I’ve written a number of blog posts about writing conferences and science fiction conventions. Later this week I’m going to report on Con•Gregate, the speculative fiction convention I attended this past weekend. On the long drive home from North Carolina, I reflected on all the things I’ve learned about writing over the years from panels and workshops at such conventions. I realize that many of our regular blog readers and visitors, while interested in writing and reading, have no particular interest in speculative fiction [science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, paranormal, horror, steampunk, and much more comes under this umbrella term], so I’ve come up with six ways attending a science fiction convention can benefit writers of any genre.
1. Science fiction conventions are a bargain.
Writers need to learn the craft. Some do this by taking college courses; others attend writing workshops and conventions. Pursuing a college degree takes money. Writing conventions and workshops cost less but can still run into hundreds of dollars. In contrast, the cost of admission to a three- or four-day science fiction/fantasy convention averages $30 – $50. While there may be conventions that charge more, the most I’ve ever paid is $50. Compared to college courses, writing seminars, writing workshops, and writing conferences, that is a bargain. [Of course, this cost does not include food and lodging, but those charges would apply to writing conferences as well, and in both cases, hotels generally have special rates for attendees.]
2. Writers have many choices.
Science fiction conventions tend to have a variety of one- or two-hour panels and workshops for writers. Panels begin in the morning and continue into the evening, providing considerably more choices for writers than writing conferences. In addition, the author panelists come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences: some also write in other genres, including romance, mystery, thriller, young adult, and middle grade.
Panels cover writing topics of interest to any fiction writer. Writers of all genres create characters – protagonists, antagonists, heroes, villains, sidekicks, and secondary characters; craft plots with conflict, tension, climaxes, and rising and falling action; construct settings in particular times and locations; and consider theme, tone, voice, and other literary devices. In addition to craft topics, other panels deal with agents and editors, social media and marketing, traditional and indie publishing, finding your audience, and other areas important to writers.
3. Panels provide information from multiple sources.
Individual sessions at writing conferences, workshops, and seminars are presented by one person or occasionally two. Panels and workshops at science fiction conventions average three to six authors, editors, and/or publishers, so each panel provides input from a number of people, each of whom has unique experiences and processes.
Every writer has his or her individual process, but no matter the genre, someone on the panel probably has a similar process, a similar problem with the craft, and/or similar experiences in the writing life. Panelists encourage the audience to ask questions and share experiences and suggestions. Panel audiences tend to be small enough to enable a lively give-and-take of ideas and experiences.
4. Science fiction conventions can spark creativity.
Imagination and creativity form the heart of science fiction and fantasy. Gatherings of many writers discussing a myriad of craft tips, ideas, and possibilities gets the ideas flowing and the creative juices pumping. I invariably return from a convention full of ideas and eager to get back to writing.
5. Science fiction conventions encourage stretching your skills.
Writing involves craft as well as creativity. Stretching your comfort zone by trying out a different form of writing or a different genre can enhance your writing skills and open new horizons. Looking at something in a new way can unlock writer’s block and get the words flowing again.
Science fiction conventions include presenters — scientists and others — who started out writing non-fiction. Others write poetry or screenplays. A couple years ago I participated in the Poetic Asides Blog‘s Poem-a-Day Challenge. It was unbelievably difficult — and the resulting poems have been safely stored away — but the process of squeezing a lot of meaning into a limited number of lines has helped me streamline my prose. Attending a science fiction convention might encourage you to stretch your writing skills by trying a form or genre you wouldn’t normally choose to write.
6. Science fiction conventions are fun!
Everybody needs a break from the daily grind. Science fiction conventions can provide such a getaway. In addition to panels on writing topics, you can find activities such as gaming, filking, film screenings, costuming, make-up, podcasting, self-defense, belly dancing, and more. The fabulous costumes people create amaze me — these people are really skilled — and I’ve become a fan of the imaginative and fun filk music you can listen to (and sing along with, if so inclined) at every convention.
And there are sometimes unexpected surprises, like the pole vaulting competition going on in the street near the hotel:
Whatever way you choose to do it, take the time stretch your imagination and hone your craft — and maybe I’ll see you at the next science fiction convention.