Notes from CONvergence


Happy Labor Day weekend everyone! Summer was great and busy. Now onto the post…

I attended a sci-fi conference in July called CONvergence and it was awesome. For those of you who want to read my notes on the panels I went to, they are posted below.

The biggest thing I got out of CONvergence was the people. There was a huge sense of friendliness and community. I was able to sit next to a complete stranger and start talking about anything. No one even got bored when I went on and on about tea! I can’t quite describe what it was like to be amongst 6,000 nerds, geeks, and great thinkers, but it sure was a different world. One I wish I could be a part of 365 days a year. I am certainly looking forward to going next year. 🙂

Notes from CONvergence
Making Your Dialogue Sound Realistic – Panelists: Charlie Jane Anders, Melinda Snodgrass, C. Robert Cargill, Caroline Stevermer, Anna Waltz
Caroline: Reading diaries are helpful for realistic dialogue (for period pieces). Listening to people talk isn’t a good way. (Although, since today everyone’s trying to be a brand, even if they don’t have an online presence, they seem to structure their sentences more carefully, so perhaps you can get away with it now.)
Caroline: Better dialogue = focus on physical gestures and body language. It will save you space and words.
Melinda: Get friends together and have them read/act out the scene.
Robert: Use of slang and vocal is useful for differentiating characters. But make sure you only pepper it in. Use it like a seasoning: too much and it’s ruined.
Melinda: On-the-nose dialogue = not good. Common in love scenes. (I think it means the obvious or the typical or the cliche. My take-away from this: Reject the first two or three ideas that come to me about what should be said, because they are the obvious, the easy to think of, and the predictable. Then put down the ideas that come after that.)
Charlie: Find the thing the MC is actually thinking about and include that. It will be different than what they are saying most likely.
Melinda: Unspoken dialogue is just as important.
Robert: Remember, people lie in almost every single interaction. Your characters should be no different.
Melinda: If your dialogue is more than 4 sentences long, it better be bloody important.
Melinda: “Hang a lantern on it” sometimes if you need to: address the anachronism straight on. Joss Whedon does this a lot.
Robert: There are dozens of ways to say yes that tells you a lot about the character. (“Yup” vs. “Yes, sir” vs. “Indeed” vs. “he gave a sly nod of his head unrecognized by anyone else in the room except his accomplice as the indication to proceed with the plan”, etc.)
Melinda: On committee meetings: The only committee meeting that was ever interesting in all of fiction is the council of Elrond. (My takeaway: If at all possible, avoid committee meetings where people just spout information. If it’s unavoidable, study the Council of Elrond like heck and duplicate it’s results.)
Article written by Charlie Jane Anders on
“All your characters talk the same – and they’re not a hive mind”
Quote by Kurt Vonnegut
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
Robert Cargill wrote screenplay for the tv/netflix series “Sinister” and “Justified”. He recommends them as examples of excellent dialogue and it would be good to study them.
Random character/story tidbit that popped into my head:
Animal Crackers – what does that mean if you break up that phrase and treat each word as separate? Perhaps a character that has a primal, animal instinct that’s ferocious and violent, but they’re boring as dry crackers at the same time? Could it be the name of a book that deals with the combination of these two traits in some way? Perhaps a character in a book is nicknamed Animal Cracker because they have these two sides to them. I like the idea of the reader being incredibly bored with a particular character, but at the same time, never knowing quite when the animal side of them is going to come out, and not wanting it to happen/being afraid of it. I do NOT like the idea of applying animal cracker to a person with a split personality or schizophrenia. That’s the easy way out, and it’s too close to Golum.
Creating a Monster: How to Write Villains
Panelists: Naomi Kritzer, Will Shetterly, Sean M. Murphy, Joel Arnold, Eleanor Arnason
Worst way to present villains: one-dimensional, stupid, takes time to monologue, etc.
Great villains love someone (even a bad person). They are complicated and have an essence of humanity.
The scariest villains have a goal that is not just to defeat the good guy, but to corrupt them.
