I had such a good time at the InD’Scribe conference for indie romance writers in Palm Springs, CA, that I almost don’t know how to put it into words. A good time was had by all, a lot of super talented writers came together to share knowledge and laughter, and even though there were only a few workshops and panels, I learned SO MUCH that will be incredibly useful from them.
I think the first and most important lesson that I learned is that above all else, story is the most important part of any writing process. Sounds obvious, right? Well, this year’s conference and my experience judging the RONE Awards really drove that home. The actual prose itself could have problems (although another lesson I learned is that we must always, ALWAYS work to improve out craft), but at the end of the day, it’s the story you’re telling that will grab the reader.
We’re all storytellers. That’s why we got into this gig in the first place. Or at least it should be the reason why we got into this gig. We can try to chase trends and follow the market and write from a financial-type motivation all we want, but at the end of the day, it’s our deep, deep desire to tell stories that’s going to push our careers along and take us to the next level.
That being said, one of the key elements of storytelling is to have characters that are likeable. They don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be nice, but they do have to make the reader want to know more about them. Again, pretty obvious, right? But one thing that our first keynote speaker, Anne Perry, said that really stuck with me is that to make a character likable, sometimes you have to know a whole lot of backstory about them. Backstory that may never come out in the book.
I don’t know about you, but when I have written some of my brightest and best characters, I’ve known far more about them than hits the page. In fact, I’d say that the characters of mine that have resonated the most with myself and with readers have rich inner lives that sort of just came to me whole. But after listening to Anne, I think that I might start investigating those backstories more and writing things down. These characters deserve a chronicle of their lives, even if it’s just in my head. And the net result, as Anne said, is that the characters will appear richer on the page with more of a real sense of why they do the things they do. So backstory. Yay! But don’t dump it all on the page.
The other things that Anne Perry mentioned that hit home and that I really want to investigate more is the idea of plotting from the middle of the story, as she said she learned from James Scott Bell. Apparently he wrote a book about it. I NEED to go find this and read it. The concept is that in every book, your main character has a moment—a moment that usually comes right in the middle of the plot—where they stop and take stock of themselves, reflect, and then change direction mentally. Everything they do after that point is different. That’s the center of your plot right there. I want to read this book and explore more about it, because, well, heck. It just sounds awesome and right and true! So I’ll report back once I read that book.
But for me, perhaps the biggest lesson of the conference is the thing I suffer with the most when it comes to writing and navigating my way through a world of author friends who are, in some cases, more successful than me. I was a finalist for the RONE Award in the American Historical category, but I didn’t win. That’s generally when the demons of self-esteem and comparison come after me. I’m terrible at comparing myself to other authors—heck, I am and always have been terrible at comparing myself to other PEOPLE and coming up feeling less than nothing—but that way lies madness.
We are all on this journey of life and writing for different reasons. The world is a diverse and vast place. There is definitely enough room for all sorts of different talent, and at times, reaching any given audience takes a little more patience than at other times. One thing Catherine Bybee said in her keynote address (and let me tell you, I actually got to hang out with her a lot and go to dinner with her, and she’s FABULOUS!) is that it takes a huge amount of patience, time, and persistence to make it in this business. Actually, Tina Folsom said the same thing in her keynote. Patience is the key, but so is writing the next and the next and the next book. And so is being really energetic and aggressive about going after what you want from your career.
So I KNOW I need to stop constantly comparing myself and my career trajectory to other authors around me. I also know that I’m utterly incapable of doing that, because that urge to compare is so deeply ingrained in my personality and has been from such a young age that it’s not going to ever fully go away. But the most mature thing I can do is to see it, accept it, let it be, and move on. There is no power in this business greater than writing the next book.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the things I’ve learned here during InD’Scribe 2015. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more excellent ideas for blog posts and whip those off at some point. If you ever get a chance to come to this conference, DO! And it you aren’t already subscribed to InD’Tale Magazine, please zip on over and sign up. It’s free!