In some ways, WANACon doesn’t count as a field trip in the true sense of the phrase. (Click here to read my “promo” article for WANACon.) It’s an online writing conference you can attend from the comforts of home, someone else’s house, a cafe – wherever you can bring your laptop and find a wifi connection. However, it meant two days of geeking out and investing time and money into learning more about the craft of writing, something I’m more than thrilled to do. I may have been at home and in front of my laptop for much of the time, but in my head I was seated in crowded classrooms and surrounded by other writers who shared my passion and excitement. I took flurries of notes, listened to each presenter with rapt attention, and almost immediately applied what I was learning to my work-in-progress (WIP). In other words, I was far, far away mentally – and I had a blast!
As promised, here’s a summary of my experience at WANACon February 2014. Before I go into the presentations I attended, let me explain how WANACon works.
Getting Around at WANACon
If you sign up for WANACon, you’ll receive an email a few days before the conference begins with important details and log-in instructions. The steps are outlined clearly, with links and passwords provided as necessary. So, no need to worry about “getting lost.”
Once inside WANACon’s virtual classrooms, you’re able to customize the four main widgets: a list of attendees, the presentation slides, a chatbox, and (if used by the presenter) streaming video from the presenter’s webcam. You can make each box as small or as big as you’d like, or minimize it altogether, to view the classroom to your liking. The presentation audio comes through your computer speakers (or earbuds or headphones, depending on what you’re using) well enough, since everyone’s using microphones to speak. However, only the presenters and moderators can use microphones and/or webcams. Attendees are welcome to use the chatbox to ask questions (in ALL CAPS) during the Q&A sessions at the end of each presentations.
The technological aspect of WANACon ran smoothly for the most part. I had no issues with audio, video, or the classroom view. Others did from time to time, including the presenters. That’s why a tech support staff member is available during each presentation to troubleshoot issues anyone may be having. The WANACon moderators are also knowledgeable and willing to give suggestions via chatbox if attendees write that they’re having problems in this area.
What’s great about WANACon is that if you miss any presentations due to conflicts or technological issues, you as an attendee have access to the presentation recordings and additional handouts. I’m not sure how long those recordings and documents are available to users – but having them available after the fact is a huge benefit that WANACon has over in-person conferences. If you miss a presentation at the latter, oh well – nothing you can do about it. At WANACon, it’s about convenience and getting your money’s worth of all kinds of writer-ly information and goodies, and the recordings and handouts accomplish both goals.
The Presentations I Attended
Before the conference began, I reviewed the schedule and decided to attend four presentations, later choosing two more via recording links. Six was a good number; I didn’t want to cram my head with too much information, and I also wanted breaks in between sessions to get away from the computer, eat, etc. Here is a brief summary of all six presentations and what I enjoyed most about each one.
Beyond Basics: How To Write Effective Inner Dialogue
Lisa Hall-Wilson, author and freelance writer
What a great way to kick off my first WANACon! In “Beyond Basics,” Lisa Hall-Wilson explained the purpose and benefits of internal dialogue and how it differs from an internal monologue. She also offered numerous examples as well as tips on how to use internal dialogue to reveal emotion, motivation, or hints of backstory. Lisa’s presentation was not only informative, but well-paced and well-planned. Her slides featured bullet points with key words and phrases, and she elaborated on each one verbally without cramming too much into the session.
Favorite Tip From This Session: If you use both internal dialogue and telepathy / mind-speak in your story, make sure to differentiate between the two stylistically. For example, if you italicize the telepathic thoughts and messages, do nothing for internal dialogue.
Backstory: How Your Hero’s Past Shapes His Future
Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, authors and founders of Writers Helping Writers
I’d found out about WANACon from Angela and Becca’s Writers Helping Writers site back in January. (Fantastic blog for writing tips, by the way – make sure you check it out!) So, I knew I had to return the favor by attending their “Backstory” session. And I loved every minute of it. Angela and Becca tag-teamed this exploration of a character’s personality and history. What is he/she afraid of? How have they been wounded in the past, either physically, emotionally, or psychologically? What are they willing to do to achieve their goals? And that’s only the tip of Angela and Becca’s “Backstory” iceberg. Both ladies are so knowledgeable in the art of character development, and it showed through with their examples and elaborations on each key point. They also gave away free copies of their newest books, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. What writer doesn’t love a book giveaway? 🙂
Favorite Tip From This Session: Try to avoid using backstory in your first chapter, unless it’s imperative in what you’re trying to accomplish.