Also, the scariest villains are the hero of their own story. Actually, with all villains or any character in your book, and with each one of us, we all see ourselves as the hero in our own story. Remember that when you crawl inside your villains head.
Cliche list: Nazis. (Will Shetterly told us of an idea for a short story he had where some time travelers go back in time to try and kill Hitler, and they keep being thwarted. After failing time and time again, at the end of the story, they finally realize who has been thwarting them, and it’s the Fiction Writers Allegiance who are preventing them, because they need Nazis as bad guys in their stories.)
Unsympathetic villains seems more symbolic than actual villains. They are stand-ins for whatever the reader considers to be truly evil.
Minions should have motivation to stay/be minions.
Trickster villains have a lot of leeway, aka Loki. They can both evoke sympathy from the reader and make their skin crawl at the same time.
When creating a sympathetic villain: Don’t go so far that the reader thinks the writer is on the villains side. You will loose your readers quickly.
Creating Moriarty: Have smart people beta read for you and rewrite until they can’t see what’s coming.
Comic to read: Order of the Stick
They came from fandom!
Panelists: Catherine Lundoff, Lyda Morehouse, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Joan Marie Verba, Emma Bull
(This panel discussed how these published writers went from being fans to pros, and how)
I didn’t take any notes on this, but here’s what I remember taking away from it:
I need to write fan faction or something similar in order to recapture the joy of writing just for the heck of it. Write something that will not be published or read or anything. Just write it for the fun of it.
Also, I was made aware of a trend in publishing where nowadays, publishers (especially of webcomics, but also of traditional novels) are telling writers to go self-publish, and then if they do well, they have a chance at being traditionally published. Publishers are perhaps letting the general public and the hard work of each author do their gatekeeping for them. I think this is not only a brilliant business strategy on their part, but also good for authors and readers.
Before Page One – World Building Your Story
Panelists: Lou Anders, Dana Baird, Adam Stemple, Tania RIchter, Fes Works, Marty Farley
(I came to this panel late and only caught the last half of it.)
Book suggestions for world building: “Food in England”, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, “Implied Spaces” by Walter Williams
Naming is essential to World Building. There’s a program called “The Book of Ever Changing Names” that’s free. It takes names and uses a mathematical formula to pick apart the vowel and consonant sounds, then spits back out other names that sound similar. So for instance, if you want a name for an Italian character, but you don’t want them to be named the typical Michaelangelo or whatever, you can type in 100 Italian names, and it will spit back out 200 Italian SOUNDING names that you can use.
Or let’s say that you have an Italian group of people who were taken over by Aztecs and you want to find out what their names would sound like 50 generations later. You can type in 50 Aztec names and 50 Italian names, and it will spit out 200 Aztec-Italian sounding names.
The number one most important thing in world building: Geography.
Software suggestion: Fractal World Builder (for PC’s only). Description is very long, but it sounded AMAZING!!!!! Must get. Even if I have to run a virtual machine on my Mac.
When writing something like Dr. Who where there’s a portal to many different worlds:
a. Use different colored post-it notes for each world.
b. Treat the worlds as characters: Your going to have some that are major and some that are minor. World build accordingly.
Things I did in order:
  1. Steam Century scavenger hunt
  2. Dalek Poetry Slam in the Space Lounge (splounge)
  3. Probably Science podcast live featuring comedian Matt Kirshen
  4. Art-Go-Round in Connie’s Quantum Sandbox
  5. Creating a Monster: How to Write Villains Panel
  6. They Came from Fandom! Panel
  1. Making Your Dialogue Sound Realistic Panel
  2. Steam Century LARP: Mystery aboard the HMA Badger
  3. Before Page One – World Building Your Story
  4. Dr. Who Regenerating Puppets in Connie’s Quantum Sandbox
  5. Leather Bag of Dice Holding +2 in Connie’s Quantum Sandbox
12. Crayon’s Corner in Connie’s Quantum Sandbox
13. Red Ribbon Society Steampunk Craft Hour: Make your own helium dirigible in Connie’s Quantum 
14. Catapults! in Connie’s Quantum Sandbox

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