting yourself out there for publication, go all out. When a publisher searches your name, they better find you at the hailed Number One spot.
3. Questions to Answer in Writing a Contemporary Short Story (credit to Simone Zelitch, author of Louisa, as well as co-director of the Poets and Writers Series and professor at the Community College of Philadelphia)
In order to write a great story in these times, you have to ask yourself a few questions about your main character, either before you start or during the revision process:
- What does your main character want?
- What does your main character do to satisfy that want?
- What stands in your main character’s way
- Dramatic questions: will your character achieve his/her desire? What will come of it?
The premise of these questions is considerably simple, but greatly effective.
4. Positivity and Negativity Towards Other Writers (credit to Jonathan Maberry, bestselling author of the Joe Ledger books)
When you discover or receive a writing opportunity (whether you’re trawling online, attending a conference, or even scratching a goat’s chin hair), never feel that you should hide that information from another writer. You may think that you’re gaining the upper hand. You may think, “Wow! I have something that they don’t, and if they know, then everyone will know!” And that’s absolute horseshit. In Maberry’s fitting opening speech, For the Love of Language, he said that “if we help each other, more of us will get in print. Negativity doesn’t do us any good at all. Positivity does.” Share the love of the craft with your fellow escritores! The act may help you in the long run.
5. The One Story (credit to Jason Hall, Editor and Producer at Keystone Pictures, Inc.)
Some have said that there are ten stories ever told.
Some have said that there are two stories told: a hero goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town.
Jason, an aspiring writer like myself, had a sage observation. Every story involves a fish out of water. Whether that fish is a detective, a hobbit, a typical Raymond Carver archetype, a monster (hell, an obvious example is Arthur Dent from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) You could argue it’s too ambiguous, but you’d also be arguing against something so simple that it’s painful not to think about. Consider what forces your main character out of the water. Or, darker, what intentions your character had in leaving the water.
Hope this helps in the least! Thanks to all teachers, intentional or unintentional in their instruction.
Thanks also to the cyber cockroaches for not eating this post.