Place setting on a table with text: Using Point of View to Bring Settings to Life

I’m in San Antonio this week, presenting at the Romance Writers of America National Conference. But never fear, you’ll be in great hands while I’m gone. *smile*

I’m thrilled to announce that USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham will be taking over my blog this week! Woo hoo!

Although Mary and I “knew” each other from Twitter before, we didn’t get a chance to connect until I met her in person at the Desert Dreams Conference this past spring. Mary was the featured speaker at Desert Dreams, giving a half-day presentation on writing “active” settings.

(In other words, this week, we’ll all get the benefit of conference-quality information, even though I can’t fit you into my suitcase. *grin*)

Before I turn my blog over to Mary, I want to tell you a bit more about why I was so excited to attend her presentation in April. Way back when I was a newbie writer, setting descriptions were my nemesis…

My Struggles with Writing Descriptions

In my first attempt at an original story, I included—I kid you not—several pages of dry “let me tell you everything the character sees” description. Yikes!

Some of the classics and literary novels can get away with languorous, poetic descriptions that call attention to the language itself or that provide static information just for its own sake. Most of us, especially those of us who write genre fiction, can’t make that approach work.

Our readers come for the story, not the language, so they want the story to keep moving. While our readers do appreciate lovely writing and language, we can’t “pause” the storytelling for a paragraph or more of static description. Their imagination wants movies, not a still life painting.

The trick to sharing setting information (which our readers do need) without dragging down the pace is to write active descriptions. Active descriptions let the reader imagine the setting in their mind, keep them anchored in the story, and slip in information so seamlessly that they never realize they’re reading descriptions.

Enter the fabulous Mary Buckham. She’s an expert on writing active descriptions. Her presentation at Desert Dreams was fantastic, and when I asked her here for a guest post on this tricky aspect of writing, she stepped up with an even better offer: two guest posts!

Today we have Part One, and come back Thursday for Part Two. Take it away, Mary!

*****

Why Writing Effective Setting Description Is Harder than You Think

Want to know one of the biggest hurdles to writing Setting that matters to a story? Forgetting to write the Setting from the POV (Point of View) of your character.

Too many times I see newer writers, and even more experienced ones, describing a room or street or a town based on how they see it, not how their character sees it.

Think about it a moment. Do you see a messed up bathroom the same way as your significant other? Or a teenage boy? Or someone who’s never had a bathroom all to themselves before?

Settings Need a Point of View

Instead of simply placing a character into a Setting ask yourself what matters to this character here, if anything?

Someone running through a room with someone chasing them is not going to notice the type of furniture or what knick knacks are on a mantle place. They’re going to be looking for a place to hide or an object to stop the person chasing them.

A woman who’s entertaining her possible mother-in-law for the first time in her one-room apartment is going to be noticing a whole lot of different things than her future in-law, especially if they come from a different background, social strata or even area of the country.

Using a Point of View Helps Connect Readers to the Character

Create a deeper connection between the reader and your character by revealing some of these all too telling insights. Keeping in mind of course that a little can go a long way.

Think in terms of what’s important for the reader to know about the Setting for the sake of your story and then what your POV character would notice. Put yourself deep into your character’s POV instead of skimming the surface and revealing nothing, unless nothing matters to them.

Setting can really enhance your story or work against what you want your reader to experience. Use your Setting to show more about your character for a richer, deeper experience.

How a Deeper Point of View Enhances Our Descriptions

Let’s look at an example approaching the Setting from a rough draft version to the final version.

First draft:
The wardens led me to a room and left me there.

Pretty bland description. The reader is not deep into this character’s POV because the character does not experience the room. There is no Setting so the reader is kept at arm’s length.

Note: Showing the room through deeper POV allows the reader to experience the room on a more immediate level. The reader is in the room with the character.

Second Draft:
I’m conducted to a room and left alone. It’s the richest place I’ve ever been in.

Better because now we’re given a little more insight into what the POV character is feeling based on the response to the room. But we still have no idea why the character feels this way. Nor can we see the room. Plus it’s straight telling, no showing.

