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Wordstock 2011: Day One

October 9, 2011 by Kiersi

Oct. 8, 2011 – Wordstock practically has its own flavor. When you walk in the doors of the Oregon Convention Center on that crisp Saturday morning in early October, the air tastes like Wordstock. It’s a mix of musky book pages and unwashed masses, authors in sweatshirts and smiling volunteers. It’s a place where the lovers of fiction, writers and readers alike, gather to celebrate the written word.

Workshop 1: Kicking Butt & Chewing Bubble Gum: Writing for Teenage Boys (David Walker)

There isn’t an audience out there with a mightier distaste for reading than teenage boys. I know this not because David told me; but because I was once a teenage girl with more male friends than thread count in my sheets.

I won’t bore you with what David told me; I’ll just tell you what I took away from it.

1. Pandering. We have to get boys to read, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make them read. If that involves merciless pandering to the things boys like, then so be it. Authors writing for teenage boys have to compete with Halo and WoW. That’s a pretty harsh mistress. Don’t they say that with the greatest constraints come the greatest works of art?

2. Sexy sexy sexy sexy. Much like the point about pandering, what does pandering involve when writing a book a teenage boy would be willing to read? Action. Violence. Sex. Videogames. Let’s be frank and not beat around the bush on this: those car-chase movies with explosions and Angelina Jolie? That’s the book you want to write if your audience is teenage boys.

3. Lose the Twilight. No romance. No dreamy eyes. Love interest? Yes. Soppy gooey emotional drama? No. Let’s settle somewhere in-between.

4. Short. Then shorter. The biggest complaint David told us he received from high school-aged boys about books is that they are too long. This may sound crazy to you, but David’s suggestions were brilliant. Besides just making your book shorter overall, you can embrace the short attention span with short chapters, short paragraphs, and short sentences. This keeps the action going (key) and lets the reader feel accomplished for reading two chapters in one sitting.

5. Non-stop. Don’t ever let the action stop. As soon as the story slows down, you’ve lost your reader. Remember who your competition is? Halo. World of Warcraft. Internet porn. Big shoes to fill.

Like all Wordstocks past and present, I came away from this seminar not just with new knowledge, but a new purpose. Writing for a specific audience is how I finally finished my first real novel, Fire & Brimstone. It was the challenge of the thing that pushed me towards completion.

So, naturally, my new purpose is to write a book for teenage boys. Mainly because I’m not one, and have never been one, so it will be one of the biggest writing challenges I’ve undertaken yet. If you’re curious, you can read the beginning of Infestation.

Workshop 2: How to Write HOT Sex Scenes Without Even Blushing! (Steve Almond)

I had the amazing opportunity of attending a seminar with Steve Almond on Friday, thanks to my dear friend Eden who couldn’t make the seminar she’d already paid for due to Wordstock preparations. I brought the first 500 words of The School Under the Mountain so he could tear it apart in front of thirty other people (it’s my worst work).

I totally loved Steve. He’s frank and eloquent and snarky and brilliant. He wears a sweatshirts with liberal quotations on them and talks clearly, and is never rude. He made a girl cry at the seminar but it was totally unintentional, and she came out of the experience with the newfound ability to accept criticism from someone famous.

Saturday’s workshop (two doses of Steve in one weekend) was entertaining at the very least, and definitely educational. We talked about how sex is an awkward thing that people like to pretend isn’t a part of their real lives, when really, it is. If you are a writer that aspires to capture life and its essence, intimacy will likely feature at some point in your story, and you’ll need the tools to show that intimacy without blushing or feeling awkward or making (this would be the worst-case scenario) your reader feel awkward.

How did Steve get us thinking about those deep, tender, emotional and physical connections we make with other human beings? He read a sample of some terrible, awful, must-have-been-fake (I sure hope it was fake) sex scenery. It was truly horrendous. Gut-bustingly horrendous. You could barely hear him read over the guffawing crowd. Then, he asked us to try it for ourselves.

Write something so awkward and terrible and raunchy that it would make your grandmother spit out her teeth.

We did it, of course. I won’t share, because the vignette I composed was truly that bad.

Steve disassembled each terrible piece of writing and found the real emotional tendernesses buried in them. Real things that real people do in real life, emotions we’ve all felt, experiences we’ve all had that bring to life what you write. How a feeling or an action can be expressed with mere thoughts, with sentence shape, with word choice.

It made me remember being a kid and learning that there was a possibility my parents did that kind of thing. I was horrified, to say the least. If only I’d seen it in that way, instead of seeing it on a projector screen (presented by my stinky, older male gym teacher), I might have had a less traumatizing childhood.

Overall, a successful day at Wordstock 2011.

1 Comment »

  1. […] section. Act I is the foundation of your story; establish character and world here. I learned at Steve Almond’s seminar last Friday that while we (as writers) might like to keep our readers in the dark, intentionally confuse them […]

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