By Paula Matter
Two weeks ago, my regularly scheduled day to blog, I called off sick. Thanks, Joyce, for filling in for me at the last minute. I’d written that I had planned on blogging about the fantastic first MWA-U (Mystery Writers of America University) event I attended in Bethesda, MD in mid-August. Now here we are in September already. While writing this blog post, I’m realizing just how much I learned at the event.
Here’s the line-up of teachers, their topic, and one little nugget of wisdom I learned:
Jess Lourey, After the Idea where she discussed how to grow your idea into a compelling story. One highlight for me was this question: What’s in your main character’s wastebasket? I have done a variation of this--what’s in your mc’s purse / wallet? Looking in Maggie’s wastebasket gave me some interesting and useful info.
Hallie Ephron, Dramatic Structure & Plot One of my favorite teachers, Hallie explored the art of storytelling and plotting. Highlight: Hook the reader with the mc’s personality, voice, something that’s likeable or curious. Start with an out-of-whack event.
Daniel Stashower, Setting & Description where he discussed the process and potential pitfalls of choosing a setting, and how descriptive passages can illuminate characters and themes. Highlight was how important choosing the right word sets the tone of the story.
Donna Andrews, Character & Dialogue Creating a fully-realized unique protagonist that leaps from the page. Highlight was to test drive your characters; where was each suspect at the time of the murder?
Reed Farrel Coleman, Writing as Re-Writing More often than not, it’s the things you remove, the tweaks you make, and the tinkering that you do, that are the difference between another slush pile ms and a new book contract. Highlight: If it’s not on the page, it’s not there. How many times have you sworn you’d written something down, and it’s just not there? I know I have.
Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Writing Life The ups and downs, the solitude, the self-doubt, the revisions, the rejections and then, the rejoicing. Highlight was her story of a beta reader suggesting a major change to improve a ms, and how important it is to decipher comments made by others. When in doubt, ask for specifics.
All in all, a wonderful event. If MWA-U schedules one near you, I highly recommend attending.
What are some of your favorite conferences, workshops, seminars? Do you always get at least one nugget of wisdom?