 Final Draft:
Once inside, I’m conducted to a room and left alone. It’s the richest place I’ve ever been in, with thick deep carpets and a velvet couch and chairs. I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made of the stuff. When I sit on the couch, I can’t help running my fingers over the fabric repeatedly. It helps to calm me as I try to prepare for the next hour. The time allotted for the tributes to say goodbye to their loved ones. — Suzanne Collins — The Hunger Games

Here we have more Setting details that allow the author to show some characterization of the POV character, reveal emotions based on her interaction with this room, and all by adding just a few more details of Setting. Not too many details because that’s not the intention of the scene, but enough to start showing you as a reader that this character is out of her comfort zone and grasping at anything that can make her world normal again.

*****

Thank you, Mary! My guest post by Janice Hardy shared how a deep point of view can fix most of our writing woes, and this tip reiterates the importance of that technique.

As I learned in Mary’s workshop, when we use deep POV to write active descriptions, our story’s settings can perform double or triple (or more) duty. We can make those formerly dry descriptions work harder and smarter.

Per my notes from Mary’s workshop, setting can:

  • show characterization (what do they notice or care about?)
  • show sensory detail (what does the character see, hear, smell, touch, etc.?)
  • show emotion (what’s the mood or tone for the character (or the reader)?)
  • show conflict (how does the character respond to the place?)
  • show backstory (how does the character feel about their surroundings?)

Notice how those aspects of descriptions center on the character. We need to use their POV to include details that matter. And those details will help the setting come to life in our readers’ imaginations.

To be intentional with the descriptions we write, we need to think about:

  • What setting elements do we want to reveal?
  • What does the POV character think about the setting—and why?
  • What emotions do we want to bring out?

Book cover of Writing Active Setting: The Complete How-to GuideIf you want more tips like these, check out Mary’s Writing Active Setting series. The books go into even more detail than she can cover in her workshop.

She analyzes published examples of descriptions that work, as well as gives before and after examples that illuminate how much active settings can make our stories come alive. The complete set includes a chapter on each of those five ways I listed above for how we can put our settings to work and adds several more methods for how to force our descriptions to pull double and triple duty.

*****

Mary BuckhamUSA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham writes the Amazon best selling WRITING ACTIVE SETTING series (in e-format and now in book form) as well as Urban Fantasy w/attitude.

Love romance, danger & kick-ass heroines? Find it in her Invisible Recruits series: www.MaryBuckham.com or www.InvisibleRecruits.com.

Writing Active Setting: The Complete How-to Guide with Bonus Section on Hooks Box Set by Mary Buckham in e-book or print versions at your nearest online bookstore!

*****

Mary graciously agreed to hang out in the comments while I’m away, so feel free to ask any questions you have for her. She’ll stop by during the the week and do her best to answer. *smile*
Book cover for Writing Active Setting Book 1
Mary wants to hear from you about what you think might be the second biggest stumbling block in effectively using Setting in a story. Any thoughts?

As a special treat from Mary, one lucky commenter will win a free e-copy of WRITING ACTIVE SETTING Book 1: Characterization and Sensory Detail! Yay! This is Book One from her complete series.

Have you ever struggled with writing active, non-dry, non-static descriptions? What aspect of writing descriptions is most difficult for you? If you’ve improved your descriptions over the years, what tip was most helpful? Are you able to make your setting descriptions work double and triple duty? Do you have other tips to share on writing effective setting descriptions?

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Train tracks ending on a beach with text: Want a Strong Arc? Start at The End

One technique I teach in my Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story workshop is to figure out the end of the story first. This might seem counter-intuitive when we first hear the idea, but keep reading and it will all make sense. Trust me. *smile*

As I mentioned with the John Truby worksheet I shared last week, it’s often easier to work backward when we’re framing our story. At the very least, knowing the ending often makes it easier to see our character’s arc.

I write by the seat of my pants, so my idea of the ending is usually pretty vague. And by “pretty vague,” I mean really vague:

Um, it’s a romance, so these characters will have a happy ending. *whew* Mark that to-do off the list.

But even that duh statement of the ending is enough to figure out one aspect of the beginning. Let’s take a look at how that works.

Stage 1 Arc Development: Establish a Basic Contrast

If we’re writing a story with a character arc (not all stories contain character arcs, but most do), we want our characters to change from point A (the beginning) to point B (the ending). That means we need to show contrast between point A and point B.

