Notes from Orycon 35, Part One

My notes from OryCon 35 (2013) are a little shorter than usual this year, so rather than one blog post per panel, I'm consolidating posts.

(One meta-comment: There have been a fair number of panels about the future, including one that I was on. In every case, it feels like panelists consistently under-estimate the amount of change I think we'll see in the future. In a panel I attended entitled "300 Years from Now" panelists discussed issues facing us today: water shortages, climate change, global economic divide, etc. while assuming that humans remain much like we are today. In 300 years, I think we'll have gone past those problems, and we'll be dealing with questions of what it means to be human when we're 90% machine and 10% biological.)

Notes from The End of All Things at OryCon 35 - 2013 
Kat Kenyon
Karen Azinger
Nancy Kress
Ru Emerson
Richard A. Lovett
  • What makes a bad ending
    • A scene so preordained the reader anticipated it for 100 pages
    • A climax that happens offstage.
      • This happens before the end, but it's the most important. The very ending is the mopping up.
    • A scene that is obvious.
      • It should seem both inevitable and yet not obvious
  • The book should wrap up on its own terms
    • It should feel satisfying on its own
    • Especially for a first time novelist -- there's no trust that you'll wrap it up later. No guarantee that the next book will come.
  • The inciting incident suggests what the story problem is. And at the climax it should be resolved.
  • The marrying and the burying: this is what comes after the climax.
  • What is the cost of success for the protagonist?
    • it should cost your character something. An emotional cost to the choices they make. 
  • A writer's secret weapon is theme.
    • The reader may or may not be able to articulate it. But if a book has no theme, the reader will say it doesn't work.
    • Both the plot and the ending must involve the theme.
  • An action oriented book will have an action scene for its climax. The reader can see it coming. But there can often be an internal story was well (about the journey of the character, where they are moving to, what their shortcomings are.)
  • Dual arc story:
    • the arc of the situation
    • the arc of the character
    • the situation arc: the events of the story. it must affect the character, or the reader doesn't care.
  • How to construct an ending both surprising and inevitable?
    • Plan for reversals
      • Even if the main story arc isn't very surprising, other things will
      • There are betrayals, a surprise, a mystery.
      • Something that the reader didn't see coming. So some is a surprise, and some seems expected.
    • Plant subtle clues ahead of time.
      • It leads to the sense of "oh, i should have known this was coming."
  • What can go wrong now?
    • Then make it go wrong.
    • Then the character will be forced to change.
  • The choice ending…
    • As the reader progresses, it becomes obvious that the character is going to be forced to choose between two alternatives. Those alternatives become more obvious as the reader reads. But we don't know which they'll choose. The options should be roughly equally weighted.
Notes from One Lump or Two: How much Technology is Too Much?
Richard A. Lovett
Patrick Swenson
Gordon Eklund
Annie Bellet
David W. Goldman
  • How much science in a story for it to be science fiction?
    • RL: None! Science fiction is extrapolation from something. It's based in reality. But it doesn't need to be about science.
    • PS: My stories are about what-if… extrapolation about what we know now into the future. not just science, but our culture and society. But… cool science and cool tech goes a long way. My editor asked me to add more technology into the the early chapters to ground the reader. Happy to do that…required research on my part.
    • GE: Heinlein quote: the perfect science fiction story is a story that, at some point in the future, would just be a contemporary fiction story.
    • RL: Explain enough of the science so that people understand how it works. Work out a lot, but put the minimum necessary in the story.
    • PS: Consulting with (editor? scientist?), asked what was necessary: Don't violate certain principles, and then hand wave the rest.
    • DG: You don't need to explain what we don't know (e.g. how a warp drive would work), but you do need to avoid explaining things in a way that violates what we do know (e.g. faster-than-light travel without special conditions).
    • DG: There are some stories that are about science. They're about a specific scientific idea, and then a story is wrapped around it. But that's the minority of all stories.
    • RL: Lots of research that doesn't go into the book. Had to write a spreadsheet tracking oxygen consumption over 24 hours according to exercise levels of the protagonist. That doesn't go into the book, but its there to make sure the science is right.
  • What makes a story age well or not with respect with technology?
    • The emotional arc of the story.
    • The story has to hold up without the technology.
    • Don't put dates in story, because that really affects how people perceive it.
    • A lot of science fiction written during the cold war is about the soviet union: now it's alternate history.
    • Older science fiction is a time capsule to the future of a different time.
    • Now matter how forward looking science fiction is, it's always a commentary on the time in which it was written.

The Future of Publishing
Mike Shepherd / Moscoe - Traditionally published author
Linn Prentis - Literary Agent in Pacific Northwest
Tod McCoy - 
Liz Gorinsky - Editor at Tor Books
Peter Smalley - Indie published author
Phoebe Kitanidis - Ebook publisher and traditionally published YA author 
  • What are the threats to traditional publishing?
    • LG: The main issue is not ebooks or self-publishing but attention. The number of people buying and finishing books. How do we find and keep and communicate with readers?
      • Reading on screens - notifications pop up, getting an email to watch a youtube video. Many people complain that its harder to finish a novel. People get excited about interactive media on the web.
    • PS: A challenge to traditional publishing is the platform… People have multiple electronic devices and its a chore to move between them. The competition for attention is not just what form of entertainment we want, but the cost of moving to the platform where the books are.
      • MS/M: The counter to that is that if someone recommends a book, I can easily and immediately go buy it. So I'm more likely to buy a book.
  • Is the business changing?
    • LG: Absolutely. The challenge is getting readers in contact with our authors. The main job of editors is not editing. 60-70% of the time in the office is spent figuring out how to get books to readers, anything from managing blurbs to editing meta-data, etc. In the past, getting attention meant getting 12 traditional book reviews. Now it might mean two traditional reviews and fifty blog mentions.

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