My first writer’s conference was a good experience on so many levels (for the record, I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about the publishing world). I met lovely people and made good friends—we still exchange manuscripts and read each other’s drafts. It was generally a happy, creative event, informative with regards to who’s who, publishing pointers and craft.
But there are two things I remember about it that surprised me:
First, was the feeling of eagerness/borderline desperation that was a little intense (at one point the emcee asked that we not follow the visiting agents to the bathroom)!
Second, was related to craft, and it shows how wide-eyed and new to everything I was: there was a specific formula everyone was using to write their novels. This was shocking to me, especially as everyone was encouraging me to use it too. This formula [one of the most comprehensive versions of it is Dan Wells’ seven point plot structure, though there are other similar versions like the eight point arc method, and three act structure etc.] was everywhere in our discussions—every class, every speaker referred to it. It was the way to write a story.
Instead of seeing it as a tool (as I should have), I resented this formula. How were we supposed to write anything original if we all followed the same recipe? Star Wars [Harry Potter/The Dark is Rising etc] has already been written, I thought.
There were other things taught, related to the formula, tips to help my particular genre of story move along. It irked me that everyone was telling me to orphan my main character—I wanted a main character with two functional parents! So what if my antagonist wasn’t as strong as my protagonist—who really has a mortal enemy? Even a spunky, quirky protagonist seemed cliché to me because everyone was trying to do it. I wanted to write something original.
Alone in my principles [he he] I wrote for years, only to discover and rediscover that sometimes my pacing was off. My main character wasn’t isolated enough. Her journey wasn’t the struggle it needed to be and her voice wasn’t unique or riveting. After years of revisions, I realized my best work (even of different genres) had elements of the seven point plot (apparently I had to figure it out the hard way).
[sigh—why do we have to figure things out the hard way?]
Dear Emily-from-ten-years-ago: Save yourself years of rework, and research plot structure. Use it as a tool—something that will strengthen what you’ve already thought up. Think about your favorite novels—what do you like about them? Specifically, think about their structure [this is something I’ve only recently started consciously doing, and it’s helped me know the direction I want to go with my own stories]. Also, read a lot (because it’s fun, and you learn so much from others’ writing). Finally, don’t follow agents into bathrooms [duh]. But when you find yourself in the bathroom at the same time as a favorite author (by complete coincidence J ), don’t be afraid to tell her you enjoy her books—she probably won’t be weirded out by it [I was too chicken; it’s one of my regrets…]
What would you tell your writer-self ten years ago?