One-Hundred Things I Learned at WFC 2014

Let me briefly preface this post by explaining that I went to 13 different panels about writing fantasy. Let me briefly preface this post by explaining it was sort of heavenly. Let me briefly preface this by saying you should experience it for yourself. I did my best to attribute words and ideas to the various authors they belonged to. In most cases, this consists of me simply putting their names beside the panel, however. I took a lot of notes! If I didn’t write down who said it or remember, it just gets attributed to the panel as a whole. Enjoy!

Derived Myths Panel (Sandra Kasturi, Nick DiCharo (M), S. P. Hendrick, Melissa Marr)

1. Group mind often projects into reality. “We all know what we mean” becomes an opportunity to twist and play.

2. Don’t forget that most mythology began as oral histories.

3. A lot of pre-literate cultures didn’t think things could “happen for no reason”. They tried to ascribe deity to events they couldn’t explain.

4. Mythology served to remind and warn. Oh, the volcano is smoking? Let’s leave…

5. Melissa Marr is a rock-star genius that spins golden knowledge upon the audience.

6. Do not try to show off your homework. It can make your writing so much better, but no one likes someone that wants to point at their trophies and say, “See what I’ve got?”

“Everybody Was There.” Diversity in Fantasy (Sarah Pinsker (M), Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kit Reed, S. M. Stirling, K. Ceres Wright)

7. Before tackling a book about a certain people group or minority, you should ask yourself, “Why am I the person to write this book?”

8. The tendency when writing a character outside of your experiential understanding is that they’re generic. Ask yourself, “What kind of person is this?”

9. Mary Anne Mohanraj knows her stuff. Seriously. She was destroying this panel with awesomeness.

10. Sometimes our writing tendencies are like water to a fish. We just don’t see how we’re being unfair or how our stories are lacking diversity.

11. We love being able to distinguish the “other”. It is a biological and visceral reaction we are looking to have.

12. There’s a trend to make fantasy “historical” and to make science fiction “utopian”. Different diversity issues pop up in both of these styles.

13. We are wary of misrepresenting a group or a people. But it’s better to try, get it wrong, rewrite it, hear from readers how to fix it, and to try it again. Better that than not attempting to write more diverse books.

14. Having diverse writers is just as important as writing diverse characters and settings.

Guns, Gears and Wheels: Medieval Technology in Fantasy (Michelle Markey Butler (M), Scott H. Andrews, Elaine Isaak (E. C. Ambrose))

15. Consider hours of investment. How long would it take a society to do what they’re doing? How many man hours? If the numbers don’t add up, don’t do it.

16. Advances happen through trial and error. Often technology gains moment after it’s been used for a while.

17. Consider how often technologies are made obsolete in our world. Why doesn’t this happen in our fantasy settings?

18. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have societies use technology for the wrong purposes. Example given of Chinese palaces using very cool technology as a magic trick almost.

Blurring the Genre Lines  (David D. Levine (M), Dana Cameron, S. L. Farrell, James A. Moore, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

19. Stories make demands on us. Don’t write to fit in a certain genre or category. Write the story that needs to be written.

20. Some genres can be dictated by setting. The details that you choose to focus on as an author can lend your story a horror feel, etc.

21. Unlike real life, fiction must satisfy.

22. Oftentimes, you can look at the conclusion to determine genre. If a story combines Western with Post-Apocalyptic, the final scene might provide clues to the author’s favored genre. Is the end a showdown in the desert? Or is the end a cold reflection on the fate of mankind?

Beyond Rebellion in YA (Ysabeau Wilce (M), Gail Carriger, Sarah Beth Durst, Steven Gould)

23. Unlike his characters, Steven Gould cannot jump through time and space. In fact, he left his iPad in a bathroom and missed like 10 minutes of the panel.

24. Often parents in YA fit these three categories: A) loving parents in horrible danger B) absent parents C) evil parents.

25. Many of the panelists said they prefer to consider the parental relationships first. Even though these stories do require a teen to explore the unknown and make their “own families and friendships”, the most fundamental relationship for every teen is that of the parent or guardian.

26. One panelist discussed being fascinated by teachers and bored with parents. How do we use adult relationships realistically?

27. Good authors write to certain authors and write away from other authors. Keep an eye on how you’re trending.

28. Steven Gould said, “I’m writing books I can’t otherwise read. If it’s already out there, what’s the point in writing it?”

29. Rule of Awesome- Begin the scene, think of the most amazing thing that can happen, and make your characters do that.

30. The key to good YA is not letting people fall out of the “spell” you’ve cast on them in the first pages.

Guy Gavriel Kay Interview

31. “A quarter turn to the fantastic.” He discussed the idea of twisting a reader to the magical, rather than spinning and disorienting them to the fantastical.

32. “It’s easy to kill, but it’s hard to make the death matter. I always sought to make death matter in my books.”

33. “We apply a smugness to our reading of the past” He discussed the idea that we think we are “superior” or “smarter” and that’s a unfortunate baggage to carry into our reading.

34. “I always liked using magic to try and make the world be the way it is supposed to be.”

