This past weekend, I experienced a lot of writerly growth at Phoenix Comicon. Here are some gleaned nuggets:

1. Let go of your writerly kung-fu grip

In the past, I’d heard some writers say their characters whispered things to them. These murmurs informed the writers who these characters were and what they really wanted–even if it was different from what was already written (What? You have a long-lost sister?). But my characters didn’t seem to be telling me anything, even when I asked them to.

I realized it was because I was keeping them, and my story, in a choke-hold because I was so afraid of “wasted words” that wouldn’t end up in the final draft. But being afraid to get too messy made everything fall flat under unnecessary confinement–and none of my pages got requests.

Your novel tells you what it wants. Not the other way around. Let your characters free, and they’ll pop off the page.

Suggested Exercise: Open up a separate document from your novel and write a conversation between two of your characters. See where it leads.

2. Make sure those writerly words count

Most agents will see, at most, the first few paragraphs of your work. So make sure those really shine, and that any unnecessary words, actions or cliches are cut out. Also, when you’re reading excerpts or pages out loud, be sure to start at the beginning. If you’re not starting at the beginning (because Chapter Five is soooo much better), make Chapter Five the beginning.

Suggested Exercise: Look at your first ten words. First ten paragraphs. First ten pages. What stands out most? What doesn’t stand out that should?

3. Know your writerly business

It tough to keep an eye on the publishing business during the crafting stage because it’s constantly changing, and the business will likely be very different when your work finally gets out there (I know this is true for me).  But it’s still a good idea to glean some of the basics, and demonstrate that you’re in the know. For example, sci-fi/fantasy isn’t an official genre. (Sci-fi is, and fantasy is, but together? No.). It’s also good to be aware why certain genres exist, and what their purpose is. As an example, any story dependent on a romance (even as a subplot) is considered romance, and will be shelved that way.

Suggested Exercise: Go to your local bookstore (or even a chain, like Barnes and Noble) and try to figure out what categories they use. Which one would your book fit under?

Here are some other moments from Comicon that made the day even better:

  • The Balrog!
  • I saw a ton of great authors (including some previously featured on this blog).
  • My husband didn’t hate it. He was also very helpful with miscellaneous schlepping.
  • I met and spoke with John Ratzenberger, of Cheers and Pixar fame.
  • Chuck Wendig predicted my death: crushed by books. This is probably very accurate.
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