KEYNOTE: Creating Compelling Scenes and Characters
Shirley Jump, best-selling romance author
Shirley Jump paired two essential elements of storytelling for her WANACon keynote session, “Creating Compelling Scenes and Characters.” She first focused on developing scenes, including the various parts of a scene, twists and conflict, and author and character goals for each scene. Then she talked about how to characters compelling by layering their pasts (i.e., backstory!) and giving them tough moral choices and other complications. I really enjoyed how Shirley treated her presentation with the same mentality she brings to her writing: Making sure every word counts. She used the same method as Lisa Hall Wilson, with bulleted key points, clear examples, and effective pacing. The hour-long class flew by as a result – but boy did we learn a lot from Shirley during that time!
Favorite Tip From This Session: Make sure your character (or at least one of your characters) has a goal that they’re trying to achieve in each scene.
Jumping Into Bed Between Explosions and a Firestorm of Bullets
Sandra Brannan, mystery/thriller author
Doesn’t that title grab your attention? It did for me! Author Sandra Brannan used “Jumping Into Bed…” to explain how romance can fit into any genre of literature. While she emphasized her area of expertise (mystery / thriller / suspense), her model easily applies to other realms such as fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. What made Sandra’s session unique compared to others I’d attended during WANACon were her use of statistics (regarding the publishing industry and agent acceptances) and her desire to “break web-conference rules.” By the latter, I mean that she asked the WANACon moderator to let other attending authors to speak about their experiences with weaving romance into their other-genre works. Doing this allowed Sandra to broaden the scope of her discussion and made the session more interactive in a controlled manner.
Favorite Tip From This Session: Add romantic conflict to your story by giving your reader questions they’ll crave answers for. Will the couple end up together? Or will they be pulled apart by external circumstances – or conflicts between the lovers themselves?
7 Steps to a Stronger Love Story
Gabriela Pereira, writer and founder of DIY MFA
Like with Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of Writers Helping Writers, I was already familiar with Gabriela Pereira and her site DIY MFA before WANACon. So I made a point of attending Gabriela’s presentation, “7 Steps To A Stronger Love Story.” While the title was misleading, as there was very little discussion on the love story topic itself, this session illuminated the overall importance of character development, plot-planning, and satisfying the reader as well as yourself. Gabriela also spent a large chunk of time on the roles and significance of “the supporting cast,” or more commonly known as secondary characters. She later ended her main presentation by honing in on a vital quality all writers must possess: courage. According to Gabriela, writers need courage to venture outside their comfort zone, tackle emotionally charged scenes, and consider sacrificing what they love most about their story to help it reach its full potential. I couldn’t agree more with her on that point.
Favorite Tip From This Session: Why call secondary characters a “supporting cast”? If you think about it, each character is the protagonist of their own story, with all other characters in their lives or appearing in the novel supporting the story in some manner. Therefore, no one is really a secondary character.
Twitter For Introverts
Jami Gold, paranormal author
Being both an introvert and a newbie to Twitter, I figured I could use Jami Gold’s advice on how to get the most out of this social platform. On “Twitter For Introverts,” she covered the basics of Twitter, from word counts and following to hashtags and retweets. Jami then focused on how to connect with new friends and potential readers and offered suggestions on Twitter etiquette. Some of her tips were common sense – and it never hurts to reiterate common-sense points – but others could have come only from someone who truly knows the details and subtleties of this site. The balance Jami struck here was a crucial part of her session, and proves she really is an Twitter expert. (I did try thinking of a neat catch-phrase there, but “Twitterpert” and “Tweetpert” both sound weird!)
Favorite Tip From This Session: If you use TweetDeck or other Twitter clients, you have the ability to edit a retweet so you can add your opinion or change the hashtags. Twitter doesn’t offer the same flexibility.
If you have the opportunity to attend WANACon in the future, I can’t recommend it enough! Click here to visit WANA International’s website and learn more about their upcoming online classes.
Coming Soon: Apart from tomorrow’s Mini-Review Monday on Within Temptation’s Hydra, I should have a new installment of “Chronicling The Craft” online soon! I just passed the 45,000-word mark this past Saturday. 😀