An Uncapped Pen

April 27, 2008

Las Vegas Writers’ Conference – 2008

Filed under: Dickens Challenge,Writing — cindylv @ 9:30 pm
Tags: ,

Last weekend I attended my second writers’ conference. I made a conscious decision NOT to worry about pitching to agents, editors or publishers. I remember last year when I got caught up in the excitement of pitching, I felt like I was drunk on the positive responses. Then I floated for a few months before I applied my butt to the chair to write. My focus this year was to listen to successful writers, and an agent or two, to learn what I could about the basics (characterization, structure, plot, description, dialog).

One of the first presentations I attended was “The Original Idea” by Bob Mayer, author of 38 books. I had never heard of him, but I didn’t see anything more interesting at that hour. In addition to being a moderately successful author, Mr. Mayer is a former Special Forces A-Team leader. Since I have a character in my story who is a SF team member, I thought I should listen to what he had to say.

First of all, The Original Idea is the foundation of your story, not the theme or the most important incident, but the very first idea you have about your story. You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence. Mr. Mayer says you can use the “what if” technique in clarifying your original idea. Create a sentence beginning with “What if…” that sums up your original idea. Then analyze it to ensure each word means something, and how your sentence can be improved.

The original idea can be the foundation for your query letter and the synopsis. Since I was having difficulty distilling my story into the synopsis a few days before the conference, I realized I didn’t really have an original idea. Maybe that’s why my story is stalling in chapter 16.

So I began with what I thought was my original idea, but couldn’t state it coherently in a single sentence. I also remembered a question from another session by author Thomas B. Sawyer. “What are the bad guys doing?” I realized that I have been totally focused on my main character, that I’ve lost the “story” in my novel. Time to go back to the drawing board. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

“What if international terrorists discover that Mexican druglords have been smuggling contraband into the United States through a network of hidden tunnels located on a top secret military installation for years and now appear to be planning to use them to launch a major attack against the installation?

I decided that I’m also to the point where I have to relook what I’ve written so far and make a few notes about emphasizing the activities of the bad guys. I know the rules of the challenge, so I won’t be rewriting, just adding a few notes. I’ve also got to take another look at my draft outline and add a few things.

Back to the conference, the BEST part of the conference was the Crime Panel, where the Clark County Coroner, a homocide detective, a senior CSI specialist, a bounty hunter, a PI, a retired deputy sheriff and a forensic lab tech answered questions for two hours. Then a little later, I attended a presentation on police procedure offered by the homocide detective. VERY INTERESTING!

Oh, and I won the best prize in the raffle again this year, a certificate for a 50-minute massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa!

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1 Comment »

  1. I think we’re having exactly the same problem. I knew there was a situation that I wanted to use as the jumping off point for my story (the whole Natalie’s baby thing), but I was never clear on what the whole story would be. I didn’t have a clear premise or what if for the entire story arc. I’m slowly getting there, but man, what a weird moment of clarity. How could I not have had that?

    Comment by lisakenney — May 1, 2008 @ 3:21 pm | Reply


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