Saturday, June 4, 2016

Gnarly Bits

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.

What keeps you reading a story?

It probably isn't the characters or the descriptions, but the tension and conflict.  We love to have questions answered, and your goal as a writer is to drop a trail of breadcrumbs that pulls the reader forward from question to answer until the end.

Image result for public domain image of hansel and gretel and breadcrumbs
Unknown artist. Please let me know if you know.
Robin Hobb used the metaphor of a fishing line to explain how she perceives tension in a story. You can set the tension heavy or light depending on how you want to pull your reader along until conflict breaks out.

Tension is often evolving relationships. - Randy Henderson

I completely agree with this insight, as a lot of the books I enjoy reading the most aren't about stuff happening so much as people interacting. Good examples of this are the Lannisters, and one of the panelists pointed out that "If you're good at it, you can make the reader shift sides chapter to chapter."

Pacing was addressed in this context as well, with the panelists discussing the need for "Catch your breath bits" which are just as important at the fast parts.

Tension, conflict, and pacing help the writer keep the edge sharp on a story, so what hinders this?

  • Too much magic 
  • If the MC misses an obvious solution
  • Fake choices
  • Keeping secrets that shouldn't be kept
  • Secrets kept too long
  • Deux ex Machina
  • False tension
  • Not including audience in what characters are seeing
  • Not enough limitations


Randy Henderson suggested writers practice emotional writing, as it is a strong way to create tension. Think of your favorite scenes from books/movies, and they are pretty much all emotional. He acknowledged this is often his least favorite writing to do, as it can be draining and painful.

Another strong way to build tension (and plot) is writing characters with conflicting goals.

Ana Juan

Robin Hobb made the observation that "the best foreshadowing you can only see in retrospect". Often readers facepalm and wonder how they could have missed a twist, but she said that if done masterfully, they only *think* they could have figured it out. She said she goes back and weaves those pieces into the draft. Carol Berg added to this, "I can go back and tweak the trail."

Arthur Rackham

The panel ended with a beautiful example of what's important in storytelling.
When you read a child a book and you get to the end, what's the first thing the child typically says?

Read it again.


When it comes to stories, we're all children. Even if we know the ending, it's the STORY that satisfies us. Remember this when you are agonizing over the reader knowing your ending. 

Eloise Wilkin (Little Golden Books)

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1 comment:

  1. ooooooo, delicious! i'm going to start going to writing cons..........
    khairete
    suz

    ReplyDelete

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