Yesterday, I attended the free of charge Orlando book festival. I highly recommend the event for aspiring and seasoned writers and look forward to similar events by the library of Orlando, since it provides writers with a chance to network, and ask published authors questions.
Allison Brennan, a best selling Thriller writer, gave the opening keynote. Allison’s story about how she transitioned from a ‘regular’ job to becoming a writer was really inspirational. She shared with the audience how for three years, after she had realized that she wanted to write professionally, she gave up the TV and other activities to write daily from 9pm to 12 am (after her five, yes five (!), children were in bed.)
What really fascinated my besides Allison’s wonderful work ethic, was how thorough she is in her novel research. Instead of doing a little research online and leaving it at that, she finds people through her network that actually work in the jobs her protagonists have and interviews them to get a thorough sense of what their schedule looks like, which is often the inside scoop on crime investigations. Moreover, Allison doesn’t shy away from hand-on research, visiting the morgue and even participated in S.W.A.T. training.
After a promising start to the day, I listened to a panel on world building with writers Meredith McCardle (YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy), L.E. Perez (various genres) and William Hatfield (Sci-Fi/Fantasy), moderated by Racquel Henry of Writer’s Atelier.
The authors stressed how important it is to keep files (off or online) describing the world you set your story in, especially for series in order to avoid inconsistencies and save yourself time and agony later on.
They also discussed how the external worlds impacts their characters versus how the characters influence the world they live in. Ultimately, each writer must decide whether it is the external world that drives the story (e.g. The Hunger Games) or if the characters are driving the story (e.g. Divergent).
While I do not intend to write for children, the next panel on that topic was immensely helpful, since the authors explained why the publishing process takes such a long time (between one to two years). They stressed that it isn’t just the author, who faces rejection, but that agents have to convince editors, who in turn have to convince their sales team and bookstores to stock their client’s work.
My favorite panel was the last one, crafting tension with J.A. Souders (YA Sci-fi/Fantasy), Sarah Andre (Romantic suspense), Ward Larsen (Thriller). The authors highlighted that tension needs to be maintained throughout the novel. No matter how small a scene is you should always attempt to make it suspenseful. An example was given where a character at a wedding feels her throat tingling and knows she needs to get a glass of water in order to prevent a long cough breaking out. You could either let you character ask a waiter or cross the room without obstacles, or you could make her uncomfortable as she struggles to push through each row down to the back, where the bar is, excusing herself all the way there. Thus, building anxiety and making an otherwise ‘boring’ scene exciting.
The significance of chapter beginning and ending was also discussed. If a chapter starts at a high note and ends on a high one, you are more likely to keep your reader turning the pages long after midnight, thinking I’ll just read one more.
Another valuable piece of advice given was tying your first and last scene together. I’ve actually seen this expertly done in the novel Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The book opens and ends with digging up a grave (two different scenes not repetitions). The final scene really provides a sense of closure, even though the book leaves room for a possible sequel.
Overall, I was very glad that I was able to attend the Orlando book festival. From time managing tips to advice on world and tension crafting, and inside publishing industry knowledge, the event was helpful to both seasoned and starting out writers.