LTUE Notes: Saturday Edition

I had an absolute blast at LTUE this year, and I’m so glad I went. When it’s no longer two in the morning I will be doing a post that is bigger-picture oriented. In the meantime, enjoy my raw notes!

Writers on Writing
(David Farland, Tracy Hickman, L. E. Modesitt Jr., Brandon Sanderson)

  • What is the most important/useful writing lesson you’ve learned in the last year or so?
  • Modesitt: Don’t write around it—just write it.
  • Tracy Hickman: You need talent, craft, and discipline in order to be a writer. You have not yet written your best work.
  • How has your perception of writing as a craft changed?
  • Modesitt: The field is far more competitive. It’s harder to get published these days. It’s more profitable and market driven.
  • Sanderson: I do things more intentionally. I’ve learned to start looking for the things that turn out well. I’ve started to look more at fiction as a performance art.
  • Modesitt: Writing is still not totally conscious. One of the ways you can train your subconscious is to read everything.
  • Hickman: Story is structure and meaning. We frame everything into the story. The structure of story unites us as humanity.
  • Resource: Stephen King’s On Writing. Also The Black Swan.
  • Hickman: Huge, best-selling novels are black swan events. They cannot be created or engineered. They are an accident of the universe. The one-hit wonder doesn’t interest me. The craftsman writer is what interests me.
  • Pick one time when writing was really hard for you.
  • Sanderson: Hardest point in his writing career was just before he published his first book. I’d written twelve novels and none of them had sold. The point of change for me was when I had a hard, long look at what I was writing. Making the decision (that I would write a book or two every year until I died even if I never got published) is what kept me going.
  • Hickman: I am in the middle of the worst thing that has ever happened in my writing career. I am dealing with it because of the belief that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. What I do matters. Sometimes you just have to rely on faith to get you through that.
  • Farland: One day I realized I needed to write stories that I wanted to read.
  • Modesitt: I did sell the very first science fiction story I ever wrote… I wrote twenty-six stories before I sold the second one. There are only about three editors in all of science fiction who like what I write. Each time we write, we are only as good as the last thing we published. Beyond that, most readers want to be entertained. It’s “what have you done for me lately?”
  • How is writing changing? What do you see in the future?
  • Hickman gave a brief overview of the movie industry meltdown in the 50s and 60s. Publishers are not in the business of making books anymore. They need to be in the business of arbitrating quality. Your future is in your audience. Your challenge is to find and maintain that audience.
  • Farland: How many fans do you have? If you have a big enough audience…that will sell your book.
  • Modesitt: Your two to five million audience is limited.

Writing Cross-Culturally: Mistakes to Avoid; or, How to Avoid Cultural Misappropriation
(Stacy Whitman)

  • Issues in writing cross-culturally: Who gets to write what? Who actually reads multicultural books? The world multicultural is controversial.
  • “Intercultural” implies exchange—we learn from each other. Lee & Low’s motto is “books for everyone about everyone”
  • One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that feeling of not knowing anyone of that other culture. How do you get over the fear of getting it wrong?
  • The fact that you are willing to admit your ignorance is a good thing. That’s what pushes you to research and get things right.
  • How do you ask the questions about the things you don’t know?
  • The more we go outside of our comfort zone, the more the institutional racism [of whitewashing] will diminish.
  • Who can write what? Different statuses as creators: invader, tourist, guest, and native.
  • Invaders: arrive without warning, take whatever they want, destroy whatever they don’t find valuable, stay as long as they want, and leaves whenever they want.
  • Tourist: generally a nuisance, but they pay their way; they can be accommodated; they are intelligent and teachable; a tourist can turn into a guest.
  • Guest: long-term commitments with their hosts. There is reciprocity here.
  • Bad example: My Heart Is on the Ground by Ann Rinaldi.
  • If you wish to write about Native Americans, you must check out
  • You shouldn’t write about an oppressed culture until you’ve held enough of their babies.
  • Unless you really know a culture, don’t name it as your inspiration.
  • Approach museums or other cultural institution for research, preferably ones that are run by the culture in question.
  • Resource: A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience: Beneath the Surface by Joseph Shaules
  • Questions you may not know to ask: Whom are people loyal to? Is it an individualist or collectivist culture (range)? Who are people responsible for? Who gets respect? What are the status markers? Is it achieved status or ascribed status? How do we ensure fairness and efficiency? How do we manage our emotions? Are we neutral or expressive? Who is in control (outer vs. inner)? What time is it? Is time absolute or situational? Is it inner guilt or shame from people around you? How different are men and women? Am I in your space (physical and life)? Shall we look forward or back?

Plots, Subplots, and Foreshadowing
(Bree Despain, James A. Owen, J. Scott Savage, Brandon Sanderson, Stacy Whitman)

  • Be careful with subplots. The length of the story will dictate how much time you spend on them.
  • Part of the reason for subplots is to make your story seem alive and not just a random sequence of events.
  • Oftentimes in YA or MG subplots are the different things your characters are dealing with in contrast to multiple characters.
  • The subplots can be ways to reward the careful readers.
  • A single plot can’t be at a 10 all the time. Having several plotlines lets you rotate what is important and keeps things engaging.
  • How do you use subplots to reinforce the main plot? Often you can do this with themes that connect the plotlines.
  • As an editor, Stacy is looking for the integration of plot and characterization. Subplots help round out your characters.
  • How many subplots is too many and how do you know when you have too many?
  • You need to read in the genre to which you aspire so you can get an idea of how many subplots are typical.
  • Keep an eye out for adding anything new in the last quarter of the book. This can undermine the focus for the book.
  • Consider having multiple layers on the subplots you have.
  • Subplots need to have a beginning, middle, and an end. If you start something, you must follow it through.
  • Standalone with series potential. As you’re working on book one and you think it might have series potential, you should outline the subsequent books so you can add the foreshadowing in the first one.
  • The best foreshadowing is dropping little things that don’t seem like much on their own, but when added together mean something.
  • Foreshadowing is laying enough clues that the reveal is surprising yet inevitable.
  • Great books aren’t written; they are fixed, and edited well.
  • The cut away scene in first person is a huge cheat. Don’t do it.