Yesterday, I went to the KDL Writers Conference – Crafting Edition. It’s a spin-off of their annual writers conference. Only this one had a different focus, crafting your work. The event featured some Michigan Authors and publishing insiders sharing their insights on the craft of writing from capturing an audience, to constructing scenes, to editing. It was broken down into two sessions, morning and afternoon.
The morning session started with author, teacher, and historian, Deb Moore, giving a presentation on memoir writing. Which wasn’t why I was there. I don’t really want to write a memoir of myself or anyone else for that matter. But it did get me thinking that it would be nice to do taped interviews with both my mother and my grandmother. It would be nice to have their life stories in their own words for any that come after who might be interested.
My notes from her presentation were few:

Did you know that, back in the day, they used ferrets to control the rats at the millinery in Grand Rapids. I thought that deserved a note. May be able to use that somewhere.
When writing memoir; share a story not a research project.
And my own thought that, memoir is for a farther generation. Your kids won’t care and their kids probably won’t care, but maybe their kids will… maybe. We’re all pretty wrapped up in ourselves.

Up next was, Ryan Hipp, a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Also not what I was there for, but his presentation touched on more general writing stuff and didn’t so much focus on children’s books. Which was good. More on him later.
I took more notes from him, more reminders to myself than anything I hadn’t read or heard before:

Remember that the writing process is different than the reading process
The characters desired goal and their actual goal are unlikely to be the same
Keep piling on the obstacles and inflicting conflict and remember that you can have both internal and external conflicts and obstacles
Creating parallels between the first and last chapters is a sage writerly trick
Overlapping Problems
Tight structure is both predictable and safe. Is that what you want for your story?
Confuse/engage the reader by throwing lots of problems at the characters. CONFUSE but don’t LOSE!

Adam Schuitema, author and educator, came on next and presented a talk on scene. Which I was excited by, as scene is one of those things that I know how to write, but I certainly don’t think or plan in scenes. So I was hoping for some insights or maybe even a grand revelation.

Summary is the opposite and antithesis of scene.
Scenes manage and organize narrative time
Scenes are building blocks
Note cards or post-its for organizing scenes
Summary is non-specific in character and time and place. It is general
Scene is drama. You don’t get drama in summary.
Use “white space” on the page to build impact and emphasis.

And the final presenters of the morning were a quartet of folks from Caffeinated Press, a West Michigan publishing house. They talked about editing. Their presentation, “Edits: Yes, You Must”, was designed to “help attendees understand the query process from the publisher’s perspective, learn how to parse publisher guidelines, understand the most common structure and line errors in text presented for published evaluation, and articulate the importance of recruiting expert beta readers.”
And I have a few notes from them as well:

Things to be aware of and issues that you should look for:

  • avoid shocking plot twists
  • inconsistent narrative and inconsistent point of view
  • Avoid fusion genre – think about where it sits in the book store and how the publisher will market it. Write to sell to a genre
  • don’t data dump
  • avoid monotone dialogue
  • avoid stereotypes
  • look for inconsistent moral motivation and maybe study moral philosophy
  • PACING
  • check for consistent and appropriate tone
  • no ellipses. use italics for mental speech
  • general reference errors
  • verb tense
  • speech attribution

Caffeinated Press uses the Associated Press punctuation guide
concept-to-syllable ratio … I don’t remember what this is, I should take better notes.
Choose your beta-reader wisely. You want constructive criticism. They should be a problem solver. Your beta-reader should be genre specific and should be knowledgeable about that genre. Look for someone who is project sensitive/aware (you want them to evaluate your project not the project they want you to write). And lastly, they need to be prompt (you don’t want to wait 9-months for feed back. This isn’t a baby.)
Follow the guidelines! When submitting always follow the guidelines. Do it their way. Nobody gives a shit how you think it should be done.
Submit with a two or three paragraph synopsis. Talk about the story, don’t sell, they want to know what they’re buying.
Process Flow:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Beta Read
  4. Edit
  5. Copy Edit
  6. Proof Read

Break for lunch. Thank you all. It was wonderful.
The afternoon workshop portion of the KDL Writers Conference: Crafting Edition was hosted by Ryan Hipp.  We were supposed to bring our Manuscripts! Ryan was doing quick first impression critiques of the first page of random manuscripts. The idea being that we would get insights on how editors will interpret the work, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to give the most critical part of your manuscript more punch.
There were a lot of folks there and not everybody had their stuff read in the hour-and-a-half we had. The selections were shuffled and he pulled some out and provided feedback. I didn’t bring anything, completely forgot about that part, and as such did not have my stuff read. Which is okay, I did not honestly get much from this part of the program. I’m not saying that I should have skipped it, but I don’t think I would have missed much had I done so.
There were some good, some bad, and some interesting first pages read out. The advice felt too general and nowhere near critical enough to my ear. I think a little Simon Cowell might have been warranted during this section of the day.
It was a good day. I met a couple of nice guys, but only managed to get one of their names, Bret or Brent… maybe I didn’t really get either of their names. But they were nice guys and we had some good discussion about writing. I still haven’t taken the plunge and joined, or even looked for, a writing group. But I think that If I can get my writing habit back in line I will look into that.

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