Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WIFYR 2: Janette Rallison, Teacher Extraordinaire

WARNING: For the next several days I will be posting notes from the conference. (That's what I meant by "Free admission"--get it? It's free for YOU. Not me. Oh, my, no.)

My workshop this year was with Janette Rallison. I’ll admit right here that I didn’t choose her particularly. When I was signing up, I hadn’t been particularly thrilled about any of the faculty listed. None seemed to have written anything like my novel. Just because I knew Ann Cannon, I sorta tried to get into Ann’s class, but it was full. So I took Janette Rallison, not knowing anything about her. I did a little research before I got there, though, and found that she writes cute, humorous teen romances for girls. Hmmm. Seems pretty far away from what I’m doing. Would she be any help to me?

Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Yes, definitely.

So I’m going to try to dump out (maybe I’ll even put in a little effort and sum up . . . nah) what she taught us in five four-hour sessions. Wish me luck.

Because her instructions came out of what we were sharing with each other and the discussions our writing generated, they seem a little random. Here goes:

Inciting Incident: when did the universe change for this person? Start your story here.
First chapter: write it, get the book done, then come back to it and make it shine.
Prologue: beware! Lots of readers skip over it. Sometimes it can show prehistory.

Don’t start with a dream.
Don’t start with a flashback.
Don’t give info that the characters already know.

[Fantastic handout on plot.]

First chapter should include the character’s goal.

Scene: present action.
Sequel: the part that comes after the scene. Summarizes. Ties from one scene to the next.
Every scene should have a goal.
Plus obstacles to that goal.
Plus something at stake.

[Fantastic handout on scenes and goals.]

When you want to switch POV: Make sure there is still a reason for the scene (not just to give equal time to another character).

Whose POV should it be told in? Whoever has the most to lose.

Try not to have too many being verbs. Avoid “started to,” “began to.”
[Handout on being verbs.]

When writing a synopsis, keep it to one page.

How to get an agent: conferences, especially pitch sessions. Literary Marketplace. agentquery.com.
Questions to ask an agent: How often do you go to NY? How many authors do you represent? Can I get recommendations from them? How many books do you place per year? What is the average advance for your clients?

Besides all of the fantastic instruction I got from Janette, my experience in her workshop was helpful in other ways. The other writers in the class had great ideas when I asked them to brainstorm with me. I loved hearing their stories and many of them showed a lot of promise. I also just really LIKED these people. Writers are just cool people, y'know?


Stephen Carter said...


It sounds like Jeanette was giving you the driver's ed version of Robert McKee's "Story." Available at any gigantic book store. I'd highly recommend it.

And, to show my own inability: I actually find myself cutting out the first few chapters of anything I write. I actually encourage writers to start with a scene that interests them. Usually, as you fill in more and more of your story, you get a better idea of what should go in the first chapter.

Zina said...

I so wish I could transfer my free admission to you. (So far I've never used it -- I would have if BYU hadn't canceled the sewing conference the year we moved here, but other than that I guess I don't get much.)

Thanks for sharing all those great tips. (which I'm tucking away in case I ever decide I can handle a writing hobby on top of a sewing hobby, or give sewing up, or something.) I just finished "The Host," (which I wouldn't have bought, but Dean picked it up at Costco,) and I do so wish that Stephenie Meyer would take some of these courses or even just read Angela's writing advice on Segullah, because I actually thought it was kind of an interesting premise with lots of promise, but the fact that the book was 3 times longer than it should have been, and full of way too much expositionary dialog, and was constantly telling me how to feel, did make it a very tedious slog.

Zina said...

That should say I guess I don't get out much. (Maybe that's the same as not getting much? . . .)

Janette Rallison said...

I'm so glad you liked the class. You're a great writer and I know you'll be published one day. (I'd say soon--but it's never soon in the publishing industry.)

And I'm really going to have to get Robert McKee's book. I heard so many people talking about it this conference, that now I'm really curious about it.