For my example, if point B is happy, point A must be… (all together now) …sad or unfulfilled in some way. In other words, simply by knowing the “status” of the characters at the end, we know to make their beginning status different somehow.

If we’re writing a positive ending, we know we need a scene in the beginning of the story that shows how things aren’t good for the characters. Maybe they know what they want and they’re stymied in how to make it happen. Maybe they know of plot events heading toward them that will make things worse. Or maybe they don’t know what they want, but something’s missing from their lives or they’re going through the motions and feeling unfulfilled.

Stage 2 Arc Development: Establish a Change in Beliefs

The Climax scene at the end of the story typically shows the characters facing the main conflict. In non-tragedies, we’d see the characters overcome the obstacles and “win.”

But overcoming the obstacles shouldn’t be easy. After all, if it was easy, they would have done it back in chapter one (or before the story even started).

In stories with strong character arcs, the Climax often includes a choice the characters must make. This choice is the theme.

Think of choices like: loyalty vs. justice, love vs. survival, advancement vs. compassion, etc. (Here’s a big list of values for ideas of those two ideals to choose between.) In other words, these are two good options. If one was good and the other bad, the choice would be too easy. *smile*

Step 1: Identify the Theme

There’s no wrong answer for our characters (remember, both options are “good”), but their choice does illustrate the theme of the story. For example, if we look at the “loyalty vs. justice” choice:

  • A buddy heist movie along the lines of Ocean’s Eleven might choose loyalty by ending with the characters helping each other escape, even if that means losing the “prize” to the bad guy who screwed them over.
  • A buddy detective movie along the lines of Training Day might choose justice by ending with one character turning in their partner for corruption, even though that means being disloyal to their friend.

In one case, we-the-author are imparting the message that to live a good life, we need to value people over objects. In the second case, we’re sharing the message that to live a good life, we might need to sacrifice friendship for the greater good. That choice is our theme.

Step 2: Identify the Choice

If we know what kind of story we want to tell theme-wise (at least on a basic level), we can think about how we’ll force the characters to make a choice between two good options during the Climax. Often, one option is the point of the story (the way they’re going to choose) and the other option is something else they’d be likely to choose (especially at the beginning of the story).

Being a pantser, I won’t know the specifics of the choice, but I’ll usually have some ideas for the “versus” statement. Maybe it’ll be a “love vs. survival” story, and at the end, the hero or heroine must choose between saving themselves and saving the one they’ve realized they love. That idea is sufficiently vague enough to not stress out my muse. *smile*

Step 3: Identify the Change

To create an emotional impact with our characters’ arc and the story theme, that second good option at the Climax choice should be what the characters would choose if they faced the main conflict at the beginning of the story.

Remember that we want to show contrast between Point A and Point B. So our characters’ beliefs, attitudes, values, etc. at the beginning of the story should point them to pick the second option.

Both options are “good,” so this difference in their choice doesn’t make them “bad.” This is simply how we show the biggest change in their character. The difference shows how their values and beliefs have changed.

Maybe their beliefs changed because they’re no longer operating under a false belief. Maybe they’ve gone through so many life experiences during the story that they’re now more capable. Maybe the plot events have showed them what really matters.

The important thing is that the characters are now willing to do something they weren’t willing to do before. Our story’s “plot” is simply the events that challenge their beliefs/values and the action that forces them to face the choice at the Climax.

Stage 3 Arc Development: Establish the Self-Revelation

Everything that happens in our story should have a trigger. Every effect should have a cause. So something needs to happen that forces our characters to change.

In many stories, the characters change a little bit at a time, but they won’t really change—deep down where it counts (and where it will stick)—until they realize how their beliefs are false. This revelation often happens all at once, right as they’re facing the biggest obstacle during the Climax. This self-revelation gives them the information they need to overcome their fatal flaw and/or solve the conflict.

In stories with strong, emotional Climaxes, this revelation can feel like a magical Hallelujah moment or an epiphany where the puzzle of the character’s life finally clicks into place. In other words, this is often the most dramatic moment of the story.

To make this intense moment work, we have to set it up earlier in the story. Readers should:

  • form the impression our characters would make a different choice at the beginning,
  • see evidence of our characters’ false beliefs, and
  • believe our characters are capable of figuring out their revelation.