35. My favorite thing from this panel was Guy sharing his “influences”. He simply shared stories of authors taking the time to sit down with him and discuss writing and reading. He explained that, if these literary giants could do that, then “who the hell am I” to not do the same with young authors.

Character Type-Casting (James Alan Gardner (M), Christopher Golden, Laura Anne Gilman)

36. Consider stereotype vs. archetype- They discussed archetypes being stereotypes that “stand the test of time.”

37. Christopher Golden shot down the other panelists in discussing authors that simply can do the “same old thing”, but because their writing is “that good” it doesn’t matter. They take the type-cast character and give us a “thrilling ride.” His primary example of this was Pierce Brown’s Red Rising.

Animals in Fantasy (Goldeen Ogawa (M), Judi Fleming, Dorothy Hearst, Garth Nix, Jeff VanderMeer)

38. I learned that I work on a different clock than these authors. Most of them felt the 10am panels were “a little early”.

39. Even in animals, there are unique personality. Avoid the tendency to make every wolf like every other wolf, and every bird like every other bird.

40. Kafka was described by a friend as a “moon-blue mouse feasting on herbs”.

41. Animals are characters, too. You have to keep track of them in your plot and scene as much as you have to do that with a real character.

42. All panelists were adamant on one point: get your “damn” horses right.

More than Swords: The Military and Fantasy (Myke Cole (M), Chris Kennedy, Bud Sparhawk, Howard Tayler, Django Wexler, Joe Zieja)

43. Myke Cole shared a very sincere, honest outlook on the military and how it impacts the psychological. Made me want to read his books. Note to self: readers and potential fans want authenticity.

44. A little discussion on science fiction vs. fantasy. The panelists generally agreed that science fiction analyzes what IS possible (speculation) and fantasy makes use of what ISN’T possible.

45. Defining military, the panelists talked about “organization” and the idea of having a “legitimizing government entity behind it”

46. There is, as with most organization, a culture in the military. Don’t leave that out of your writing of it (even if you intend to subvert some of it)

47. A good military fiction should widen the reader’s point of view. The expected rate of military involved population is going to drop to 1%. Don’t forget that you’re informing your audience as you write it.

48. Comparing ideas of Halloween and Christmas. Halloween is when you dress up like something you’re not. Christmas is when you try to be the person you should be all year. Using these ideas in characters can bring about authentic story.

49. “Violent power cannot be subject to individual idiosyncrasies. When it is, bad things can happen.”

The Great Game in History and Fiction (Ian Drury (M), David Drake,Victoria Janssen, Jennifer R. Povey)

50. All the panelists at this conference were incredibly intelligent, but Ian Drury has a scary intellect.

51. “Our guys maybe aren’t that good, but they’re better than your guys” mentality and viewpoint. We try to excuse our own army’s actions while demonizing the other.

52. Spycraft should go hand in hand with propaganda.

The Myriad Faces of Dragons (Marie Brennan, Nicholas Kaufmann, James Maxey (M), Naomi Novik)

53. Dragons are awesome.

54. A great point was made about our natural, visceral fear of a predator like a dragon. Some of that has been lost as we’ve “taken over the food chain”. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t play with and subvert the current state of our relationship to the world.

Portraying War in Fantasy (Cynthia Miller (M), Moshe Feder, Summer Handford, Gail Z. Martin)

55. Some panels are so fascinating that you forget to take notes.

Libraries and Librarians in Fantasy (Mary G. Thompson (M), Donald Crankshaw, Annette Curtis Klause, John Klima)

56. A great discussion about librarians as gatekeepers. Ever since “the knowledge of good and evil”, we’ve had shifting perspectives on the idea of knowledge and who has it. The panelists lamented a common trend to make librarians evil, stiff, or off-putting.

Magic As Mystery  (Carolyn Ives Gilman (M), Phyllis Eisenstein, L. Jagi Lamplighter, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.)

57. Human beings use everything as a tool, or we don’t use it at all. If magic existed, they would be using it in any way they could to advance themselves.

58. Superversive- inspiring from above- Consider why your magic is connected with higher powers or higher thinking.

59. Why do we have or like magic? Lamplighter discussed the fact that, “In life, there is a lot of wonder. In stories, we portray these wonderful things as magic.”

60. Lamplighter also discussed three types of magic: A) Magic as technology B) Magic as art C) Magic as either sympathy (like attracted to like) or as contagion (once touching, always touching). Found this fascinating.

61. In our world, there are varying levels of talent and aptitude for EVERYONE. It makes total sense that there would be the same thing in a world with magic.

62. Almost never do natural athletes become coaches or mentors. If your wizard is super intuitive, they shouldn’t be able to teach it well.

63. We invented mufflers because of pollution. What invention is your magical society using to stop the negative consequences of its magic?

64. There is a difference between naming something and understanding it. Use that if you can.

65-100. Authors, literary agents, and fans in this community are just wonderful. Even though I didn’t dive down into too many social circles, I found myself learning so, so much. I’m thankful for the time I had at this conference and already looking forward to next year.

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