Colleen Houck


“Chapped rats and bats' wings, brandied worms and adders' stings, Goat's wool and owl's hoot, fish's tongue and dog's foot. Into the potion, all you go, add clockwork hearts, positioned so…" The Lantern's Ember

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  • Writer’s Workshops

    August 10, 2010


    Originally written on August 10, 2010 by Colleen Houck

    Hi Everyone,

    This week was crazy and fun. I attended the Willamette Writer’s Conference and met my agent, Alex, for the first time. We visited for just a few minutes then went into a workshop where we presented together along with my movie producer, Raffi. It was a half an hour panel so we only had time for a brief introduction from each of us and then answered a couple of questions. Most of the attendees were unpublished writers who came to the conference seeking representation. Several film producers and agents flew in to listen to authors who wanted to pitch their ideas.

    During our panel, I was asked to talk about how I self-published and listed my book on Kindle. Then the moderator asked Alex and Raffi how they found me. We fielded several questions from the audience including: “How much does it cost to publish on Kindle?” and ?Does publishing an e-book make it less likely for an agent to pick you up?” At one point I dropped the microphone which is never a good thing. I went out to lunch with Raffi and Alex and we talked business that I still can’t share (sorry).

    After that I just attended workshops, most of which were geared toward finding an agent, which I don’t have to worry about anymore, but there were a few interesting things I learned that I thought you may be interested in.

    The first thing that quickly became obvious is this…if you want to sell your book you need to have at least rudimentary social skills. There were people from all walks of life at the conference, from white haired grandmas to middle-aged business men, teen sci-fi nerds, Barbie doll type women, knitters, scrap bookers, professional looking young women, soccer moms, and, yes, a few crazy people. In one workshop the two agents presenting offered to help authors with the opening lines of their books. Writers formed a line and were instructed to share the first sentence with the crowd who were then asked to voice their opinions. This was a constructive criticism bit and anyone who stood up risked getting feedback, which is something authors need to learn to tolerate anyway.

    One man with shaggy gray hair, wearing flip flops and a Hawaiian t-shirt, proceeded to read his entire opening paragraph and kept going, reading so fast that no one could make out what he was saying. When he finally quit, after several attempts by the agent to stop him, a member of the audience called out, “Too long,” which should have been an obvious comment, but the offended writer grabbed up his manuscript, mumbled an obscenity, and stormed out of the room. At a conference like this you can practically smell the desperation in the room. I almost feel sorry for the agents.

    Another thing I learned was in a workshop on Point of View. This was presented by a published author who used examples from several novels to illustrate first person, third person, and multiple third person. She used some sections from the DaVinci Code (which I have read) and she laughed often about the terrible writing as she demonstrated Point of View. She pointed out that silhouettes can’t stare and that the point of view shifts from omniscient to third person once in a while which is okay if done briefly and properly but otherwise should never happen. What I took away from this workshop was not really how to maintain proper point of view. I figured out that while great writing is nice and lauded by your peers, a good story is just a plain good story. I loved the DaVinci code and if the bad writing hadn’t been pointed out to me, I wouldn’t have noticed it. This is not true of everybody, of course, but obviously you can have a novel be a commercial success even though the writing gets picked apart. My guess is that this phenomenon is similar to the Oscars. Popular movies never win Best Picture. I think if I had to choose, I’d rather have a bestseller than something critically acclaimed. But aspiring to both is always a good idea.

    The other workshop is one I really took away a lot from. It was taught by Bob Dugoni. I’ve never heard of him, never read one of his books, but I bought one after the workshop. He’s a great teacher and everything he said was right up my alley. I took lots of notes and below you’ll find his points.

    • Create a great first line for every chapter
    • Opening line should ask a question or make reader curious
    • Opening line should be a hook
    • Keep your promise to the reader. If book is romance, make it romantic/thriller should scare them, etc.
    • Introduce protagonist and tell us why we should care about him/her
    • Where is the setting and why did you choose it?
    • Set a goal for protagonist-what do they really want?
    • Use 5 senses (This is a big one for me-I like the reader to feel like they can hear, smell, taste the adventure)
    • Set a goal for the protagonist in each chapter
    • Create tension in each scene
    • Torture your characters
    • Create cliffhangers at the end of each chapter/leave reader on the edge
    • Prologues should be a different time/place than rest of the book
    • Someone interesting should appear immediately in the book
    • Layer in the back-story
    • Find the booms-emotional highs and lows and build up to them
    • Create barriers to protagonist achieving goals
    • The five P’s of getting published. Passion for your story, Product should be interesting, Patience is necessary, Persistence is vital, Promote yourself

    Have a great week!

    Colleen

    This entry was posted in Writing Advice, Writing Tools.

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    Suki Lotti
    Suki Lotti

    My name is Suki and I am married to Colleen's youngest brother and have one daughter and two cats. It's exciting to get to work with Colleen and see all the fun "behind the scenes" stuff. I love to sew, crochet, and paint the walls of my home. I love to dabble in nearly everything much to the dismay of my husband. I just began to learn wushu with running and strength training completing my weekly workouts. My known favorites are... color: turquoise... genre: fantasy... author: Robin McKinley... food: chicken lettuce wraps from our favorite Chinese restaurant here, Molly Woo's (good thing I can replicate them at home!)... place to live: Oregon... season: spring and Christmas. My dislikes include spiders, wasps, ticks (okay yes, bugs in general), sweat, caramel, roller coasters and trampolines (for the same reason), and being late.