As a pantser, I might have a vague idea of what that second option for the Climax choice would be (like “survival”), or I might not. For this stage, my muse often gives me elements to work into the story (that I don’t understand until I draft the ending and see how it all fits together), or I might need to layer it in during revisions. It’s okay to not know this ahead of time, but we can definitely think about it during revision.

…But What Triggers the Self-Revelation?

I sometimes call the self-revelation a “leap of faith” because it’s one time in our story where the cause doesn’t have to match the effect. Usually we want our characters’ emotional reactions to be proportional to the triggers. If they fly off the handle at the smallest thing, readers are going to think they’re hyper-emotional.

But for the revelation, it’s okay if the trigger is small. In a romance, maybe all it takes is the hero giving the heroine a smile at the right moment as they’re facing the big conflict. That small gesture could be enough to trigger a huge epiphany about how much she loves him—really loves him. And that realization can be enough to motivate her to make different choices.

Normally, a mere smile wouldn’t trigger a major epiphany and story-changing action. But the “leap of faith” moment of self-revelation is an exception—if we’ve established the earlier setup.

In fact, this disconnect can give the impression of the character rising to a moment of heroism and exceptional courage. If the epiphany seems like a given or too logically follows the trigger, our characters might not seem special for taking the leap.

Summing Up: Working from the Ending to the Beginning

Even if we’re the pants-iest pantser, we can still use this technique. After all, once we’ve completed the first draft, we know what the ending is, and if we’re happy with our story, that ending isn’t likely to change at the high level.

That means any changes to make a stronger arc need to come from the beginning. During revisions, we can go through these same stages to make sure the beginning is different enough to create a strong arc.

Create Contrast:

  • Ending: Know the “status” of the character(s) at the end (e.g. happy).
  • Beginning: Develop an opposing status for the beginning.

Change in Choice:

  • Ending: Identify what two good values they need to choose between at the end.
  • Beginning: Give clues for how they’d make the opposite choice at the beginning.

Show Self-Revelation:

  • Ending: Think about the epiphany they experience at the end.
  • Beginning: Hint at the false beliefs they have that they later realize are wrong.

Taken together, these elements of contrast, change in their choice, and self-revelation create the structure for character arcs. Along that structure, we can hang backstory wounds, fears, desires, goals, etc., but that basic Point A and Point B gives the arc its strength. Everything else is just details. *smile*

Have you planned stories from end-to-beginning before? Does that method work for you? If not, why not? How many of these elements can you plan in advance? Or do you need to layer them in later? Do you disagree with my theories on any of these story aspects?

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Favorite Stories: Reading vs. Writing

by Jami Gold on July 15, 2014

in Random Musings

Statue of a mother reading to a child with text: Does Your Writing Reflect Your Childhood Favorites?

This past weekend, my family watched an old ’70s movie inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is only slightly related to the book (two orphans with magical powers have to evade bad guys and find the rest of their people), but we enjoyed the cheesy special effects anyway. After the movie, I dug through my collection of childhood favorites, and sure enough, I still had my copy of the book.

That trip down memory lane got me thinking about the other books I loved when I was a kid. I still have—yes, I kept these too—several books by Ruth Chew, including The Magic CaveSummer Magic, and The Trouble with Magic. Each of those books are about two kids who encounter magic of one sort or another. Hmm…

While I haven’t reread any of those books since I was a kid, I’ve reread one of my other favorites several times over the years. Unlike the others, which were buried, The Chronicles of Narnia lives on my keeper shelf next to my desk (in the original publication order of course).

Notice a trend? Taken as a whole, all of those books involve magic and make a case for my favorite genre as a child being fantasy, specifically contemporary fantasy, where at least part of the story takes place in this world.

So maybe it’s no surprise that as an adult I write paranormal romance (contemporary fantasy in “a kissing book” *grin*). Exchange a sexy hero and a strong heroine for the brother/sister teams of those childhood books, and there are yet more similarities.

Do Our Childhood Reading Preferences Still Affect Us?

That realization this past weekend made me wonder if I was alone with how my childhood preferences carried forward to my adult reading habits. Just like back then, I read more broadly than a single genre, but my favorites tend to cluster around stories with certain elements.

