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Monday, 12 July 2010

50th Anniversary Romantic Novelists Association Conference

What an absolutely superb conference! Jan Jones and Roger Sanderson who have quite enough to do being successful writers also run this show every year. This 50th anniversary conference in beautiful Greenwich surpassed all the others I have been to with a superb location and wonderfully hot weather. Also the talks were superb. One particular one which I enjoyed was that given by Sarah Duncan whose 'A Single to Rome' and 'Kissing Mr Wrong' I shall be rushing out to buy. I'm sure she writes as well as she speaks, with boundless enthusiasm and huge energy. I'm summarising her points here for anyone who didn't make it to Greenwich. She runs writing courses and I would urge you to look them up at http://www.sarahduncan.co.uk because for me, her talk on its own was worth the cost of the conference. Sarah covered the following points:

1. Dreams - how many of us have dreams of starting our own business or moving abroad? How many of us do it? THOSE are the sorts of characters people want to read about - characters who take action.
2. Caring - think about the people in an earthquake thousands of miles away that you read about in the paper, and think about a close friend who has maybe had an accident. Who do we care about more? We care about the person we know and that is what a good author has to do, make their reader care.
3. Emotion - Go deep into your characters' emotional state. Your characters have to be fighting for things the other people ie. your readers care about. The film 'Gladiator' was given as an example (and any excuse to watch that again is a good one!).
4. Qualities - If we overheard a conversation about ourselves, what would we want people to say about us? That we were loyal, honest etc. Give your characters similar qualities BUT no one is a cardboard cutout. We all have shades of good and bad. Likeable characters however, ones that people want to read about have redeeming qualities, they are self aware and they make amends.
5. The lift test - when you persuade someone to read a book, you are stealing their time. Think about your characters. Would you want to be stuck in a lift with them? Think of the people you could be happy being stuck with and write down why. It is those sorts of people your readers will be happy to spend time with.
6. Cherries and cake! - No one likes a cherry cake where all the good bits have sunk to one place. Think about where you pleace your good bits in a novel and don't chunk them together, spread them about a bit.
7. Suspense - make people wait. Don't set up a problem for your protagonists and then solve it on the next page.
8. Ending your chapters - when you read bedtime stories to children chapters often end with them all snuggling happily to go to sleep because that's what the parent who buys the book wants the child to do. We don't want to send our readers to sleep. We want to force them to start a new chapter and keep reading so they have to buy lots more of our lovely books. Think carefully where you put your chapter breaks, encourage that page to turn!
9. Tea drinking - there can be too much of it, try and keep your characters active.
10. Flashback - be very wary of it. It can act like the accelerator or worse, put the action in reverse.

Well, that, in a very small nutshell was Sarah's talk, but I do urge you, if possible to go and hear her, she's a new speaker to me and one of the most absorbing ones on writing fiction I have come across.


Talli Roland said...

Great summary, Cara! I didn't go to Sarah's talk so I appreciate it!

Cara Cooper said...

You're welcome Talli. I remember you sat behind me in (I think it was) the talk by the accountants on tax n'stuff. Ohmigod I had to keep my eyes and ears open in that one. Scarey stuff!

Romy said...

Sarah's talk was my favourite of the conference. On top of being so informative she was also very entertaining!

Karen Critchley said...

What a super summary of Sarah's entertaining talk, Cara, which I did attend and found really helpful. Your blogpost has helped refresh my memory of it really well. Thank you.