For anyone who doesn't know, Life the Universe and Everything (LTUE) is a science fiction and fantasy writing convention down at BYU in Provo, Utah. It's been going on for almost 30 years. Every year since I heard about it, I remember to look into it two weeks after it's over. So this year I was persistent and managed to get Friday off of work so I could go! (It helped to have some of the other Death Camp survivors coming.)
I took pages and pages and more pages of notes. There wasn't anything earth-shattering that I heard, but that's okay. I went down there this past weekend with one goal in mind—how do I make my novel awesome?
That was it. This is the first time going to a convention that I've been able to say that! I sat in every session desperately looking for ideas and concepts that I was either missing or that I've forgotten about. I found a few, and I thought I would share them here. Aren't you lucky?
The first was a question. What can't you do with your magic system? Any story in which magic is a key element will be defined by what the magic is unable to accomplish. I have plenty of things the magic system does in my novel, but I hadn't thought specifically about what it can't do. Not that I remember anyway.
The second came from a presentation Tracy Hickman gave. He was using Lord of the Rings to show us plot and story telling, and he mentioned a threshold. When Samwise says (and this is the films) If I take one more step it'll be the furthest I've ever been from home. Something like that anyway. This is the threshold—the point of no return, so to speak—when the character steps over a line that will send them into the adventure (and possible horror) beyond. I made a note to figure out where my character's threshold his. This isn't hard to identify, but I hadn't ever thought about it.
I put a star next to the third one while I was listening to a panel about agents. Query like crazy and keep track of everything you get back and send out. I knew this, but I felt like it was important.
Interestingly, the next note came out of a dialogue panel. Stories are about conflict. Duh, I know that, but when someone said it, I immediately flipped to another section of my notebook and started to write down places in my novel where I've somehow diffused or downplayed a potential conflict. Be meaner to the characters. Another bit of advise I got from a good friend on Friday night.
Characters seem to be my biggest weakness. Write characters people connect with. The guy giving this presentation expressed his difficulty in learning to make strong main characters. He said he would get finished with the first draft of a novel and find that he'd written a protagonist that was generically boring and got pushed around with wherever the story went. Huh, that sounds all too familiar. His subsequent revisions were much better because he would put a backbone into his protagonist and release them back into the story. Make sure your characters have sizzle.
One of the editors said (and this is brilliant advise) that the best way to get out of the slush pile is to be in it in the first place. I'll just leave that one alone. It explains itself.
This next bit I wrote down and put a star next to, however, I'm not sure I fully comprehend it. Figure out the difference between with holding information and unfolding the story through the characters asking the right questions. Good point. Not sure I get it yet, but I'll work on it.
So what did I learn? The novel needs some more work. As the Prince of Tennis says, “You've still got a long way to go.” I hate that little kid.