What I Learned at RWA National 2011

From Erin Quinn‘s “Set It in Emotion” workshop, a great method for brainstorming descriptions, particularly descriptions of settings. You put the POV character’s dominant emotion in the center of a circle, then brainstorm words that fit with that emotion. Then you use the brainstormed words as you write the description of the setting that the POV character is in. A-ha moment for me: The goal of good description isn’t just to capture what the five senses are taking in; it’s to capture what the emotional state of the POV character is doing to filter those experiences.

From Roxanne St. Claire‘s “How Do You Mend a Broken Scene?” workshop, a whole new and much improved attitude towards revising. Ms. St. Claire took five different scenes, A & B versions, and showed how careful revision could make them–and the book–much stronger. A-ha moment for me: If there’s something wrong with the book, you fix it by finding the scene where you’ve first gone wrong and making the tough fix there–everything else falls into place from there.

From Michael Hauge‘s “Uniting Plot Structure and Character Arc” workshop, all the missing vocabulary from my understanding of structure. He explained six-part structure and how it works for both plot (and external conflict) and character (and internal conflict). I’d managed to glean all the essentials of what he was saying by reading 160 romance novels in one year, but it was a huge relief to have him put names to everything I had only intuitively known. A-ha moment for me: When Hauge noted that today’s contemporary romances frequently lack a first “setup” section because readers like to cut to the inciting incident (usually the meet scene).

From Megan Coakley, Kimberly Savage, and Ellen Price, that a conference is only as good as the great people you hang out with. One of us needed help finishing a book. One needed help keepin’ on keeping on with a discouraging pitch-and-query process. One needed a reminder that yes, she IS a writer. And one needed a self-confidence boost about talking about herself and her work. We all got it. Ah-ha moment for me: Nothing beats a hug *right* before and *right* after a pitch session.