Elizabeth: Ah-ha Moments

Last week’s RWA Conference in Orlando was a bit unusual for me.  I’ve been to writing conferences before and I’ve even heard some of these same speakers speak before, but what was different this time around is that, when the end of the conference rolled around on Saturday afternoon, I was actually a little disappointed that it was all over.

That never happens.

A number of things made this conference a little different, not the least of which was that Michille and actually I got to meet one of our blog followers live and in person.  Writing here on the blog can feel pretty anonymous, so it was very exciting to have a follower recognize us and seem so pleased to meet us.  We only wish we had had the presence of mind to take a photo.

My primary reason for attending this year’s conference was to spend some quality time with the rest of the Eight Ladies, and we definitely did that.    Over the course of almost five days together, there was plenty of time to talk story, to brainstorm, and to plot and plan.  As I had hoped, that left me re-motivated to get back to work on my current mystery draft.  It was also nice to get some confirmation that the story seems to be heading in the right direction, especially since I was starting to feel like I was losing my grasp on the plot.

Equally helpful for the fate of my plot were the conference workshops by two presenters – Geoff Symon and Damon Suede – one research related and one craft related.  Though their sessions were very different, both were dynamic, interesting, intelligent presenters.  I have a competence crush on them both 🙂

Symon, a federal forensic investigator and author of a series of Forensics for Fiction books with delightful titles like “Crime Scenes” and “Blood Splatter” (“Autopsies” coming soon!), taught us all about how crime scenes and real investigations work.  I had an ah-ha moment a few minutes into his first workshop.  That’s when it belatedly occurred to me that the detectives in my current WIP were so busy exchanging witty banter that they neglected to actually do anything when they were at a crime scene.  Oops.  Guess I know which scene I’ll be working on next, as soon as Amazon delivers my copy of “Crime Scenes”.

While I’m waiting for that delivery, I’ll be going back over my notes from Suede’s workshop on Power Couples.  The 2-hour workshop, which felt like it was only about 20 minutes long, was all about creating characters and building fascinating relationships between them.  As other workshops had done before, it talked about action and figuring out each character’s wound or void (i.e., abandoned, grew up poor, etc.), but then moved on to grammar and the one thing you need to identify for your character:

A verb.

That’s right, a verb.  What is your character trying to do?  Once you figure out what the verb is for your character, you can look at synonyms for that word to figure out actions they might take during the course of the story.  You can also look at antonyms to identify a verb for another character that would lead the two of them into some great conflict.  It seems simple, but it’s a really different way of looking at character.

I had my second ah-ha moment of the conference during this workshop when I realized I could identify a verb for one main character in my WIP, but not for the other.  Several folks around me seemed to be in the same situation.  On the plus side, I figured out that the hero in my contemporary WIP is trying to ESCAPE.  That works well with what he does during the course of the story – avoid, depart, withdraw, retreat – now I just need to dig a little deeper into my heroine, whose verb I’m thinking might be BUILD.  This workshop gave me some great food for thought, though I think I’m going to have to listen to the conference recording of the workshop a few times (at about half-speed)  before I really understand it completely.   That’s on my agenda for sooner rather than later, before the Day Job drives everything I learned completely out of my head.

In the meantime, my local PBS station is showing Anne of Green Gables so I’m going to go indulge for a little while.  I just love that part when Anne and Gilbert get together at the end.  Their story was my first taste of romance when I was a kid, if you don’t count Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson. 🙂

So, how’s everything going with you – recovering from the conference, writing up a storm, enjoying a good story – inquiring minds want to know?

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Ah-ha Moments

  1. Sounds like you had a great conference! I’m sad I wasn’t there. Good story/writing mojo is always inspiring, and you can’t beat brainstorming with friends.

    I’m anxiously awaiting FRIDAY, the first day back to school for my kids. I’ve set up my calendar, blocking out writing time where I will NOT schedule other mundane things like dentist appointments and the like. My CP and I are in the midst of figuring out which day will be the best “team writing day” (where we get together somewhere and write, asking questions if necessary).

    On my agenda right now is finishing the exercises from Story Genius. The writer’s cruise is coming up in about 6 weeks and I want to have everything done before then, and hopefully some story writing along with it (I think it’s totally doable once the kids are in school). I’ve been mulling over how to best open the book and I think I’ve got it figured out (no more library, no more attraction, for that matter — it wouldn’t suit now based on how the backstory to my story has changed). We’ll see as I start writing.

    Other than that, I’m just looking forward to getting back in the writing saddle again. It’s been too long. 🙂

  2. I really liked that Damon Suede workshop, too, Elizabeth. It really gives you a whole new look on the tone and arc of how scenes should progress. I’d like to think applying that technique, either in advance or after writing, will make things more clear, but I’ve been fooled in the past, so we’ll see.

    • I’ve been fooled in the past too, Kay. Right now I’m hoping to remember the information from the workshop long enough to give it a good shot. Unfortunately, last week already feels like light years ago.

      • The Damon Suede one was a highlight for me, too. I also realized that while I was trying to stear away from ‘parent’ being a verb for Matt, that it is actually a good one, as part of his internal struggle is switching it to ‘partner’. I’m still looking for a more externally focused verb.

        I, too, really enjoyed meeting our follower and agree that we should have taken a picture, dangit.

  3. Pingback: Kay: After the Conference—Now Comes the Hard Part – Eight Ladies Writing

  4. I really love that verb thing. We’ve learned that a character isn’t what s/he is, but what s/he does, and the verb highlights that. (-: My two main characters have the same one: LOVE. I don’t know if that’s a problem or not; they have very different approaches to what love means, and how they themselves prove that they deserve love — even though love isn’t a question of deserving, it’s more of a lightening bolt that strikes out of nowhere. Learning to live with each other is something that needs the hard work and compromises, though.

    • Michaeline, that’s great that you figured out the verbs for your main characters. I hope it helps you with your story. I’m still thinking about what my heroine’s should be. For now, BUILD looks like it might be the winner. Since the hero is trying to ESCAPE, that sets up some good conflict

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