Friday, November 17, 2017

Conferences and Subplots

I intended to chime in on the discussion about setting, but last night I was thinking more about conferences and subplots. No, I'm not planning to use attending a mystery conference as a subplot in my book in progress. But attending a conference did take me back to tinker with my subplots.

This past weekend, I attended the New England Crime Bake, one of my favorite conferences. It's jointly sponsored by the New England chapters of Sister in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Even though I belong to the Upper Hudson Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime, I also belong to the New England chapter. This year, I had the opportunity to present a Master Class on "Using Research to Get to the Roots of Your Novel." I was on a panel about the writing process. I was asked, as a presenter, to read and critique excerpts from works in progress by unpublished writers. I met and shared my comments with the two writers that I was assigned. A couple of my books were on sale and people were actually buying them. All of which should have made me feel like "veteran author." Right?

Well, I did, until I got home and started to think about a conversation I'd had with a friend from Albany who also attends Crime Bake. She was sitting at "my table" for Sunday morning breakfast. While we were waiting to see if we were going to be sitting there alone (dreaded by all writers, if no friend is there to save you), she told me about Jane Cleland's Master Class. Since my friend has been in my panels and sees me often, she wanted to hear someone else. My friend, who is working on her first book, was still thinking about what Jane Cleland had said about building subplots.

Before we could get too deep into the conversation, a couple of other people came to join us. But, having enjoyed a book tour in North Carolina with Cleland (and Donna Andrews), I decided to pick up her book on writing. I bought it before leaving the conference. The title is Mastering
Suspense Structure & Plot. I confess that I have only read -- really scanned -- Chapter 5 about having two subplots. As I was trying to read, my mind was on my manuscript. I was already thinking about the predictable subplots in my 1939 thriller. My protagonist who has struggled to go to law school finds himself in a situation that makes him a suspect. His foe finds that his plans to create havoc may cost him the woman he is in love with and has been pursuing. Predictable.

And that brings me to my point about the value of conferences for writers -- even for those of us who have been at it for a while. As I was sharing my "wisdom" with the two unpublished writers whose manuscript excerpts I critiqued, I was asking them questions and remembering again what I had to learn as a novice writer. As I was listening to my friend talk about structure and subplots, I was reminded of what I had forgotten about what I'd learned. Back home, with Cleland's book as inspiration, I started to scribble. (I'll read the rest of the book when I start to revise).

I'm happy to say that my upright protagonist is now wrestling with a secret that will heighten the stakes for him. And I've discovered something about my antagonist (aka villain) that will not only make the romance subplot more important but make him more human.

My reminder: Go to conferences and listen to anyone who is saying anything. Writing should be continuing education.


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Frankie, I absolutely agree, writing is an ongoing learning process and in our pursuit of perfection we can so easy forget the basics – thank you for a timely reminder not to!

Type M for Murder said...

Great post. Loved your insights about conferences.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Responding late, but glad you both enjoyed.