As a child, I loved magical/fantasy stories for their sense of awe and wonder and limitless possibilities. I read classic science fiction for the mind-expanding commentary on what makes us human and on understanding our potential. I enjoyed general fiction for the exploration of relationships between characters.

All of those preferences—awe and limitless possibilities, social commentary, revealing humanity’s potential, and searching for life’s meaning through relationships—still hold true for me today. The stories and genres I read now have grown up and matured, but the aspects that resonate with me haven’t changed.

Or Do Our Reading Preferences Change Along with Us?

I’ve mentioned before that our worldview might not change over our lifetime, and for some of us, maybe this story-type preference is a similar situation. But for others, our reading habits might change along with our evolving personalities.

Those of us who become more cynical in the face of adulthood might find different story elements resonate with us now. Ditto for those scarred by betrayals, grief, or life’s struggles. Still others might see more happiness in life as we age out of the awkwardness and angst of our younger years.

Maybe my preferences have remained the same only because I’m now old enough to have emerged from my cynical phase and circled back to my inherent Pollyanna optimism. As C.S. Lewis wrote to his Goddaughter Lucy Barfield in the dedication of Narnia’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Click image for full quote(Like this quote? )

Do Those Childhood Preferences Affect Our Writing?

I would never claim that either situation—our preferences staying the same or changing—was “right” or “wrong.” As I mentioned, I believe my preferences have changed over the years.

In my case, discovering the joy of writing helped me circle back to where I started. And this brings up the “part B” of my realization: What I loved reading as a child shares similarities with what I love writing now.

Those elements of “limitless possibilities, social commentary, revealing humanity’s potential, and searching for life’s meaning through relationships” fill my paranormal romance stories. Like most authors, my writing encompasses aspects of everything I’ve experienced. But I still found it interesting to see threads of influences in my writing all the way back to my single-digit years.

Know Ourselves; Know Our Writing

As authors, we tend to question ourselves about everything, all the time. Some of us even question whether we’re writing the “right” genre. Would X genre be better? Or maybe Y? Others of us question our voice, the point of view we use, the mood or tone of our stories, etc.

Maybe looking back at our childhood and seeing those early influences will help us understand why we might be pulled in one direction or another with our writing. Or maybe seeing how our preferences have changed over the years will help us accept that we don’t have to write what we used to read.

Just as understanding our worldview
might help us recognize our themes
,
understanding our reading habits over the years
might help us recognize our influences and preferences.

My understanding of my “love is powerful” worldview showed me why I’m drawn to writing romance stories. And now this understanding of my life-long preference for fantastical stories showed me why everything I write includes something paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction-esque.

Some industry insiders (agents and editors) have stated that paranormal romance is “dead” (they think it’s an over-saturated market), and this attitude has caused me to question my choices for the last several months. However, this new understanding of why I write what I do brought me peace:

I have to write what resonates within me. I can’t change genres without losing a piece of myself.

Not everyone will agree with that attitude. Some don’t mind chasing the market. Some want (or need) to prioritize income. Those aren’t “bad” or “wrong” choices.

Either way, we want to make the right decisions for us. And the best way we can do that is by gaining an understanding of ourselves, our influences, our preferences—and our writing. *smile*

What types of stories did you love as a child? Have the elements that appeal to you changed over your lifetime, and if so, in what way have they changed? If they’ve changed, why do you think that happened? How have your reading preferences influenced your writing? Can you still see some of your childhood loves in your work?

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Blogiversary Winners & a New Worksheet!

by Jami Gold on July 10, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Gift box with text: A Gift for...You! Story Development & Revision Worksheet

Ta da! I made it to the four year mark for blogging. *whew*

Appropriately, we had enough comments on the Blogiversary Contest post to earn four winners! Yay! Or boo… Depending on if you’re one of the winners or not. *sad face*

I wish everyone could be a winner. Seriously. But random.org does its random thing without caring about what we want. *sigh*

So… A Gift for Everyone!

I can’t make everyone a winner in the contest, but I can give everyone a gift by releasing a new worksheet. Yay!

