It was a very different experience for me this time, since my health has forced me to take a break from writing. I don't have a specific book I'm working on, a book that I'm considering querying soon, anything that I can use on the parts of the conference that I've always liked the most: the live pitch events and the forums. I'm simply not in a position to be involved that way. So I didn't get as much out of it, or have as much invested in it, as I normally would. (And even with that, I overworked myself participating in the conference and set off a flare--and then another flare after that, which I'm still in the middle of! Chronic illnesses are annoying.) I did, however, learn what I could for the someday in which I will be well enough to pursue this career again, so here's what I have to share:
One way to "show not tell" is through setting. If you create a realistic and striking location, the mood will already be set, and it will be easier to create a physical representation of the issues your character is dealing with. Interaction with the environment is key. ("The Hollywood Touch" Margot Harrison)
When it comes to detail and description, the Rule of Three is key--three descriptions in a row, three adjectives, three different times you share a detail in a story. ("Into the Wilderness" Jess Butterworth and "5 Tools to Make Your Prose Poetic" Misa Sugiura)
Try using the three act screenplay structure to organize your novel. Having taken a screenwriting class at BYU-I, I heartily second this recommendation. ("Turning Points" Chris Eboch)
In dual POV novels, it's best that, as well as being vital to the unfolding plot, your two point-of-view characters come at the issue from opposite angles, that they have key differences. ("Writing Dual POV Characters" Sandhya Menon)
A good romantic connection allows each character to help the other overcome their emotional wounds, i.e. face their true motivations. The goal/motivation/conflict method helps you figure out what these "wounds" are. ("Creating Romantic Chemistry in Young Adult Literature" Clara Kensie)
Sometimes, a secondary character becomes the "breakout" character who revives the story and steps in with a pivotal action. I personally have found that, when I'm starting to feel stuck or slow on a manuscript, creating a new secondary character does add the vibrancy that I need to get things back on track. ("Writing Breakout Characters" Will Taylor)
One of the most important parts of being a writer is being willing to experiment. In other words, challenge yourself and challenge the genre! Take risks. Even if it doesn't initially pay off in publication, it will pay off in education. The more you challenge yourself, the better you become. ("That Je Ne Sais Quoi" Anita Mumm)
Never stop asking "why." ("Building Believable/Complex Characters" Dave Connis)
Explicit content can stop your book from ending up at a book fair, so be careful! ("Sex and Swearing in YA" Dahlia Adler)
Lessons from the Live Events and Forums
New Adult, after a brief stint on the market, is basically "out." Nowadays, although of course you can still write about college-age kids, you'll want to pitch the novel as either YA or adult.
It's okay to re-query an agent 1) with a new manuscript and 2) with a manuscript you already queried if you've made substantial edits and it's been at least six months. Agents are also very okay with being "nudged" if they've had your work for longer than their specified time and have not responded. (Unless, of course, they've said that "no response" is a no when it comes to query letters. Always check the agent's policies!)
I can tell that I've improved on query writing myself just by reading other's queries. I have a much better idea of what edits to suggest! That's a good sign.
One of the hardest parts of query writing is knowing what to include: not just important plot points, but also those things that make your story unique and original. There are a ton of books published each year, and even more queries sent, so your description has to stand out. I've found that the best way to find what makes your story unique is by asking yourself why you wrote it in the first place. What drew you to that idea? What kept you going during the hard middle stretch? What makes you excited about your book? Most of all, what meaning does this novel hold for you? The answers to those questions should reveal the true selling points of your book. If they don't, that's a pretty good sign that you need to rework your novel extensively, maybe even trunk it.
Image via WriteOnCon.