Thursday, July 9, 2009
This is my first ThrillerFest. I delayed posting yesterday because it's taken me some time to process the experience.
ITW holds CraftFest during the first two days of ThrillerFest. I headed over to the Grand Hyatt early to make sure that I didn't miss anything. After the long lines at the BEA, I thought that it would be nearly impossible to find a seat in any of the talks. But ThrillerFest is a whole different animal.
I can't help admire writers. I spent so many years in law school and in large law firms slowly learning the skills through the different corporate transactions. I have worked at being practical and circumspect since I first entered law school in 1996. I done due diligence on mountains of documents, reading for detail, consistency, and constantly alert to potential liabilities and benefits to my various clients. Most people that I'd met for the last thirteen or so years were lawyers and their clients. It seemed that our interactions, even the nonbillable ones, were measured against the time that I could spend billing.
But at ThrillerFest, I was surrounded by people who carved out the time to read and to write. People who spent hours reading and analyzing style. Distilling what they'd learned and somehow using these skills, tricks, methods to tell stories that they created. I met writers who were working on their first story or who had just completed their first novel and were preparing for AgentFest - to seek someone to represent them. I enjoyed hearing how they first started writing, how the story came to them, what they did during the time that they weren't writing. When someone asked me what I wrote, I unthinkingly answered "loan agreements."
Then I attended my first day of CraftFest. It began with David Morrell's talk on "The Business of Writing". Though I took notes, my main takeaway - don't give up the day job to become a writer. He'd several NY Times bestsellers and the Rambo movie and 12 or 18 years teaching before he decided to write fulltime. Then, as a fulltime writer he completes a novel a year and spends a quarter of the year in book promotion. Morrell spent some time discussing point of view and the different ways that POV affect the relationship to the reader. Though this was likely something everyone else in the room knew and I may have heard it years ago, it seemed so new to me. I left the room thinking of Nick in Gatsby and trying to imagine a character of my own.
I rushed to Peter Rubie's "Make 'Em Laugh; Make 'Em Cry: Putting Emotional Muscle into Your Fiction". Then Steve Berry's "the 6 C's of Story". Then Lee Child's "Creating a Series Character". Then Lisa Gardner's "Successful Rewriting: Paring Down and Fleshing Out". Then William Bernhardt's "Story Structure: Organizing Your Story for Maximum Impact". Much of this was new to me. My head was so full and I kept trying to think of character traits for my lead character. I missed the CraftFest Cocktail Party and headed back to Brooklyn. I likely missed a chance to meet interesting people but it was much like bar review - the slightest nudge might knock my new knowledge out of my head. I needed to head home and process things. Plus, I'd gotten up at 6 and was beat.
Today was the second day of ThrillerFest and the end of CraftFest. I made it just in time for Andrew Gross's "10 Surefire Ways to Keep Those Pages Turning and Your Readers Begging for More" which was largely about pacing. Andrew Gross spoke convincingly about the need to carefully make a detailed outline before beginning the book. Followed this up with Allison Brennan's "Story is Character" which was at the same time as James Scott Bell's "Essential Tools For Suspenseful Dialogue". Allison Brennan teaches writing classes that absolutely don't permit outlining. She's never used an outline for her NY Times bestsellers. Instead she creates the characters in great detail and somehow their reaction to external events drive the book's direction. Then Steve Martini spoke on "Character Development: Good Heroes and Greater Villians". Martini creates an outline but has at times departed from his outlines, created villians and characters that weren't previously conceived or incorporated in the outlines.
I also attended the CraftFest Luncheon talk by Al Zuckerman, the founder of Writers House, and agent to Ken Follett (as well as to many other writers). He spoke about the importance of humanizing the villians in your story.
During one of the introductions to a CraftFest talk, someone mentioned that they suspected that the attendees likely wanted to rush home and put into practice these things that we've learned. I admit that I wanted to spend time reading and seeing how skilled writers demonstrated exactly what they'd spoken about.
I took many more notes from these talks and will write fuller posts about them another time. I did just want to update everyone on ThrillerFest since registration is still open and we have 2 more days left.