Conventions are fun because of the vastly different experiences you can have over just a few days. Attend a Q & A with some of your favorite actors, meet your favorite comic book artist, and get some things signed, then attend a panel with professionals exploring the craft of story making. It’s all there for you.
I love to go to author panels. Seeing people who have achieved what I’m striving toward, motivates me. Their inside knowledge and advice can be so valuable when trying to focus or gain perspective on my journey.
Compelling science-fiction rests largely on creating dynamic, engrossing characters seemed to be the consensus among our professionals during Philadelphia’s Wizard World: Edward Miller, J.B. Manas, and late addition, Elizabeth Bonesteel. They polled the audience asking them their favorite ensembles. Buffy, various Star Treks, and a few animes were mentioned.
The question remains, how do you craft great characters. It was interesting to note that there were some slight differences of opinion from the panel. J.B. advocated for a strong first person perspective, noting that YA juggernaut, Hunger Games was all in first-person. He also acknowledged the limitations. In the parts of the book where the main character, Katniss is unconscious, events needed to be told to her and thus the audience. Suddenly this visceral, personal experience we were having falls away, replaced with a more distant POV.
Still, he seemed to champion first and close third person perspective with no shifting between characters. He noted that third person omniscient had fallen out of favor in a tone that suggested he wouldn’t be mourning it.
Liz spoke up to say that shifting between characters can work quite well if it’s done between clearly marked sections. She gave the example of how interesting it can be to have a single event told from multiple characters’ vantage points. She also stated that third person omniscient can actually work. However, she warned against leading readers into thinking they’re reading something in a close third perspective then spring an omniscient perspective on them out of nowhere.
When someone in the audience expressed having difficulty in connecting all the different parts of their story, the panel seemed to agree that getting it all down is the most important thing. After it’s all out he might be surprised by how little connecting needs to take place. Readers don’t always need to be handheld through a novel.
Another attendee asked about writing something sans chapter breaks like Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. It sounded risky to me. J.B. and Edward seemed to agree, advising him to take a more traditional route if he wanted to shop around his manuscript successfully. Liz suggested a different tack, shop the manuscript as is and if he had difficulty getting others to see his vision, he could add the chapter breaks in. Once it gets sold or he secures representation, he can reengage the battle over chapter breaks again.
I asked the panel whether they had noticed any encouraging trends in publishing lately since so much of what we hear about the publishing industry is pretty bleak. They praised the sheer amount of avenues to publishing that writers have at their disposal. There are also many more resources than there have been in years past.
Liz cheekily made note that if she can get published that should be encouraging to anyone then referred to her tee shirt, which had a Klingon saying about persistence. That led me to think about honored ancestor, Octavia E. Butler and her advocacy for persistent positive obsession. The road to being a published author requires dogged pursuit.
One point of unanimous agreement came after someone asked them about writers’ block. They gave pretty standard answers of pushing through and focusing on the craft, then a sage audience member blurted out that drinking and drugs help. They all laughed and conceded the point.