When I found out there was a writing conference the day before BEA, it didn't take me long to decide I'd take advantage of the opportunity by going to NYC a day early. The library was sending me to BEA anyway, so I made my reservation on my favorite flight (Jet Blue - the Red Eye). I love arriving in New York at dawn - because then it seems like I have an extra day. I can't ever seem to get enough of The Big Apple.
I arrived at the writer's conference just in time to hear Lisa Scottoline give the keynote address. She's visited our library before, and while I confess we are not the "Drink you under the table Librarians" she was talking about, I know what she means. She's a great speaker and if you get a chance to hear her -- take advantage of the opportunity.
I wanted to hear Donald Maass talk about his newest book, The Fire in Fiction, so that was my next stop. Donald started out with a question - "What are authors who always deliver a satisfying read doing? What makes a novel great?"
No small questions here, because I'm thinking if you can put the answer to that in a book, I'm gonna buy it! Donald defines it as something he calls, "micro-tension", a technique that line by line, moment by moment creates suspense. He also asserts that the writer's passion - for the story and their own writing - can be a practical tool to use everyday. The emotion of the story MUST be conveyed in the first 5 pages of the story and he suggests you use specific details about the way the protagonist feels about the world to show this emotion.
He then went on to ask some questions about the characters in the story.
1. What is the best thing this world has done for the protagonist?
2. What is the worst thing this world has done? (It will probably be the dark moment of the story)
The stress between these two is the source of conflict -- and the writer should be sure to make every scene move the story along by having some type of conflict. It doesn't have to be huge and it doesn't have to be violent, but there should be challenges to the protagonist on every page of the manuscript.
Find the moment when the protagonist KNOWS things have changed, and enhance that moment by creating both at outer change and an inner change.
I have the other Donald Maas books on my writing shelf, and this book is joining them. I highly recommend it for writers at any point in their career. If you live in the Seattle area, (like I do) you can attend a "Fire in the Fiction" weekend workshop in November 2009.