evannichols (evannichols) wrote,

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Willamette Writers' Conference!

Two conferences in ten days! This one was MUCH smaller, and I'm glad I didn't go in costume, because I'd have been the only one. Although TJ was noting some rather odd wardrobe choices, and wondered if they were trying to stand out, or were merely eccentric writers...

Here’s How I Spent My Time:

Thursday 4:00 – 9:00: Volunteer time. Stuffed pens, notepads and info sheets into Attendee Packets. Then handed out badges to attendees.

Had coffee while others ate breakfast (eggs, bacon, bagels and fruit (of that, I could have eaten the bacon)).
Volunteer support for two morning sessions: 1) Intro to Copyright and 2) Deconstructing Humor.
Met up with TJ for lunch. We decided we weren’t into listening to the speaker, so we walked to her car so I could get a copy of her screenplay.
Attended afternoon sessions (not working as volunteer): 1) Revising for Style. 2) Positioning Yourself for Marketing.
Met TJ and her ScaryFriend for drinks at the bar (well, I had club soda).

Through all that I was talking with a bunch of people, some I knew before, and giving out cards. I was particularly pleased to see Clark Kohanek, who was part of our self-destructing video production years ago, and Diana Jordan, who took Cynthia’s screenwriting course when I did.

Here My Thoughts About It All, In Roughly Chronological Order:

For workshops under two hours, Presenters should limit the “Who I Am and Why I’m Qualified To Present This Session” section to less than five minutes. Two minutes is probably adequate. The fact that the organizers have selected this person should tell us that they’re qualified. And while personal stories can be fun to listen to, unless the session is “My Background and Some Amusing Industry Anecdotes,” we really don’t need to hear it, especially when the session’s actual topic is too large to cover in the time allotted.

The Intro To Copyright session was fine, but after being at a much more informative and entertaining workshop on the same topic the week before, the material wasn’t new to me. The presenter’s hot button was that “copyright” is a noun, not a verb. So one may register material for copyright, but you don’t say you’re copyrighting something.

I particularly wanted to attend the Deconstructing Humor workshop, as it promised a 20-point toolkit to amp up the humor in a screenplay (which I figure I can exploit for my other projects). And it did do what it promised. However, the presenter’s premise is that the three basics of humor are awkwardness, discomfort and pain. Which is true if you’re describing only Ben Stiller movies, but that felt to me like saying that if a chef wants to have more protein in a dish, he or she can add chicken or turkey to it. While I can’t argue that pain is integral in a lot of humor, there are things other than poultry. When I prepare my presentation on How To Write Funny, I know I’ll be listing more ingredients.

I found Elizabeth Lyon’s Revising for Style session to be particularly exciting. She pointed out that there are many college-educated, middle-class wannabe authors, and she therefore reads a lot of manuscripts possessing unremarkable style and voice. To counteract this sameness, one can vary style by shaping one’s lexicon to the socio-economic class of the characters. In other words, don’t tell a gritty urban drama in the manner of an emotionally-distant suburbanite. She also mentioned reading a novel where the protagonists were art gallery owners, but the narration and dialog didn’t employ words or phrases common in the art world. I know that IT people love to apply tech terms to life outside work, and I would imagine other professions doing that as well. She suggested developing lists of words and terms that would be used by the characters, and employing them in the writing (such as choosing them for the similes and metaphors used, which was helpful to me, because my similes tend to be like “it was as cold as a very cold thing").

If the session on Marketing had been the only one I attended, I still would have gotten my money’s worth for the weekend. The key point was that while publishing houses have marketing teams that will work on your book, they have a set of tasks to do, and they’ll move on to the next thing. The author can do some of the work ahead of time to leverage this marketing, and can follow up with more effort for even better results. Much of the material was originally targeted for non-fiction, but I think there was value for fiction writers as well. If you’re interested, I’ve typed up my notes from this session, and will share if you ask.

I'm glad I went. I didn't become famous over the weekend, but I did get to meet some people, see friends and learn some stuff. That's more than I can say for a lot of my weekends...
Tags: writing

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