Monday, February 17, 2014

SCWC: The Road to Publication—Theme and Genre

My notes from the Southern California Writers' Conference.

·         Publishing vs publishing a best-seller—1 in 300 becomes a bestseller.

·         Exercise—write down your daydreams

·         Secrets (theme/hook gets you word-of-mouth, gets readers to share your book)
o   What is your favorite genre?
o   The “what’s it about” question.
o   What secrets have been buried on your journey?
o   Does your hook connect with your theme?

·         What compels people to share a story?

·         Entertainment
o   Theme and entertainment (the book needs to be entertaining!)
o   Readers want romance, mystery, thrillers, YA, and sci-fi
o   Formulas (rules) of genre fiction can stretch/flow free
§  They have a positive and negative energy
§  They inspire character (flawed), plot, depth, interest

·         Read other writers in your genre to get ideas.
·         Challenge is to give publishers what they want to sell.  Stretch the rules!

·         Goals
o   Do your stories have a moral?
o   Exercise: write one sentence that would make someone buy your book (keep it simple, create emotional appeal)
o   The pre-eminent theme of great literature is the human heart in conflict with itself. – William Faulkner

·         What is different and unique about your book?
·         Wisdom is based on doubt, don’t be too full of certainty.

·         Voice
o   Theme links voice/imperfection.  You find the voice through imperfection (idiosyncrasies).  Let a little imperfection in, it’s a good thing.
o   Why do you write?  To kill old enemies?  Without an emotional desire to write, it will be difficult to sustain for the long-haul.  What drives you?
o   Repressed emotions/dominant emotions (you can edit your own life!)
o   Writing helps us understand and rewrite
o   Themes are universal stories with appeal

·         Stick to the point, don’t meander.

·         Tone
o   Theme in your tone?
o   “If writing has a morality it is expressed through tone.” – Philip Gerard
o   Word choice, what’s between the lines, insight, not easy judgment and “a great humanity.”
o   Steinbeck—“Then the hard, dry, Spaniards came passing through.”

·         Assume your readers are more intelligent than you, don’t explain everything to them.  Cut out excess.  Let tone do the work.

·         Spine
o   Theme is the spine of your story.
o   Write with courage
o   The ghost in the machine—are we whole/part?
o   Primitive theme—inner struggle.  Which is the better path?
o   Exercise 2: what is your main character’s problem? (make it short and sweet)
·         Nesting
o   Are you’re themes nesting (themes inside each other/subplots)?
o   Big picture themes are plot driven
o   Character themes need an arc
o   Endings need a payoff
·         Theme-Tension
o   Start with the ending in doubt
o   What is your favorite use of tension?
o   Four types—task, relationship, mystery, surprise
o   Which fits your theme?
·         Cohesion
o   Does each chapter matter?
o   Does the ending twist? (element of surprise)
o   Does the twist reflect the theme?
o   Can we sense something coming?
o   Write down a twist that reflects the theme.
·         Mood
o   Everything’s related to theme
o   Dialogue, action, exposition
o   Cover, website, title, marketing online/off
o   What is the mood of a novel?
o   Hopeful, sad/tragic, romantic, exciting, mysterious
·         Endings
o   The final battle provides answers to the story questions
o   The denouement ties up the loose ends.
o   Should endings serve the theme?
o   Does your climax prove your point?
o   Consider outer problems and inner problems
·         Beware!
o   Surface gloss does not a bestseller make
o   Overload your theme and it will break apart
o   Lurid language lacks power
o   Subtext provides needed depth
o   Resist the urge to explain!! (“RUE”)

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