So, it’s been nearly a week since my buddy and I ventured into Utah to attend the LTUE symposium, and I’m glad to say that it was overall a very useful experience. I got to hear a number of interesting people speak, learned a number of things about writing and gained a number of tools for my writerly toolbox. I admit, sometimes my attention wandered, but even that had an upside; I figured out how to crack a story problem that had been plaguing me while woolgathering in a less than interesting panel.
Usually, in these entries, I try to provide you with something helpful: a tip, a practice, another way of thinking about something, maybe just a chuckle at my particular brand of buffoonery. This week, I want to give you a tool that was presented at LTUE that you can use right away. One of the better presenters at the symposium was a gentleman named John D. Brown, a fairly new epic fantasy author but one who’s clearly thought long and deeply about his trade. He has one book out that I know of, Servant of a Dark God, and has had a few published short stories in professional markets. I don’t know if they’re any good, because as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not big on epic fantasy, but after hearing this guy speak at numerous panels, I’d be willing to take a flyer on him.
Anyway, he gave a presentation on the first day entitled “How to Write a Story That Rocks.” It was a 2-hour presentation, given in tandem with another author, Larry Correia, who is the funniest six-foot-plus LDS accountant/gun nut I’ve ever seen…and odd as it may seem, I know a few. Back to the point. The goal of this panel was to introduce a method of developing stories—specifically, character, setting and plot—that could help a writer who was stuck on a particular point, or wanted to develop a process for working out these things. To that end, Brown and Correia went through a step-by-step process on generating ideas and creating the necessary pieces to make a story breathe.
To say this panel could have easily gone on all night is an understatement. It’s a damn tough job to pare down the details, because every step opens up a spiraling chain of possibilities, but these guys did a very good job in streamlining. The tool itself, a two-page handout that lays out the steps in abbreviated form, is freely available for download right here. Even if you never have problems in this area—let’s say you plot like Dan Brown, except you can write—this tool is worth looking over simply for looking at the process with fresh eyes. Of course, such an abbreviated document in note form is somewhat hard to follow without the original material as a guide. Fortunately, the enterprising souls at BYU have already put this panel online on YouTube. You can hit the first installment here, and it’s worth watching. However, I must warn you: there are 12 installments, so you’ll be there a while.
(Sidebar: Every now and then, the camera takes a break from regarding Brown and Correia and takes a gander at the audience. Bonus points with absolutely no value will be awarded to the first viewer that spots me in one of those shots. I’ll give you a hint: I’m wearing glasses and sitting next to a big dude with a shaved head, and both of us look like we’ve already been through eight hours of panels, which we had. Tell me what I was wearing, and win nothing of value. What have you got to lose?)
Will this tool make you a better writer? Nope; it ain’t magic. It may, however, help you make yourself a better writer, and that’s just the ticket. Even if you look at it and say, “What a load of crap,” hey, a negative example can be just as instructive as a positive one. Call me an enthusiast, but I left LTUE feeling revved up about my chances of being a success in this field, and it’s in large part because of the good advice and clear thinking evinced by tools like this. I hope you get something similar out of it.