A couple of my readers (*waves “hi” to Lou and Suzy*) asked me to take a look at John Truby’s work and see if I could come up with a worksheet based on his teachings. Last week, I picked up John’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

As someone who writes by the seat of her pants, I can’t apply everything he teaches. (This post is an excellent introduction to his approach and the terminology on the worksheet.) The chapters on premise, world-building, symbolism, and story arc are insightful for everyone, but some of his advice might not apply to plot-driven stories because he’s very character-arc-focused.

I’m still digesting the chapter on plot, so I’m not sure if a beat sheet could be made from his ideas or not. (His 22 steps are very flexible, which is good for creativity but bad for MS Excel formulas. *smile*)

However, his chapters on big picture story development were helpful enough on my revisions this past weekend that I thought a worksheet based on those elements alone would be good to share. Some of us might want to think through all of these questions during initial story development, and others of us might save some of these questions for our first revision pass. Either way, I hope this helps us all!

Introducing the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

This worksheet contains two tabs that cover four aspects of our planning and revision process:

  1. Story Ideas
    Found at the top of the Story Premise Development tab, this is a place to brainstorm story ideas and discover which ones might resonate with us.
  2. Story Premise
    At the bottom of the Story Premise Development tab, this section helps develop our initial story premise into its full potential. We can identify tricky aspects (Will it need a huge cast of characters? Does the protagonist start off “good,” leaving less room for growth? Etc.) and come up with a strategy for overcoming the issues (what John Truby calls the “designing principle”). We’ll also identify the protagonist, central conflict, and one verb phrase that sums up the cause-and-effect chain (“takes revenge,” “falls in love,” etc.).
    Note: As a pantser, I might answer some of these questions before drafting, but during revisions, it’ll be helpful to take a second look and ensure the story holds together.
  3. Character Arc
    At the top of the Character & Plot Arc tab, this section defines the choice the character is going to have to make, their ending point (Self-Revelation), and then their beginning point (Desire, Weaknesses, and Need). With these elements, we can see our protagonist’s arc of change, but John states that it’s easiest to work backward, from ending to beginning. (Agreed. I’ve taught that backward technique in my Lost Your Pants? workshop for years.)
    Note: As a pantser, I might have vague ideas for some of these items before drafting, but during revisions, these questions will also help us find our theme within the character arc. That way we can ensure our theme is fully developed.
  4. Plot Arc, Story World, and Symbols
    At the bottom of the Character & Plot Arc tab, these sections highlight some of the elements we can use to tie the character’s arc to the rest of the story. The bottom two lines contain questions to make us think about how we’re building our theme and how we can deepen the meaning of our story.
    Note: As a pantser, I might have vague ideas for some of these items, but during revisions, these questions will also help us fully develop the theme and story arc.

(Note: If you’re not familiar with MS Excel, how to enter text, or how to switch between tabs, check out my Beat Sheet 101 post. If you’d rather have this worksheet in MS Word, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do.)

The Story Premise Development tab (click to view full-size image):

Displays the first tab of the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

The Character & Plot Arc tab (click to view full-size image):

Display of second tab of the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

Click to download Story Development and Revision Worksheet – MS Excel ’07 version (.xlsx)

Click to download Story Development and Revision Worksheet – MS Excel earlier versions (.xls)

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for changes to this worksheet, as it’s very much just my first stab at trying to gather and apply John Truby’s teachings. Also, let me know if you’d like further information about any of the elements. I’m happy to explain more. *smile*

And Now… The Blogiversary Winners!

And finally, the news you’ve all been waiting for. Here are the winners of my 4th Annual Blogiversary Contest:

Sharon Hughson

Kirsten

Loni Townsend

Taurean Watkins

Congratulations to you all! (And I swear that’s how random.org spit them out, even though one of the winners was heavily lobbying for a win. *narrows eyes and wonders if someone did hack random.org*) You all should receive an email from me within the next day, so start thinking about what prize you want. Should I be worried? *smile*

Have you studied John Truby’s teachings before? Does this worksheet succeed at capturing some of his story development advice? Do you have suggestions for improvements? Do this worksheet help make up for the fact that you didn’t win? *sad face* Do you have any suggestions or reminders for me about other writing helpers I could put together?

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Stack of old-fashioned suitcases with text: The Ultimate Conference Packing List

I’m leaving in two weeks to attend the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference, which is meeting in San Antonio, Texas this year. This will be my fifth in-person conference, my third RWA National, and my thirteenth workshop presentation.

