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Thursday, October 13, 2011

COMOCA: Not Just a Fancy Iced Drink (SiWC 2010 notes)

(Though I'll admit, just saying the title makes me crave a Starbucks Coconut Mocha Frappuchino. Or maybe I might dip into the bag of Coconut M&Ms I had to sneak into the country on my last trip Stateside.)

A week from now, my favoritest writing conference of all begins: the Surrey International Writer's Conference. It was the first one of its kind that I ever attended, and it's local, so I can definitely go every year. Meanwhile, something like ConCarolinas may not always be in the cards (though it is next year!)

I can't wait. I've got the time booked off work, I've got plans to meet friends on both nights, I'm signed up for two master classes, and I am going to have a fantastic time. And the best part is, last year I won the grand prize, so I'm attending the main conference for free!

It pays to fill out your evaluations, folks.

I thought I would share a few sets of notes from last year's SiWC. All of the classes were useful, but some of them really stood out, and the one that keeps coming back to me was the one with the most memorable catch phrase: COMOCA. So, here we go:

Adventure Novels
Author: Chris Humphries

Action is what keeps people reading. We want to engage with characters; we care about what happens to them.
- Write down the character's objectives, make sure they have objectives
- Objectives range from the macro the micro
- Define objectives

Every scene has to carry its weight, earn its right.
- Can’t just have a whole book of relentless action; have to counterpoint it with breaks in their own way.
- Keep the reader reading. If the reader is not desperate for more at the end, you’ve failed.

Simplify everything. Too much compication in creation as it is. What is the objective in this scene? What are the obstacles?
- COMOCA – Character’s Objective Meets Obstacle, Creates Action
- Give yourself permission to be free with your words, ignore the fear / sense of inadequacy; simplifying things takes it apart into smaller steps; you climb a mountain one step at a time; you can only deal with what’s straight in front of you
- Tell yourself “It’s only a first draft”; don’t show your first drafts to anyone; give yourself permission to experiment and it doesn’t matter.
- Voice – tone of book – figure out who you are writing this for? Yourself. The book you write is the book you most want to read. Choose the subject based on your enthusiasms. Be your ideal first reader. Then, your second reader, ideal reader, is the editor.
- Different types of voice – Authorial voice (you intrude), POV (who is telling this story) – competely different book depending on whether it’s written in first person or third person; limited third = no head hopping; distinct personal voice; first person: the way she sees the world will colour the story ; advantages and disadvantages in everything
Balancing act: between writing for yourself and writing for readers What is the effect you want to create on the reader? Scene objective.

Go at it.

In any scene, should do several things at once: 1) entertain (keep the reader reading), 2) advance the plot/develop character, 3) should leave you with some sort of conclusion or precipice –

Put characters through stress. Put them in peril.
Action scenes: opportunity to do something different with character, revealing actions through character, don’t spend so much time in the person’s head; reveal character by what they say and what they do. Dialogue can be an action scene.
You can bring up something new in the characters. Balancing act
An action sequence, action scene, helps reveal a little bit different about the character; look for those opportunities after you’ve done the first draft.

* * *

The class ended with an exercise:
- Fling a character in an uncertain situation.
- Focus on the step-by-step action, who what where when, attitude.
- Step out of that door and be attacked. React to the situation.
- Break it down into three beats: first contact, acknowledgement of peril of situation, resolution (or not)
- Objective as character is stepping out. What are you bringing to that alley
- Obstacles: how character deals with obstacle
- Action: What happens

I really enjoyed that class. And I feel like I learned a valuable lesson about action.

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