Special Feature: Tips and Tricks from RWA’s 2016 Conference (Part Two)

I am still scouring through the pages and pages of notes I took at RWA’s national conference in San Diego during the week of July 13 – 16th. Here are a few more tips and tricks from the incredible workshops I attended:


Character Excavation (presented by a fabulous trio of acclaimed writers – Kristan Higgins, Farrah Rochon, and Damon Suede): Each of the three authors (who were incredibly knowledgable and fun!) discussed how they build characters in their novels–and each has a unique, helpful approach:

  • Kristan builds BACKSTORY first. Every detail in a character’s backstory must have a reason. For example, 1) birth order, 2) siblings, 3) parents’ martial state, 4) location/setting, 5) education, 6) profession, 7) romantic history, 8) choice of dog/pet. None of those things can be random. Each should be built upon solid reasoning of why a particular character behaves a certain way.
  • Farrah develops a character’s PERSONALITY first. She said, “The core of your character’s personality helps to determine how they react to scenarios.” Some helpful ways to build personality profiles are: 1) Myers-Briggs types, 2) Keirsey Temperament Sorter, 3) Archetypes, 4) Character Interview Questions.
  • Damon focuses on the ENERGY of the characters. Damon said, “People want an emotional experience from books” and “all energy is produced by friction.” Damon zeroed in on verbs as expressions of energy. His advice? “Give lead characters verbs that conflict. Relationships only exist if characters change each other.”

Creating a Stronger Outline for a Stronger Story (with author/teacher/founder of diymfa.com, Gabriela Pereira): I just can’t say enough about this workshop! Gabriela is able to break story construction down into feasible steps, without making it feel artificial. Her “rules” are fluid and flexible and not one-size-fits-all. I can’t pretend to recreate her entire workshop, so I’ll hone in on her “secret sauce” for creating a story/novel outline:  

  • 3 + 2 = 1 (3 Acts + 2 Decision Points = 1 Story Structure)
  • 3 Acts consists of beginning, middle, and end
  • 2 Decision Points (at end of act 1 and another at end of act 2 — this can vary)
  • Remember the WORST acronym while you are writing: W = what does character want? O = what obstacles do they face? R= what is the risk to get it? S = what’s at stake if character fails? and T = how does character transform?
  • For more info, go to DYIMFA.com for more fabulous tips and upcoming workshops. You can also sign-up for a free DYI MFA starter kit by email.

YA Firsts: Crafting the Sassy, Swoony, Sorrowful and (Sometimes) Sexy Teen (acclaimed panel of YA authors Patty Blount, Ally Carter, Tera  Lynn Childs, Sophie Jordan, and Lea Nolan): This amazing author panel discussed how they construct first milestones (such as, first kiss and first heartbreak) and make them believable for YA characters. Some tips included:

  • Teen characters need a commonality to connect
  • When characters confuse each other, attraction can be born (Hey, you’ve done something I didn’t expect and now I’m thinking about you.)
  • The first kiss is a big deal and deserves to be dwelled upon and internal monologue is great during the first kiss for YA readers
  • The order of how you introduce characters can be very important – for example, in a love triangle of one girl and two boys, the reader often latches on to the first boy that is introduced
  • Physical descriptions are important to help the reader relate to the characters



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