WriteOnCon 2020 was last weekend, and as usual, I am sharing my notes from the conference! For those who don't know, WriteOnCon is an amazing low-cost conference for children's book writers (including YA novelists) that takes place entirely online across three days. Which means my chronically ill butt can participate in it! I do it every year, and I love it. Here are last year's notes if you want to check them out!
This year, because I've gotten critique on my #OCDStory query documents during WriteOnCon multiple times and am now satisfied with them (but not yet ready to query), I did not post my own stuff on the forums. However, I did offer a few critiques on the YA query letters that I found most interesting. It's always so cool to see what people are creating!
I also did not do great time management in keeping up with the main conference content, which means I missed out on some of it. Boo! I'll have to be smarter about it next time. There's a lot of it to get through, though!
Here are highlights from the pieces I did catch:
MG author Alyssa Hollingsworth ran a workshop about descriptive details, which are probably my weakest point. From her workshop, I learned how important movement (including body language) is to understanding character. Alyssa also had a good point about working to notice details in daily life as practice.
YA author Claire Kann talked about being a slow writer, which is a topic that's very important for me right now! 😬 She had a great idea to set up check-ins with your agent/editor when you're working on something so that you can both know and be on the same page about deadlines and progress.
YA author Parker Peevyhouse did a workshop on plot twists, and she listed a few tools for dropping clues without revealing the twist too early. First, rationalize the clue with a different theory. Second, misdirect by having something else happen while the clue is being dropped that draws the reader's attention away from the clue. Third, minimize the clue by having your characters see it as unimportant and not worth attention.
Jacob SagerWeinstein, an author in various age categories, led a workshop on characterization through core drives and personality charts. I enjoyed it! I didn't learn anything new, really, but I agreed with everything he said, and I had fun with the exercises.
Alyssa Hollingsworth returned for a session about the successful query letters and pitches that got authors their agents and/or editors. She pointed out the sensory details and clear stakes that made the pitches so good, and she also discussed a little bit how expectations for queries have changed over time. These days, agents want them short!
Highly esteemed MG/YA author Gail Carson Levine (who has become my favorite writerly speaker) gave a lovely Q+A about avoiding cliches, which has been a problem for me in the past. As usual, she encouraged us to be nicer to ourselves, and she discussed the usefulness of research, brainstorming, and details in sparking creativity. She also talked about creating characters that fit your intended plot, which is a good point and something I struggled with a bit at the beginning of my attempt at #SnowQueenStory.
At one point, she said about changing trends, "Things are dope that once were swell," and that's a fantastic quote, LOL.
A group of authors did a roundtable about revising, and a lot of them said something I heard other places during WriteOnCon too: When you're editing with an agent/editor, start with the larger issues and work your way down to the smaller. This fits with the standard editorial structure, which moves from developmental down to proofreading. When I'm editing by myself, my thoughts about what needs to change come somewhat randomly, so I don't always do that. But it makes sense to do that when you're working with a substantial critique from someone else.
During a panel on deciding what to write next, YA author Rebecca Kim Wells talked about using nonfiction (and other story types outside your usual) to refill her creative well, which I think is interesting! All of the authors on that panel also talked about having a document where they write down little idea snippets, which is something I do too. For me, it's mostly a) little "zombies" from past books I've trunked and b) tropes and such that I've noticed myself enjoying.
YA author Erin Bowman wrote a blog post where she talked about how suspense is all about withholding the truth from the reader as long as possible. I suppose that's obvious, but it really struck me for some reason.
MG author Henry Lien talked a lot about being creative and unique in your work, which, as I said, is an area I've struggled with. Honestly, I had a hard time with a lot of what he said. It didn't seem like a fit for me. But at one point he talked about authors who specifically feel like they're not very good at this, and he recommended that they go out into the world and do something that they've wanted to do but have been too scared to do. I don't know what my disabilities would allow, but this seems like good advice. Ideas come from being immersed in a large and complex world! For me, that's done mostly via the Internet and media sources, but it definitely matters.
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