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This weekend I taught a class at DFW Writers Conference, titled “Rayguns or Magic Wands: Building Your World in 500 Words or Less,” and while prepping for this class ate up many, many hours of writing time, it was a great experience and I’m glad I got to share this information with the attendees.
(And now I take this moment to recommend DFW Writers Conference – it was a great use of my time, and I plan to go back. You should too!)
Unfortunately we didn’t get to cover the last bit, so I promised I’d include notes from my presentation on my website, and here we are.
So. Today’s post focuses on crafting a beginning that pulls the reader in and gives a taste of the worldbuilding that the writer has spent more time than they’d probably care to admit developing. Which leads us to the first of several important questions:
What does my beginning need?
A first line!
From Elizabeth Bear’s list of oughta’s, a first line oughta:
- Illuminate the theme of a book.
- Raise a question.
- Begin to develop setting, character, and tone.
- Hold the keys to resolution.
Some great first lines are zingers (“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” ~ Elantris), while others have softer beginnings (“The primroses were over.” ~ Watership Down), but both indicated different types of worldbuilding.
They don’t try to ‘do it all.’
The Elantris opening line indicates, among other things, the type of government set up, a name of what will likely turn out to be an important country, a time of day, and the understanding that in this world, people are capable of being damned for all eternity and it’s likely to take one by surprise.
The Watership Down setting indicates the time of year and the (very) pastoral setting.
What each story chose to focus on says a great deal about what type of story they are planning to tell.
What else does a beginning need?
- A protagonist with at least one strong, defining trait that will come definitely into play in the scene.
- A strong, clearly-conveyed motivation for that protagonist.
- An interesting conflict that is easily understood regardless of setting.
- Highly polished writing.
- A twist at the end of the scene. – get them to keep reading past what amounts to a one-note character, simple setup, and hints of an intriguing world.
Question marks are shaped like hooks for a reason – so leave lots of questions!
Also, we discussed Elemental Genres (as defined by the podcast Writing Excuses) later in the presentation, which leads us to something I mentioned in the first line section that I wanted to discuss a bit more:
An indication of the type of story this will be.
This isn’t just a hint that this will be a fantasy novel or a historical novel set in 1600th century China, this indicates the tone promises you’re making to the reader. For example, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is probably best categorized as Adventure+Humor+Relationship.
The tone set at the beginning should match the rest of the story, though as I mentioned in my presentation, there’s always an exception to the rule. Thus…
FOLLOW NO RULE OFF A CLIFF.
Writing Excuses has an abundance of resources on their website on Elemental Genres and on many, many other topics. Please look around their website to see if any of their topics in the past 11 seasons covers something you need to work on in your own writing, because they are amusing and instructive.
That’s all I have time for tonight. Next up we’ll talk using swear words, insults, and idioms for fun and profit.
Apparently I’m doing enough with my writing that my alma mater’s English department wanted to feature me on the alumni page. In essence it’s the same information I’ve written for many bios, but framing it for my English department seems to have given this a firmer narrative than any of my other bios have had.
If you’re interested, the link is here, below the bio for Robert Bird.
I’ve been so caught up with taxes and preparing for DFWCon that I neglected to mention that C/O The Village of Monsters Past went live at Galaxy’s Edge. So go and read! It’s free to read online until the end of April.
I love this setting with the heat of a hundred and two suns, and I’m excited to write more stories about it when I have time.
In related news, Tangent Online went and reviewed it. As usual they keep their reviews brief, but I’ll take ‘heartwarming’ and snuggle that until my next sale comes along.
So this happened.
A couple weeks ago, in the middle of my daughter’s bedtime routine, my husband began fiddling around with my daughter’s Stormtrooper figurine, posing it like a ballerina.
It turns out that The Forces Awakens Black series’ joint articulation is pretty decent, and despite my daughter’s need to go to bed, I was quickly sucked into posing the Stormtrooper properly. One thing led to another, and I added Chewbacca to the choreography:
And then it just kept going from there, and now I have a bunch of photos documenting to majestic performance. My friend Matt graciously agreed to Photoshop the blankets and human fingers out for me so they can be fully appreciated on a blank canvas.
Now witness the power and grace of these fully operational Imperial Ballet danseurs:
I welcome any titles for these photos that anyone would like to offer up, and if anyone feels the urge to Photoshop them further you have my blessing, but please be sure to link back to me and credit me as creator, choreographer, creative visionary, voice of a generation, and so on and so forth.
Doing a post mortem on a convention sounds awfully grim, doesn’t it? But I suppose recap sounds like we’re talking about sports, and a summary just sounds boring.
Anyway, ConDFW ended yesterday and I’m still recovering. I got to meet up with lovely friends and meet new ones. My reading and signing, while not swarming with people, were pleasant. I got to sign a couple of my books and read some of my stories, and that’s all I need, really. I didn’t spend as much time socializing as I’d planned to, because I had deadlines I was trying to hit and it was just too tempting not to take advantage of a little of that time to get some writing in.
