Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending my first conference/writers workshop of 2015. What made it even more pleasurably was that it happened to be in my backyard. The 2015 Rock Hill Writers Intensive presented by the SCWW association was one day but as the name suggests, it was intensive.
My day started with me thinking I was late as I thought I overslept. In reality I was on time which allowed me the opportunity to get settled and talk to the people at my table. What was quickly apparent to me was just how many people attending it weren’t locals. For some reason, several people from Greenville, SC made the nearly two hour drive as well as people from small communities in both North and South Carolina.
After the opening address it was time for the first session. For mine I choose a topic called Whose Head is This? presented by Barbara Evers. It was about point of view and determining which one is appropriate for the story. Ms. Evers gave simple questions to think about for our characters such as how do they speak, think, what traits they use in life, etc.
Another suggestion, and one that I am still shy about using, are finding pictures of what we think our characters sort of look like but also pictures or physical objects which represent something about a character. For example, if a character wears a fedora, get a fedora and keep it nearby while writing.
Along with other reminders about making sure characters sound and think differently from each other, using a scene break if switching POV within a chapter, and whatnot, she gave a great suggestion. When going through the revision process, change the font for each character. For example, I’m working on a novel with two POV characters. Their chapters alternate in telling the story. By using a different font for each, it not only gives your eyes a break but it also is a visual representation of how much each character contributes to the story. This doesn’t mean the book should be 50/50 necessarily but if you thought character A had as much equal time as character B but they don’t, it can help you make some decisions.
The second session I went to was another one put on by Barbara Evers. This one was regarding the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and how to use that for developing characters. I’ve been pretty familiar with the Myers Briggs test since high school when I was first took it. Since then I have taken it several times during my life with the same results. INFJs unite!
But this wasn’t a presentation on our own personality as just a very condensed version of what the components that go into a MBTI personality. The main focus was how writers can, and should use it, with our characters and their stories. One of her suggestions was to try and take the MBTI test as one of our characters. I can’t honestly imagine being able to do that without my own personality biasing the test. However, because of the presentation I am more interested in picking up an official book on the different types. I also want to challenge myself to have characters who aren’t so introverted like me yet I do worry that I will go over the top and write a one-dimensional character.
After lunch was the third session. Unfortunately this was the dullest and least helpful one of the four I attended. It was also the one I was looking the most forward to. It was simply titled Historical Research and presented by Tally Johnson a very well-informed and knowledgeable presenter about South Carolina history.
This was one of the biggest issues I had with the presentation. In the program it wasn’t listed as being specific to just South Carolina history but general historical research. I was looking forward to perhaps getting some advice for different resources, how to go about approaching experts in a particular field, challenges of writing historical fiction, things like that.
If I was interested in South Carolina history, and I may very well be down the line, I have a very exhaustive list of resources I can turn to.
The fourth and final session I attended was titled Breathing Life Into Setting presented by Barbara Claypole White. Late in the afternoon after a long day, she still managed to have lots of energy which propelled her lecture.
I picked this session since setting is one of those things I feel is tricky to get right. Depending upon genre, setting might be just as important as characters, acting as another character if you will. That being said, setting, or world-building, can quickly take over the narrative in a bad way something Ms. White admitted is one of the things in her own writing she has a tendency to do.
She gave us some advice to think about as we revise:
- Setting should never feel too comfortable and calm all the time for the character
- Objects in a story should have some kind of meaning for the character
- Opposites in preferred setting can provide a lot of conflict for the character. For example, a character who loves the beach goes nuts being holed up in a ski chalet.
- Memories a particular place evokes in a character, whether good or bad
I was glad she went beyond the typical use of the five senses and went more into how setting helps the psychological make-up of the character and the story.
Since this was a local conference, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people attended as well as the overall quality of the sessions I attended. It was incredibly well-organized, must have been run by authors who are outliners rather than pantsers, and had a very welcoming atmosphere. I’m looking forward to next year’s intensive, knowing it will cover a variety of topics.