As promised, my take on the writer's conference I recently attended. This event lasted for a week, was located in a very scenic area in North Carolina and was full of writers from all levels. Some had just started their quest for perfect prose and others were multi-published. I was in awe of the newbies. That takes some serious stones to bring your work in front of a group of august editors and a NY agent and say, "Help!" But they did and learned from the experience. My buddy and I had the joy of working with a new writer who, over the course of the week, made monumental leaps in his ability. It was great to watch. He took our comments with good humor and dished critiques back our way. The fellow has a vivid descriptive ability that I sincerely envy. I hope to see his name on the bookshelves in the coming years.
Ah, but what about my experience? It was mixed. Part of that was because I am so caught up in my current manuscript, which is due to my publisher next spring. I'm right in the middle of the manuscript's first draft and have no clear idea of what's supposed to be happening at this point. I know how the book ends, but the middle is a muddle. So a lot of my brain's disk space is being tied up with "What if..." queries. The manuscript I took to the conference was written a couple years ago and wasn't as sharp as my later works. Perfect work to savage, to be honest. Across the board, the editors complimented me on my writing ability. They also saw my lack of heavy-duty world-building and commented on that. I hadn't thought all the elements through and you can see it in the story (or not see, as the case may be.) They were right on. I'm better with dark paranormal mysteries than I am paranormal romance. So we were in agreement that I needed to go back and rework the manuscript from that aspect, deepen the plot, darken the characters and let the story take off.
Unfortunately, my time with the NY agent was also mixed. I was under the impression that he would read the entire 50 pages I'd submitted as the other editors only rec'd 5 to 10 pages for critique. I was wrong. The agent made it to about page 22 and stopped reading. This is where he'd stop if the work was submitted to his office. I understood that, but I paid some serious $$ to attend this workshop so I expected a full read and critique. It appears other attendees were also unamused and there will be changes to that in future. (In the past the agent did read the full submission.) I'm pleased the workshop organizers recognize the need for the change and are serious about making this as best an experience as possible.
What stopped the reading at page 22? "Low Tension". The fact that nothing dramatic occurs on every page. The agent spent an entire evening explaining exactly how to layer in more tension and I will try to do that in certain portions of the book. I disagree that it has to be on every page.
What I did come away with was a comprehensive toolbox of techniques to improve my prose and a solid sense of what I'm good at and what I need to improve. (Not many surprises there, actually, which means I'm pretty much in touch with my writing ability.)
Everyone at the workshop had something that plagued them: opening lines, too much backstory, boring dialog, confusing point-of-view shifts. No one was perfect. And that's the key. None of us are. When you start thinking you've reached that lofty heaven of pure prose, you're on the way out and the new fellow with the dynamite descriptions will be there to take your place.
In retrospect, I should have submitted my current work for critique if it had been further along. The brainstorming sessions would have been more useful. However, I have extensive notes on what changes need to be made to the workshopped manuscript and someday I'll get back to it.
Now I have to put that knowledge to use and figure out what the heck my heroine is doing in the back alleys of Rotherhithe besides stumbling over dead rats.