Speaking of new people and signings! Seanan McGuire, one of the GOH, was a treat to listen to. I never got to any of her panels, though, which I was disappointed by. Somehow I didn’t make it to any of John Scalzi’s events, either. I’d wanted to ask him to sign one of his books for me, but everything I have of his is on Audible, so! Alas. That’s what I get for saving shelf space.
Oh, and that slam poetry contest? I won 2nd place. (woot!) Rie Sheridan Rose won with a fun bawdy poem about Jenny the pirate, I believe, which seems appropriate as first place, especially considering the Seadog Slam was hosting the contest. Not that I didn’t love my own piece, “Livecasting My Descent into the Martian Underworld,” but it makes sense, doesn’t it? Now I’m trying to decide if I should send it out to markets as a poem or as a weird little bit of flash.
I was quite pleased with my assigned panels: Worldbuilding in Steampunk, How to Brainstorm a Story, and The Short Story: Advantages and Benefits. I love reading and writing steampunk, and I left the steampunk panel with even more books to add to my list. In particular I’m looking forward to reading Shanna Swenson’s Rebel Mechanics.
The panel on the advantages and benefits of writing short stories didn’t go as I expected it would – we spent precious little time on talking about the advantages and benefits of writing short stories – but we covered that eventually, and I think it was still an interesting panel for the audience members. We covered quite a bit of ground on quite a few topics, including resolving issues with writing short stories, deciding how to utilize critiques, and finding markets to submit to. I love what Rhonda Eudaly said about the markets available, pro or semi pro.
BTW, if you were there and you have any questions about something we talked about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. As to the resources I mentioned, here is the link to The Submission Grinder, and another for Ralan.com. I’d post a link to Duotrope, but the Grinder is a better, cost-free version of Duotrope with more tools, so I feel confident someone can find it if they really wanted to.
Final thoughts: I want to mention Patrice Sarath’s post yesterday (link here). I DID have a good time, but everything she wrote matches what I’d felt at different points over the weekend. Her thoughts are kind but blunt, and I love how she summed it up at the end:
“We’re all in this together. The pressure from media cons and the aging of fandom means that cons are threatened as never before. We need to bring in the anime fans, the cosplayers, and the media fans and show them that they can have as much fun here — and for far less money — than at a big ComiCon or Comicpalooza. For most of us, we were fans first. Let’s remember the excitement of our first cons and try to recreate that. It’s not always easy, and I will be the first to admit I didn’t exactly bring my game this weekend. But let’s try to get our mojo back, hmm?
Because the alternative is not that much fun — boring conventions with a dwindling fan base.”
I want these local conventions to stick around for a long, long time, but they need a little more oomph from all of us to keep them so exciting, thought-provoking, and enticing that the younger fans can’t help but come.
ConDFW is tomorrow! I knew that, but somehow that didn’t translate to sharing my programming schedule with anyone. I’ll have copies of Cats in Space AND Funny SF with me for my signing, and there will most definitely be cookies at my reading. (Likely chocolate chip. The soft, super chewy kind, like a cookie should be.) It’s possible I’ll have them ready for my signing as well, but we’ll see how tomorrow morning with my toddler goes.
3pm: Jeff Dawson, Dantzel Cherry
MAIN PROGRAMMING (JEFFERSON)
Friday, 4pm: World Building in Steampunk
Panelists: Shanna Swendson (M), Rachael Acks, Stephen Sanders, Rie Sheridan Rose, Ava Morgan, Dantzel Cherry
The steampunk genre usually covers an alternate version of Victorian England, but it has been used to create versions in Imperial Japan, and in a straight fantasy setting. Our steampunk experts discuss how to build a world that incorporates steampunk elements into it.
MAIN PROGRAMMING (JEFFERSON)
Saturday, 1pm: How to Brainstorm a Story
Panelists: Julia S. Mandala (M), KM Tolan, Rachael Acks, Michelle Muenzler, Dantzel Cherry
You’ve just finished the blockbuster of your dreams. Your fans are clamoring for more! Then you wake up and realize you haven’t got any ideas. Our writers discuss how they came up with their original stories. Perhaps you too can realize your dream!
PROGRAMMING 3 (HAMILTON)
Saturday, 2pm: The Short Story: Advantages and Benefits.
Panelists: David Gray (M), Mary Gearhart-Gray, Rhonda Eudaly, Barbara Ann Wright, Larry Atchley Jr., Dantzel Cherry
The short story is often overlooked by the average reader unless they read certain literary magazines or short story collections. However, they are a gem that should not be discounted so readily. Our short story writers talk about the benefits of writing short stories as opposed to writing novels.
Also, the programming includes the 1st Annual Adventure Poetry Slam, Saturday at 8PM.
I CAN’T EVEN. I love slam poetry. I have a piece that should be tweaked and ready to read by then, so barring any unfortunate scheduling conflicts that kills my editing time, I should be up there competing for the $50 first prize. Or the 3rd place box of Girl Scout cookies – as long as they’re Thin Mints or Samoas.
Clearly this is all right up my alley. Great panels combined with great authors is going to make for a lovely weekend. Hope to see you there!