Almost Awake on St. Pete Beach

- by Barbara Meyers

A Ninc conference is many things, interesting, informative, stimulating, exhausting.  About the third day we might want to change the theme from Brainstorming on the Beach to Brain Dead on the Beach.  Or maybe that’s just me.

This conference has done a couple of things for me, not the least of which is to allow me to explore the depths of my Starbucks addiction, if I ever had any doubt.  A bar that proclaims “We proudly serve Starbucks coffee” is just not doing it for me, if you know what I mean.  I won’t go into issues I have with the in-room coffee-maker/service due to lack of time and space.

What you want to know about is what’s going on at the actual conference and workshops, right?

Yesterday I began with Al Zuckerman’s workshop on creating a BIG scene.  He used The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as his example.  If you’ve read it, I feel confident you can pick out the two BIG scenes he chose to discuss and if you can figure that out, you can also figure out why they are BIG scenes.  I’m not going to spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it.  Read it. That’s my advice.

After Al asked “What makes a BIG scene?” there were lots of answers but no one quite hit it on the head.  It’s simple, he explained.  It has to be LONG.

Think of the scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett gets up her nerve to propose to Ashley.  Equivocation on her part.  The scene in the library.  And then after Ashley leaves, the previously unseen Rhett Butler makes his appearance and gently teases her.  This gives the scene DOUBLE EMOTIONAL IMPACT.  (I’m capitalizing for emphasis because I can’t figure out how to underline and I’m under a time crunch.  I’m not yelling at you.)

Big scenes often (always? should have?) have lots of build-up of suspense and suspicion.

I loved the way Al said he looks for “a little music in the writing” when he’s considering someone’s work.

Lunch consisted of one of those delicious frozen cocktails (a Beach Ball Blaster @ Salty’s) and a grouper sandwich.  Then on to Dr. Lyle’s workshop on the psychology of character motivation.

The highlights:

Write your story from beginning to end because you don’t know your characters or who they are when you start out.  Edit later.

Characters are who THEY are; not who YOU are.

(During the workshop I wrote another of my Dr. Seuss-like poems trying to condense what I was hearing in a rhyming scheme.  If possible, I might post it later as a bonus post.)  But I digress.

Think about what a character has to do to become a changed person.

Dr. Lyle used the character of Sarah Connor from The Terminator as an example of a character undergoing change and why.

He also used the characters of Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs, especially noting the very subtle and slight nuances in the Hannibal character’s change.

We are trapped by who we are.

Pressure makes things move.

Negative starts later but rises faster.  Explore the pluses and minuses to characters’ choices.  What do they win by one and lose by the other (choice) and vice versa?

Kick it up a notch.  Give your characters TOUGH choices.

If you are pushed out of  your comfort zone you’ll do whatever you can to get back into it.  So will your characters. 

Take home message:  You create them and they create themselves. 

The Paranormal/Fantasy discussion was interesting.  Here’s a couple of things I took away from it:

There’s more freedom for authors than there ever has been.  If New York doesn’t want it and your agent won’t pitch it, put it out there yourself!

Novellas sell well.

Don’t limit yourself by labelling your work when pitching it to agents and editors.  But be ready with an answer if they ask you where you see envision it in the marketplace.

Final thought:  I could have italicized instead of capitalizing.  Duh.

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