Writers seeking immortality in the written word gathered at the Wyndam Hotel at 4th and Arch for Day Two of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. As usual on Saturday, the crowd swelled and eager newcomers brought fresh blood to revitalize those of us suffering from day-two-I’m-not-as-young-as-I-used-to-be fatigue. The coffee in the hospitality room helped, too.
The weather had moderated a bit, but the instructors brought the heat, pushing us to further creativity. Today marked the beginning of the two 2-day Master Classes:
- The Language of Screenwriting (Susan Beth Lehman)
- Poetry: The Play of the Mind (Christopher Bursk)
If you didn’t take a Master Class, you could choose from:
I took Janice’s class on Researching. She discussed why the Internet should be a starting point for research, but never the final destination. She also said that experts love to talk about their work, so are usually willing to help you out. We also tried to figure out how to research such perfectly normal writerly topics as: money laundering, how to debride skin, and how a murderer feels after killing someone.
At 11 AM, the 3-day workshops resumed, and I went back to Fran Wilde’s Short Story class. Her intense writing schedule hadn’t scared many of us away, so today we plunged in to discuss (and write!) the middle and end scenes of the 3-scene story structure. Although we talked about many things today, the one idea that jumped out at me was about raising the stakes. Fran said that your characters are in more danger because they successfully got what they needed in the first scene. In other words, by fulfilling Need A in the first scene, they can now pursue Need B in the next scene, and Need B is a bigger, more dangerous Need than Need A. When they get Need B, that leads them to Need C, which is even worse, and so on. I had never thought about it that way, and of course raising the stakes in this manner will work just as well in a novel as in a short story.
Lunchtime sent a group of us out into the not-as-bad-as-yesterday heat, but many people stayed for the Lunchtime Open Mic session. I believe this was new this year, and if anyone stayed for it, feel free to comment below and tell us how it went!
The afternoon 3-day sessions began at 1:30 PM. For me, that meant Catherine Stine and her YA class. Today we covered a little bit of everything, from New Adult to plotting to character. I loved how she likened plot to an orchestral piece of music—varying loud and soft, fast and slow, and playing many different instruments at once. We also talked about every book having an underlying Big Question (or theme) that you are exploring—and most importantly that it is not the author’s job to answer the Big Question for the reader. It is the author’s job to lay all the evidence on the table and let the reader answer the Big Question for himself.
I then hopped over to Solomon Jones’ Writing the Novel course, only today Solomon looked and sounded an awful lot like Gregory Frost. Greg filled in for Solomon today, working on creating Character as part of the seamless blending of setting, character, and plot. We discussed how Setting (covered yesterday) impacts Character, since every character is by necessity an expression and reflection of the world they live in. We then conjured a skinny Irish grad student-waitress and a hobo-lawyer ghost out of thin air and saw how simply creating the characters can lead to story ideas and connections within the story to deepen it.
After the 3-days were finished, two more single-day workshops were available:
- Courting the Spark: Finding and Using your Creativity (Dan Maguire)
- Micro. Sudden. Flash. Fiction. (Randall Brown)
I chose Dan Maguire’s Creativity course. Dan is an engaging speaker who kept us laughing while showing us how to reconnect with our writing when we have writer’s block. He discussed the two types of “sparks” for igniting our creativity: external and internal. External sparks are things like music, inspiring quotes, or nature. Internal sparks are things such as a writing routine that cues you “it’s time to write,” writing a dream, having a talisman, or imitating a great writer.
Tonight features the Banquet and Keynote Address with Stephen Fried. The winners of the writing contests will be announced tonight, and I hope to have the winners listed in tomorrow night’s Day Three recap. If anyone attended the banquet, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
We all have different reasons for writing, different goals for putting words on the page. Depending on our current point in our journey, the goal could be anything from learning how to structure a story to getting your next book to a Big 5 publisher. Being able to come together in such a vibrant, enthusiastic environment is a boon to all of us, no matter where we are in our career.
The quest for immortality continues tomorrow.