YALL Write Cheat Sheet: Day 1

This past weekend was the virtual version of Yall Write conference. I’ve never been before so I don’t have a baseline to compare with, but the virtual version was great! I could meal prep, deep clean, even do a little yoga, while listening to some of my favorite authors. Who knew 2020 would provide such flexibility!

I know several of you were working or had other obligations and couldn’t make it but have no fear! I have taken copious notes for you. Well, mostly copious notes. There may have been a few sessions where my meal prep was burning or I was distracted…so those sessions are a little sparse and/or nonexistent.

The good news is, YALL Write will be posting all of their sessions to YouTube so there’s also that option for you. If you’re like me though, you’ll never find the time to actually go back and listen to most of those. If that’s the case, here’s a twenty-minute skim on what you missed.

*Caveat: There were a few sessions that were at the same time or which I was having Zoom fatigue and skipped. Sorry in advance if that was one of the sections you were hoping to view.

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get started! Here’s a quick summary of the topics/sessions from day one:

  • Key Elements of Story with Brand Mull
  • The Story Corpse with Victoria “V.E.” Schwab
  • Writing Romance with Renee Ahdieh & Sabaa Tahir

Key Elements of Story with Brand Mull

“The stories in my head were great but I needed to learn how to communicate them.”

Five steps for plotting and organizing your book:

1. CHARACTERS

If you don’t have interesting characters you don’t have anyone for the reader, or you, to care about.

It’s like real life. You choose friends based on their character. There’s something that drives you to them. You want the characters in your book do the same. You want the reader to be driven to get to know your character.

“Part of our job as the writers is to give our reader characters to care about.”

Create characters who play off of each other. It’s more interesting when the characters don’t get along. The cast of characters and how they relate to each other is really important.

Getting to know a character in a book:

Know your character so well that you can be true to what they will think, say, do and choose. Your reader won’t recognize change in the character unless they know who they are to begin with.

“The character doesn’t have to feel likeable so much as interesting.”

2. WHAT ARE THEIR RELATIONSHIPS

Characters and relationships are what breathes life into your story. If your characters become real to your reader, you’re in business.

You want the reader to feel anger, fear, laughter, basically anything but boredom. This means the reader will care about your character.

3. INTRODUCE TROUBLE

“If the reader already cares about those characters, they will care when trouble comes.”

Having trouble both great and small is best. J.K. Rowling did a wonderful job of showing a wide variety of trouble. Harry had to worry about Lord Voldemort but also getting his homework done and who he’d invite to the dance.

If you want a longer story, just add more trouble or even a couple more characters. A variety of trouble can really enrich a story.

How do you start a story? Who are my characters? Who is the main characters(s) and where are they getting introduced to the trouble that’s the heart of the story? That intersection is where you start your story. The finish is where the trouble over comes the character or the character overcomes the trouble.

“Story is the process of work through all the trouble.”

4. DECISIONS

The decisions the characters make once the trouble hits. You want characters who are taking charge of their destiny and working hard to solve their problems. The decisions they make should be true to who they are. Sometimes, like in Rudy, the trouble is just something the character really wants.

5. CONSEQUENCES

Trouble comes from decisions and consequences.

Your characters get to make decisions but they don’t get to determine the consequences. YOU determine that. But you have to use your god-like power realistically. If the character gets saved by dumb luck all the time the reader will stop reading and believing.

You owe it to the reader to stay true to the consequences. It’s hard to paint your character into a difficult corner and then to think their way out of it. And sometimes they may fail.

Plot comes from setting up a group of characters, introducing them to a bunch of trouble and then watching them make decisions. Consequences will come which leads to new decisions and consequences. Until, at the end of the day, your character has dealt with all the trouble, big and small.

We want to know, based on the trouble you set up, where did they succeed and where did they fail?

Q & A

Tips on the first draft?

Have faith that you will improve. Have faith that you want to tell stories. Give yourself permission to not be at the same level as your favorite author. You don’t have to step onto the basketball court and be Labron James. For anyone to get good, it’s going to take some lousy drafts.

How do you write characters different from you?

At the heart of characters is creating characters that disagree with how you would live your life.

Try and think of interesting people who have their own reasons for doing things and why they do them. We’re used to going through life thinking as ourselves so this can be hard, to think through different points of views.

How do you stay motivated when everything you put on the page feels like garbage?

If you’re not excited about what you’re writing, it’s almost impossible to say motivated. If it really matters to you, then eventually it will matter to the reader. It’s spending enough time telling stories that you can find what kinds of stories you care about. You also have to give yourself permission to write a lousy first draft.

“A big part of writing is rewriting. Rewriting really is like a super power.”

If you have a story that you feel is worth telling, remember that you have a lot of time to work on telling it and make it better.

How do you come up with complex worlds?

Lots of day dreaming and time. A lot of effort is spent on taking characters to new places.

How do you make trouble and characters complex without losing focus?

It’s a hard line to walk. If you know the characters, their strengths, weaknesses, what they want, and the obstacles that are between them, that will help you not sprawl all over the place.

