Bits and pieces: Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte


The thing about conferences like SiWC is that you always have a lot of choice. I’ve been blogging the sessions I attended, but at every time slot on every day, there were about ten different sessions I could have gone to. I had to be selective.

Not only that, but everything else you decide to do, such as blue pencil sessions, pitch sessions, or photo sessions, cuts into the time that you could be soaking in the wisdom of authors, agents, and editors.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, I had my blue pencil and pitch sessions back to back in the morning, which meant that I’d have to miss most of Diana Gabaldon’s session on keeping the reader turning pages. After that, I did book a photo shoot with the photographer, which meant that I’d be late for Jack Whyte’s session of rejuvenating your writing.

So what follows is incomplete and necessarily short, but there are still a few great pieces of information to pass along.

Diana Gabaldon: How to make them turn the page

Picture of the author Diana Gabaldon during a ...

Picture of the author Diana Gabaldon during a book signing held in Fergus, Ontario (during the Scottish Festival) on August 11, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I arrived, Diana was discussing the technique of establishing a series of questions on the page. This was a technique that Diana says she noticed only in retrospect.

The idea is to ask a question at the beginning of a scene, and then build tension through delayed gratification by revealing information in bits and pieces.

She demonstrated by reading a passage from her next book in the Outlander series, In My Own Heart’s Blood. Lord John Grey confesses to Jamie that he’s slept with his wife. The rest of the scene, revealed primarily through action and dialogue answers the big question: will Jamie kill John? by first subverting expectations (Jamie reacts very calmly) and then plays on dramatic irony. When the revelation does arrive for Jamie, he does react as the reader, and John, expect him to, but then the scene ends. We have to read on to find out if John will survive the conversation.

With regard to backstory, Diana says dole it out sparingly. Tell the reader exactly what they need to know, when they need to know it.

It’s a matter of pacing, which is something every writer learns over time.

She was asked if she outlines, and Diana said she never has.

Finally, build on details to reveal character and plot. Use three senses to engage the reader.

Jack Whyte: Rejuvenate your fiction

When I entered, Jack was talking about the goblin.

The goblin is this little voice inside that says, “this isn’t right,” or “your could write this better.” Listen to the goblin.  He’s almost always right.

The search for the right word can drive you mad.

There’s an exercise in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to rewrite the following quote from Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men’s souls.  Regardless what you do, it’s never the same, nor will it have the same impact.

Comprise means embrace. Nothing can be comprised of.  It’s one of the most misused words in the English language.

Rejuvenating your writing means rejuvenating yourself.

Prune adjectives, adverbs, and tic phrases, not blindly, but selectively.  Ask yourself if it improves your sentence. If yes, keep it, if no, get rid of it.

Communication is the goal of every writer.

When you write dialogue, if you do it well, you shouldn’t need tags. The reader should know who’s speaking and be able to keep track.

Don’t write accents. Use a word or expression, explain it once. That will be enough.

Recommended books: The Art of Fiction – John Gardner; On Writer’s Block – Victoria Nelson

Every writer should read them.

The subconscious mind is an excellent BS detector. Your mind is trying to tell you you’re on the wrong track. That’s the goblin.

Also, because you’ll be spending the better part of your life in it, get a good chair. Get a damn good chair.

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5 thoughts on “Bits and pieces: Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte

  1. Great tips Melanie – especially about listening to your inner goblin. I try to shut the goblin off during earlier drafts, but I think it’s important to pay careful attention later on. Thanks for sharing x

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  2. lol I like to write in the bath or on my couch. Jack’s advice doesn’t work. lol
    At SIWC 2012 Diana spoke in great detail on the value of using 3 senses in our writing, and said most people only use one or two, but three is the one that makes it come alive.

    This year at SIWC, I only attended Saturday, and I missed being able to attend sessions from either Jack or Diana. But that’s all right, because Diana is coming to our little Word on the Lake Festival here in Salmon Arm Victoria Day weekend 2014! I will hang on her words there. 🙂 (Feel free to join us!)

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  3. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Second Time Around Blog #15 | emilykarn

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