As an anniversary vacation trip, my husband and I attended the 30th Missoula Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. This is different from other Cons I've attended in that the focus is on writers and gamers. This will be a series of posts on what I learned from the professional panelists.
Missoula is a leafy, angular college town full of young energy and playful events. We travel there to see shows, shop the mall, and walk the river trails. The convention offered hourly panels (no lines!) so that we never got around to doing any of the extraneous stuff we had planned just in case it ended up being a dud.
The first panel was Joining Plot & Character Arc with Carol Berg, Randy Henderson, Robin Hobb, and moderated by Peter Orullian. The biggest take-away for me from this first session was that there might be an overarching plan, but the details come out in layering. None of them simply sit down and write out a first draft that shows all the intricacies of their character's development.
Carol Berg (standing in black shirt), Peter Orullian, Robin Hobb, Randy Henderson (standing on stage)
Plot marries to character arc naturally. In all the sessions, it became apparent that these authors start with character. Even in the formula many had been taught at workshops and shared with us, the first element is character. That formula, by the way, is simple:
- Start with a character
- Put character in a setting
- Give the character a problem to solve
Robin Hobb gave the example from her book in which a character is a career military man who is suddenly given the responsibility of caring for his best friend's child. Setting in this case could be anywhere, right? You have a character and a problem, and the arc is the evolution of the character while he solves (or fails to solve) the problem. The character can do a good job or a bad job, but ultimately, there should be a resolution.
The reader doesn't want to reach the end of the story and have the character unchanged.
Carol Berg gave the example from her book wherein her character was a sworn enemy of a demon. He was taken as a slave, and when that demon threatened his owner, he was faced with the problem of warning his owner or breaking his core belief in defeating his sworn enemy. By telling the story of how a character solves a problem, you are naturally moving along with plot.
There were a few other panels on our first day, but we spent the time sitting and watching people, instead. It's one of my favorite activities. There was a couple attending, Lord and Lady Towers, who have the most amazing steampunk outfits I've ever seen.
Stove lights up, smokes, and the bird moves!
Tomorrow I'll discuss the book signing and the Writer's of the Future Contest!