Top 10 Insights From LTUE 2011

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 20, 2011 -- 10:45 p.m.

Beautiful cover for Karen Mahoney's Iron Witch. It would stop me absolutely dead in the bookstores. Everything is perfect, from the curve of the arm mirroring the swirls on the background to the biggest drops of color coming from the jewels in her hand.

I thought we'd see more witch in high school stories along with the Vampire craze. I always loved Willow best of any Buffy character. It frightens me a little that Buffy the Vampire Slayer started its run 13 years ago. I'm getting old... (*weep.)

I went to LTUE and enjoyed it. I was in a cranky mood part of the time so I was more Scrooge-like than I usually am, mostly because some authors tended to drop into English teacher mode, which is "Let's define things" instead of "Let's talk about writing" (The first twenty minutes of the Dystopian panel, I'm looking at you!!!)

My joy was not assisted by questions from a certain class of writers who seem to be shouting "Look At Me! Look at ME!!!" during Q&A. IE, asking, "My book is about this, is that okay?"

My response to my fellow audience members is, "Will you stop writing your book just because I say no?" If so, you're not cut out for this life. And if you'll write it anyway, regardless of the answer, why ask the question? Why seek validation from authors who haven't actually read your work?

I practiced my pitch to the editor of a small press and got shot down, which was expected. I didn't think my story quite fit her line, and she agreed with me. Good practice. Hopefully I wasn't annoying. It really is hard to sum up a story in 15 words or less. Unfortunately, the words you say in front of a mirror aren't always the words that come out of your mouth, either. And there's the strangled, fast, sweaty tone. This was my first time ever doing it, so I'll give myself a little leeway.

My worst fears are confirmed that agents/editors are being glutted with post-apocalyptic stories like Skin Farm. I would have been able to finish and query my book much sooner if I hadn't gone back and revised my first novel, so I'm a little frustrated I may have killed a book just because of poor timing. I will make sure I try the regional presses when I query in hopes that they may be less swamped. I need to read more locally published books to see if I fit in with what they're selling. James Dashner and Brandon Mull both started in local publishing, as did Ally Condie.

My friend/fellow writing group member Stephen will be posting videos of some of the lectures and panels, so anyone who didn't get to go can still get some insight. My favorite panel was probably when author John Brown broke Hunger Games down scene-by-scene and chapter by chapter, showing us the mechanics behind why Katniss so easily grabs both our attention and our sympathy. I love working with other people to strip away the smoke and mirrors behind good books. He said he'll post his slides on his website, here. It's full of good advice for new writers.

Anyway, here are my Top 10 insights from LTUE:

10) If you want your books to do well internationally, you might want to create characters from different races/backgrounds.

9) Part of the reason urban fantasy is so popular is because of its low learning curve. It's easier for readers to get into the world because everything's the same, except for one significant change, (IE, witches are real). Not everyone has the time or desire to understand the thick, complex otherworlds of your B.A.F.S.

8) Author Paul Genesse uses the Myers-Briggs personality archetypes to help shape his characters. Too technical for me, but I've never heard that method before. Probably because I put the I in INTJ.

7) From John Brown's Hunger Games lecture. Every single book only has a small audience. Even for big-time authors like Stephen King, while millions of people pick up his books, even more people hate him/don't read him. So whenever you write a book, your audience is going to be relatively small. Ergo, you should take other people's advice with a grain of salt NOT because they're wrong but because they might be the wrong target audience. (For example, Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson weren't fond of Hunger Games because they'd seen the story before, while the teenage audience that carried it to NYT bestseller status hadn't been exposed to The Most Dangerous Game/Battle Royale. My younger brother hates Wheel of Time and G.R.R.M.)

6) New authors are frequently advised to put their characters in pain. In response to a question, "How dark is too dark?" James Dashner said that too dark is when a character's pain is meaningless. You can torture your character, but don't do it for no reason. I asked a similar question to Brandon Sanderson in his class. I asked, "How do you create a necessary sense of progress while also making your characters face miserable amounts of set-backs?" The answer was to give your characters successes with one hand and kidney punches with the other.

5) From Dave Farland's lecture: When it comes to editing, don't try to tackle everything in the first go-around. He separates his own editing process into multiple stages. I know I waste too much time with line/syllabic editing early on, so it's advice I should listen to. The problem is, I never do.

4) To quote John Brown: "Manure is Gold. Cherish your crappy ideas." In a brainstorming session, we looked at stereotypical, boring ideas and turned them into interesting ones. We were dealing with ghosts. I think my favorite two were, "Ghost Labor Unions" and "A People-Whisperer" (ie, the only ghost in a ghost society who can talk to people). Either of these could make an interesting book. I came up with the idea of a ridiculous Pro-Wrestler's ghost. Think of Hulk Hogan's ghost haunting an arena, trying to scare people. Go on. Try not to laugh.

3) There's a reason big totalitarian governments are so common in dystopian stories. Because a) they make sense from a world-building perspective, since tyrannical govts logically arise after great economic/social stresses. b) they create easy sympathy with the character, because an all-oppressive government turns them into an instant underdog. If you want your novel to have the same sort of menace but don't want to use a government, find something else that has that same atmosphere of oppression. I like this advice because it transcends genres. Threats to your heroes should always feel oppressively, well, threatening.

2) Turning old tropes on their head can be good advice, but consider your audience. Larry Correia's wife got sick of goody-goody Tolkein rip-off elves, so he created "Trailer Park Elves" for his book, Monster Hunters International. But Dan Wells once pitched a story about vampires who were a twist on the trope because they were total, absolute losers and was told that you can't sell novels about vampires who...uh, an audience that loves vampires. So the advice is be original, but know your audience too.

1) Some babies have really big lungs. Seriously, lungs must make up half an infant's weight. I can't think of any other reason so much sound can exude from something so small.


  1. Writing Snippets said...

    Great Post- and that baby sure did have a set of lungs! I loved your video about the zombie Christmas- awesome!
    Hope you stop by our site sometime. Have a great day, and good luck writing!
    Lillian J. Banks

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