Where do you start when creating a character?

Sometimes he starts by relating them to someone he knows. Or sometimes he thinks about what he needs in the story. He knows a need he has in the story and creates a character to frustrate someone maybe.

How do you come up with a satisfying and interesting ending?

If you’ve done the work to set it up the reader understands what the character is trying to overcome with the obstacles. If you can surprise the reader, that’s best. The perfect ending is both unpredictable and inevitable.

The Story Corpse with Victoria “V.E.” Schwab

The bones, body, flesh & makeup (or clothes) of building a story.

BONES aka Plot/Outline

Bones are story beats. Sometimes small beats and sometimes big. The bones keep you going.

You don’t have to have them in the right order, you just need to have them all there. You need enough pieces to make a skeleton.

Critical bones:

  1. You need to have the beginning and the end.
  2. Then try and create a line. Starting with the beginning and working towards the ending. Having a good ending will help motivate you and will help with the arc and theme too
  3. Next, think of 10 moments that happen between the beginning and end and add those as bones.

The bones are a way to make sure you have enough material to play with and enough space to grow your character.

Make sure every one of the bones can be summed up in a paragraph.

BODY (Muscle and Tissue) aka the actual draft

Drafting is where we get to add the muscle and tissue.

She puts each of the bones into scrivener and then, when she’s ready to write that part, she pulls it back up. You can use each of these bones as writing prompts to flesh out and add muscle to.

Each chapter should be its own mini arc and story. This gives you an opportunity to think about how to have a start, middle and finish in each chapter.

Voice and tense are important from the start.

FLESH aka all revision except polish

Revisions, or flesh, makes the bones, muscle and tissue a real person.

You can have several rounds of this addressing plot/world building, then characters, then other stuff.

Thinking about the end allows you to meet who your characters want to be and can help you figure out who they should be when you first meet them. You can rewind from there. Assign a character a mantra or motto based on what they fear and want.

Flesh is taking a hard look at the body we’re creating, and comparing it with the story we want to tell.

Check in with what excited us at the beginning and what changed along the way? The middle sags because the middle always sags in a body.

MAKEUP aka prose

This is the prose, word choices, and quality of lines. It’s also where you look at stuff like cadence and rhythm.

This should be done last because otherwise, you can write something beautiful but because you didn’t look at the bones first, you end up having to cut the whole scene and your beautiful writing. Save the flowery language for the end, as a reward to yourself.

“Everything I do, is in an attempt to keep myself from quitting.”

How do you deal with the flabby middle? I refuse to acknowledge it. Have mini rise and falls to deny that middle.

Writing Romance with Renee Ahdieh & Sabaa Tahir

When people should be together but aren’t, there need to be true reasons why they can’t be together. If they’re not together and it’s just a series of misunderstandings, that’s not interesting.

Understand your characters deeply and why they would like each other. What do their histories have in common? Is there something in their past or future that will help them connect? Are they going through something at the same time?

Two steps forward and one step back is key. Let us see their connection but then take that connection away a little to show us their conflict and so we can feel their pain when they’re not together. Give us a thrill when they are together.

Build rich backstories. It’s amazing when the reader realizes that one character has a certain quirk or need that one day the other character will be able to fill.

Pro Tip: Try to have each scene showing the character notice a physical trait and then a deeper, emotional trait.

Pitfalls to avoid:

“When the readers don’t connect with the romantic interest, it’s usually because you, as the writer, decided they would get together but they’re not meant to be together.”

Another issue is when the characters do have chemistry but they have no goals or worlds outside of each other.

When everything is purely physical, this doesn’t work.

The climax of a couple getting together doesn’t have to be a big physical release like a kiss. It can be an emotional release.

Romances that hurt and heal is what you’re shooting for. This means romance is not the answer to everything. The romance must further the plot as much as the plot furthers the romance.

Tropes…

  • Love triangles
  • Enemies to lovers
  • Best friends to lovers
  • Strangers in a new place
  • United for a cause
  • Secret royalty/billionaires
  • Forbidden

Tropes aren’t bad. Just know how they work and think about how you can make them fresh. Find out what your strengths are and use them to your advantage in romance. You have your own style and strengths.

Find a trope you like, and take away what you don’t like. And don’t worry what other people think. People will love tropes and hate them and you can’t please everyone. Take tropes and make them richer.

The reader needs to be invested in your character first to be invested in romance.

Find something you’re passionate about and connected to. Find something that only you can do and offer to the world. That you have the voice to do.

If there’s someone else who can tell the story better than you, don’t do it. Write something that only you can.

Read the opening of someone’s book and try and find the first conflict. Circle the first conflict. Maybe you can cut everything above that and start right there with the conflict. We think the before is necessary background info but you can provide it later.

Ok, folks, that’s it for day one! Again, check out YouTube for the original panels or the ones I missed one. Much more to come on day two panels soon!

Candace signing off to compile the bones for her newest novel.

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