Saturday, May 15, 2010

You get out of it what you put into it...

"Inspiration can come from the littlest things." -Dennis Collins.

Genrecon 2010

The mayor can poo-poo 'Star Wars Conventions' all he wants, but this reporter had a lot of fun at Genrecon 2010.  It was May 15, at Sarnia Library. Fans and writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery novels were treated to intelligent, in-depth discussions of character-building, narrative, and how to get inside the mind of a character. There is an 'ah-ha' moment in any successful writer's life, when they realize that they are capable of 'this thing called writing.' And writing is a compelling urge. Suzanne Church led the first panel. This writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror, or, 'sf/f/h,' as it's called professionally, has the look of a writer about to break out. Dennis Collins is a crime writer with a number of well-regarded mysteries. He's really easy to talk to, and honoured to give the benefit of experience to younger talents. Jeff De Luzio is a published author, and writes reviews for a number of websites. He teaches as well. Eric Choi is an aviation engineer and recently co-edited an anthology of sci-fi written by expatriate Chinese writers all over the world. That's out under the DAW Books imprint. I only got a glimpse, but I'm pretty sure that one's called, 'The Dragon and the Stars.'
There were books for sale, book signings, a free lunch, which reporters always appreciate, and at least one alien running around. I didn't get a picture because I was too shy to ask! W.S. Gager of Michigan was there to answer questions on the panel, and to outline her methods of writing. There was another interesting young fellow there, Martin Renaud. He has a series of three graphic novels out, which were five years in the making. I took a closer look. Self-published books have a kind of a bad reputation in the industry, but I was pleasantly surprised. All the art, printing, and covers looked good. 

W.S. Gager writes the 'Mitch Malone' series. She's a real nice lady, and I asked her about the limitations of the first-person narrative. "There's no other filter," she said. "There's no other point of view from which the reader can see the situation." How does the writer describe such a character physically? It's pretty hard when the reader never gets the chance to look through the eyes of another character. They're always on the inside looking out, and never on the outside looking at the outside of the main character. For that reason, arguably, most novels are written in the third-person. "Fred did this and Fred did that," as opposed to "I did this and I did that, and I did something else." Mitch Malone was a minor character when she began her first book. "I really didn't even like him, but he just sort of took over the book!" That was clearly a character of some strength. A character who takes over the writer!

The first-person thing in a story is very limiting. It also begins to sound pretty self-absorbed and narcissstic. No matter how hard the character tries to figure out what makes other characters in the book tick, they never have 'perfect information.' They simply can't see inside the other person's head. It is a completely one-sided view of the world. This is true in real life. How many times have we wished that we knew what another person was thinking? How many times have we thought we knew? And been wrong? Pretty often, I'd say.
Use of the first-person narrative can be done really well, as many critics say. But it has to be done well to work at all. At least one of the authors at Genrecon advised authors to ' re-write your manuscript twenty-five times and then burn it.' Perhaps it might be looked upon as a learning tool.

By the time I finished my very rough, first draft of a novel, I knew roughly how a novel 'could' be put together. And that's all I knew.
That's one reason why you need to keep smashing them out. Successful writers don't sit down and write a perfect, best-selling novel, exactly this much and no more. They write insane amounts of material, over ninety percent of which will never see the light of day. That's possibly for the best. The best golfers practice. Olympic gymnasts practice. Aviation engineers practice their skill daily. It's called, 'working for a living.'
Writers, if they want to be any good at all, should practice every chance they get. If you love it enough, it can be a kind of play, and play is a learning experience at any age. We're hard-wired for it, and that is simply evolution.
I got a lot out of Genrecon, but then I went there to work. It is a work ethic.It is a dream, or a goal, or something. You learn something new every day in this business. Just for example, today I learned how to clear out my cache.

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