*pauses* Really? I’ve run twelve workshops in the past two years? Wow, no wonder I feel so busy all of the time.

Anyway, despite all of that experience, I’m still doing my usual I’m-an-introvert, pre-conference freak-out. If I did a post for that to-do list, it would look something like…

  1. Stay in denial that I’m going to have to crawl out of my shell until the last possible minute.
  2. Mentally berate myself with buyer’s remorse (What was I thinking? Why do I put myself through this?).
  3. Bemoan the fact that Polyjuice Potion doesn’t exist so I can send someone in my place.
  4. Curl up into a ball and have a panic attack, convinced that I can’t do this.
  5. Accept that I can’t get out of it, and then stress about getting everything ready in time.

Hmm, does anyone else think those to-do items look suspiciously like the “five stages of grief“? Maybe I’m grieving for the loss of my introverted life for the next couple of weeks. *grin*

Going to RWA14? Let Me Know!

If you’re going to the RWA conference, let me know so we can meet up. Putting faces to names is one of the best things about in-person conferences.

And if you’re interested in my Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!) workshop, I’ll be presenting it on Saturday, July 26th, at 3:15pm in Salon M at the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel. Here’s the blurb:

Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!) (TRAINING)
Speaker: Jami Gold

Need a website (or blog) but don’t know where to start? Never fear, all you need is one hour to learn everything about creating a website using WordPress and other free Internet resources.

I am looking forward to seeing my roomies again, and I do enjoy presenting workshops and meeting people, but the peel-off-my-introvert-shell stress? Ugh. It’s a good thing I have my handy-dandy ultimate packing list from the last time I went to RWA National. *smile*

The Ultimate RWA Conference Packing List

  • Conference outfits (clothes and jewelrycasual business most of the time, dressier business for pitches or editor/agent meetings, dressy for Awards Ceremony)
  • Comfortable shoes & gel inserts
  • Snacks for between workshops when you can’t stop for lunch
  • Medications (no hangovers allowed) & prescriptions
  • Your schedule
  • Laptop/cellphone/camera (& chargers/power cords)
  • Paper/pen/highlighter
  • Business cards
  • Small toiletry case for purse or bag
  • Some way to ship back or carry your goodies
  • Some way to personalize your RWA tote bag to make it easier to find among the 2000 identical bags
  • Small sewing kit for wardrobe malfunctions
  • Bandaids for blisters
  • Mints/candies to suck on for energy and fresh breath
  • Swimsuit/coverup/workout clothes (for all of that *ahem* unscheduled time you don’t have)
  • Cardigan for chilly conference rooms
  • Dress purse for Awards Ceremony
  • Earplugs, white noise app on phone
  • Umbrella
  • Cash for tips, Literacy Booksigning, dining with friends, vending machines
  • Extension cord for hotel room (2-4 women, 1 sink—do the math)
  • Extra hangers for hanging all your nice clothes in the closet
  • Pins for lanyard (PRO, chapter, etc.)
  • Sharpie marker and tape for labeling shipping boxes
  • Hand sanitizer, wet wipes, stain stick or wipes, moisturizer

Other things to prepare and do:

  • Print out of hotel reservation, and email all important documents to yourself to ensure you have copies
  • Attach business card to phone/camera in case it gets misplaced
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water

*whew*  All right, what am I forgetting? *smile*

Do you have anything else to add to this list? Are you going to the RWA conference? (Let me know if you want to meet up!) How do you prepare for big trips (are you as much of a over-achieving perfectionist as I am, or do you go with the flow)? Are you an introvert who struggles with in-person events? How do you handle those situations?

P.S. If you live in the San Antonio area, the Literacy Autographing event is open to the public:

The 2014 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing will be on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in the 3rd floor ballroom. This year, proceeds from the Literacy Autographing will benefit ProLiteracy Worldwide, Literacy Texas, Restore Education, and Each One Teach One San Antonio.

P.P.S. Last call for any entries to my Blogiversary Contest.

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I’ve often thought about adding word count widgets to my site but quickly resist the notion. My internal debate sparked a question about how writers approach their works in progress. Do you know which side you fall on?

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