Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What I learned at RWA 2009!

by Debby Giusti
This year’s Romance Writers of America National Conference, held in Washington, DC, offered more than 150 workshops. Here are some of the tips I picked up as I enjoyed three days focused on writing.

Janet Evanovich opened the conference and talked about her ten-year journey to publication. Before the "Call," she analyzed romance novels and made lists of how the authors told their stories. Now Janet’s at her desk by 5:15 AM. She calls herself a “reduction sauce writer” because she reduces descriptions into three or four sentences that are easy for the reader to ingest. (Photo above shows Debby chatting with Janet Evanovich)

Analyze your writing, Janet suggested. What works? What do readers like? Asked about stumbling blocks, she said transitions are hard, but if well written, they make the book a page turner.

Toward the end of her talk, she provided a tidbit that hit home with me. She said an editor once told her, “Never save anything.” When as idea floats into her brain, she uses it for the work in progress. New ideas will come when needed so Janet says, “Don’t hold anything back!”

Best-selling author Brenda Novak talked about Emotion as the Heart of the Novel. Her tips? Keep the reader in the action. Start in the present and move forward in real time. Show don’t tell. Don’t repeat the obvious. Use specific details that create a picture.

Brenda suggested layering conversations with subtext to add richness. Blend the narrative with the dialogue. Show the reverse side to the extreme to make interesting characters, especially villains.

Sharon Sala, in her workshop From the Basement to the Penthouse: the ABCs of Building Suspense, said internal conflict is the character’s Achilles heel. The hero has to face his personal conflict and grow because of it. Sharon suggests having a story come full circle so it ends where it began. (Remember the opening beach scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama? The movie ended with a concluding scene on that same beach years later.)

Sharon Page and Jessica Faust created an excellent handout for their workshop, The 15Minute Synopsis: How to Create a Selling Synopsis Fast. Their advice is to start with conflict. What’s keeping the hero and heroine apart? Make the problem clear and specific. Detail how they grow, and why they fall in love. Start with a sentence, expand it into a paragraph and finally a one-page synopsis.

As a guide for developing a quick synopsis, Sharon and Jessica suggested focusing on the set up of the hero and heroine and their conflict, the black moment and climax and what the characters have learned as well as their declaration of love.

Another keeper from Sharon: The synopsis is to sell the book, not summarize the story. Just as in your actual manuscript, use plot points to build romance. Open with a story question and end with a rich emotional conclusion that will stand out in the editor’s mind.

Donald Maass, the author of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and THE FIRE IN FICTION, encouraged writers to get their heroes down to earth. What’s the hero's weakness? Give him a funny quirk or a flaw he can’t correct. (L to R: Darlene Buchholz, Donald Maass, Debby and Missy Tippens)

Once again, Maass challenged writers to make the villain multi-dimensional. Allow him to get what he wants in the beginning, but later, he confronts the protagonist and should lose but not easily. A Maass tip: Have the villain on the page interacting with the protagonist at least five times within the story.

Revitalize dead scenes by increasing the emotion. Up the character’s anger to fury, delight to euphoria, loneliness to desolation. Weave your own personal experiences into the story to make them ring true.

Best-selling suspense author Andrew Gross was up bright and early on Saturday morning for an 8:30 AM, “He Said, She Said” workshop with Carla Neggers. He empowers his heroines and creates smart women who are pretty, but not beautiful. They overcome serious life obstacles, which make them stronger. Think iron fist inside a velvet glove for the gutsy heroine Gross does so well. He also gives the gals a hidden talent and lets them outcompete the male character. He added, while the female protagonist beats the guy, she never shows him up. (Above left, Debby with Andrew Gross)

The last workshop I attended was given by Grammar Divas Darlene Buchholz and Annie Oortman. Sporting neon pink hardhats, the Divas talked about the nuts and bolts of constructing a story with emphasis on grammar and word choice. These girls know their stuff, provide excellent handouts and are getting ready to launch a website. Visit them soon at

The best part of the conference was visiting with friends old and new. Thanks to everyone who made the conference so special. (Steeple Hill authors with Executive Editor Joan Marlow Golan)

Please leave a comment and share any new writing tip you’ve recently learned. When we pool our resources, we all benefit.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti


Debby Giusti said...

I posted the same blog on Come on over and see the comments posted.

Giving the villain a positive trait has been mentioned most frequently. Not a new idea, but certainly important. Since it was repeated often at this year's RWA, I reworked my own villain and have changed him to reflect his positive side. IMHO, he's better for it.

Lynette Eason said...

Hey Debby, thanks for the info. I was so disappointed not to be able to attend RWA this year, but I'll definitely be there next year!