The first Pikes Peak Writers Conference I attended was in 2012, and I remember feeling very intimidated and out of place that first morning of the conference. Almost everyone I talked to had already reached a major milestone on the road to becoming a professional writer, like completing their book, or finding an agent or a publisher, or discovering how to self-publish. Meanwhile, I still did not know how to respond when people asked me what genre I wrote in. I didn’t know the difference between literary and genre fiction, or what YA stood for.
I was quickly set at ease though by the wonderful, supportive spirit of the conference. The other writers at the conference were all very encouraging of each other, and they sincerely enjoyed watching each other succeed. I was also very impressed with all of the agents and editors, who were extremely open and honest in their feedback in the Read and Critique sessions. This year was my third time attending the conference, and I was very glad to find all of these elements still unchanged. I left the conference this year feeling once again completely invigorated and inspired to keep going. This year, I was also fortunate enough to attend the conference on a full scholarship, which was very exciting.
I took down a lot of notes during the lectures, and here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice from the speakers:
- On character driven stories: Character driven story begins with the main character having some problem of aspect of self. There must be something in the character, two conflicting desires, that they are unable at the start of the story to reconcile or perhaps even acknowledge. They must be somehow incomplete. In addition, character driven stories prevent characters from becoming comfortable with some aspect of themselves—at least not until the end. The climax of the story usually involves the character being forced to finally acknowledge this internal dilemma.
- On structuring a story: In her session “Short Stories: Pacing,” Mary Robinette Kowal talked about the important of “putting things back in sequence” for the sake of coherent, smooth structuring. For example, if the first thing that you introduce in your story is the milieu, end with the milieu as well. End the story with what you began it with, whether it be milieu, character, event, or inquiry.
- On character passivity: Characters, especially your main character needs to be acting, not just reacting. The main character needs to be making choices that move the story along. If you find in looking back at your story, that your character is mainly just reacting, they are probably not a very compelling character.
- On humor: In his session “Using Humor in Fiction,” Rod Miller discussed the different ways to incorporate humor into writing fiction. He explained how metaphor, juxtaposition, exaggeration, and understatement were all very useful tools. In narration, misunderstanding, tension, pay-off, surprise, redundant lists, and repetitive sound can also be very effective.
I am mainly interested in YA fiction, character development, and writing to theme, and I was happy to find many relevant lectures on those topics. There were also lectures on topics such as writers block and creative nonfiction and the depiction of women in the fantasy genre. There is truly something for everyone at this conference!
Applications are still being accepted for PPWC 2019, “It Takes a Tribe”. You will find more information on the scholarship page of PPW’s website. Deadline to apply for a scholarship is January 11, 2019. Registration is now open for all who will be attending. Find your tribe in 2019!
Mary Carmack is a teacher living in Colorado Springs, currently working on a literary young adult novel.