Sep 13, 2011

Dragoncon 2011 - Discussion Panels

Below are the notes I took from several very informative discussion panels at Dragoncon this year. I was going to three or four panels a day until Sunday, when I became "paneled out". These panels were very interesting, and I'm sure you will find the information helpful.

Graphic novels for teens and young adults 

Graphic novels are a format, rather than a genre (like audio books are a different format than paper books)

The terms comics and graphic novels are often used interchangeably. Comics were mostly low-quality and poorly written for a long time, and had low-quality writing and artwork. One of the best known and most celebrated cartoonists Will Eisner created created the term graphic novel to differentiate higher quality comics from lowbrow, cheaply produced comics

Designing your character while working on writing the plot allows for more versatility, and changes to character and dialogue

The dialogue should match the imagery in your panels, and should not be too wordy, or overwhelm the artwork. Caption boxes in panels can be a crutch, and can convey unnecessary or repetitive information (i.e, MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, ED WAS GETTING READY FOR THE GUN FIGHT)

Many good graphic novels were mentioned during this discussion panel as being appropriate for teens and young adults. I've compiled an Amazon wish list of them, so that you can check them out yourself. To get to this list, click on the image below:

Characters come to life

The character is the emotional heart of the story, and the best qualities of a character involve the following:
  • the "voice" of the character - what the character says and stands for, what principles he has
  • the flaws, dimensions, quirks and different levels of imperfections a character has
  • small personality quirks that are different for each character, which differentiate themselves and gives each character a distinct identity. For example, each character will have a slightly different personality quirk which serves to separate them from the other characters
  • sympathetic motivations. Why are characters doing what they are doing? What motivates characters to do what they do?
Villans must be understandable, maybe even sympathetic, but their logic must be flawed. Many villains enjoy their villainy and know they are villains. You cannot have a villan without a hero, and vice versa

The story is the answer to why, what the meaning is about. The way humanity views the world is through the lens of a story. We are all motivated by stories, whether it be a story about how you got to work or how a trip went. We often make up a story about our day to day lives, about the things that happen to us.

Watch people, and understand their stories, and borrow from other writers

Do a character sketch in words to get a handle on how your character behaves in various situations.

Hurt your characters to see what happens, to see how they respond, and how they will react.

Think about what possessed you as a child, and what drove you to do what you did

Learn to control the depth of your characters. Some characters should stay in the background, or else they will take over the story. The lead character should drive the action, but sometimes it is okay to let the main character take a backseat.

A background character can sometimes take over for some scenes and assert themselves. The author needs to maintain control over these characters, and prevent them from taking over the story.

There are characters that you have fun with, that are not always the main character, and cannot carry the whole story, but are fun to write for. The main character has to have the broad shoulders required to carry the story, but  is not always the most interesting character in the story.

There is a structural relationship between characters and plots:
Objective Plot Line: the “above view” story that unfolds in front of the reader
Main Character Plot Line: the character's journey through the plot
Impact Character: the character who has the biggest impact or influence on the main character in the story
Subjective Plot Line: the emotional line that runs through the story
These four plot lines compose the structure of the story.

Know “the rules” of the world you are creating before you break them. Every world, whether real or unreal, has certain rules, whether it be physical rules (gravity, how the atmosphere works, whether the volcano will erupt and why, etc), or social rules (the social customs of the people in that world). You have to know what the rules are before they get broken for the story

Having only preliminary concepts of a plot is another way to begin a story, as characters sometimes write themselves.

Two characters talking to each other can also help jump start the plot, in how they relate to each other, and can serve to move the story forward.

There is what happens in the story, and then there is what the story is about. Find a reason for the character to be the main character, someone who can fill that role naturally, so it does not look staged or unbelievable

There may be some story elements or characters that you really like, but just do not belong in your story, and have to go. Getting a writer's block may be a sign that you are on the wrong path. Saying “how do I move forward” may mean you are off course in the story. try stepping back and try the story from another direction

Experience life and people in the real world. It will make your writing a lot fuller and more realistic. Get out there and live life. Writing and art is not created in a vacuum. Put the video game controller down and live a little

How do you keep your characters from sounding just like you? Here's an interesting tip: “Cast” famous actors as characters in your story to help you flesh out their personalities. Write your characters as if you were directing famous actors.

Reading aloud can help you with your dialogue.

Finish what you start, then move onto the next thing. Always finish what you were working on. You have not yet written your best work and you will write something better. You will improve and you will learn. Even if you think it's bad it is not a waste of time to finish.

Almost all narratives have to have a human viewpoint that guides the actionand drives the character.

What you read colors and affects what you write. Choose your reading material carefully while you are writing, as it will influence the narrative of your story.

Writing short fiction
Writing short fiction requires a different approach than writing a novel. With short fiction you have to be precise, and do not have the space that you have in novels to tell the story. Each sentence in a short fiction story has to matter.

The kinds of stories you like to read will dictate what you will write.

The more characters you have in your short story, the more space you will need. How many characters and scenes do you have?

One benefit of writing short stories is that they do not take a lot of time to write. If your idea doesn't work out, you haven't wasted a lot of time.

Writing short stories teaches you to expect rejection. Getting rejection letters is less painful for a short story than getting rejected for a novel you spent a large amount of time working on.

There are four primary elements of the story:
  1. The setting: a character enters and then leaves a place. The story involves the characters adventures in a place.
  2. What happened: the story begins with a question or mystery, and ends when the question or mystery is answered or solved.
  3. Character: the main character is lacking in some way, and the story ends when he finds what he's looking for or dies.
  4. Event: something happens that upsets the natural order of a place, and the characters respond to that series of events
Some stories mix and match the above elements

Stream of consciousness writing is a valuable writing exercise that helps free up creativity. Spend time writing without having any idea of what you will write. Write for 10 minutes with no plot or characters.

Do not be so tied to the structure of a story that you are unwilling to deviate from that structure when the story requires it. Learn to be flexible in your storytelling.

Rewriting allows you to focus just on imagery, emotions, descriptions, so that when you set out to write, you don't flail so much.

On the first page the reader needs to know where your character is and what's going on, to make them want to know what's going to happen next. The story really starts when the action starts. Short stories have no room for extra unneeded details

How long should a story be? A story needs to be as long as it needs to be.

Read various genres of writing, not just the genres you like to read most. Reading across different genres will broaden your horizons and improve your writing.

Ending a story-some suggestions:
  • An ending that refers back to the beginning
  • the specific goal of a character is achieved and reconciles the issues within the story
  • know what the ending will be first, and then write the story towards that ending
  • write the story that is burning in you, the story you want to tell
Hard twists: if a hard plot twist is unexpected and satisfying, it works. If a reader feels cheated by the ending, it does not work. If a reader feels cheated by the ending, and felt like their time was wasted, then the story has failed. Have some clues, even obscure clues, all on the way, that guides the reader to the ending, to keep them interested and thinking about the story after they have finished reading it

Every time you go to a place or different scene or location in your story, it costs you words. Make sure what you write does double duty and gives descriptive context to the story.

No comments: