VWC’s Conference – and Subplots

Virginia Writers Club’s annual conference “Navigating the Writing Life”  took place on August 2, 2014.  This year, in response to comments from last year, the conference included a number of morning panels for genre fiction and then afternoon workshops.

For the morning, I attended the short fiction panel.  This was a discussion between Clifford Garstang and Jody Hobbs Hesler on their experiences as editor and writer.  They included some basic things like writing a great story, choosing your markets carefully, and that rejection is not personal.  Clifford talked about the subjective nature of what goes into Prime Number Magazine.  He talked about the need for fresh language or a new setting or a new take on things.  Something that makes the writing and story distinctive.  He also mentioned the need for more nonfiction submissions.

Mystery panelThe second morning panel was “Thrills,  Chills and Murder”  moderated by Phyllis A. “Maggie” Duncan with authors, Mollie Cox Bryan, Austin S. Camacho and Karen Cantwell.  They covered the basics but also spoke on a couple of topics that I don’t normally hear much about.  The pros and cons of writing a series and about using real vs imaginary settings.

For the pros and cons of series, the fact that you know your characters and don’t have to come up with new ones is a positive.  Also, the characters have a chance to change and grow in a series.  Conversely, with the same characters, it is a bit harder not to repeat yourself. Keeping it fresh for your readers is really important.

On setting, Austin talked about setting driving some of the actions of his characters.  For those not familiar with his novels, they are set in Washington D.C.  Austin also talked about the fact that there is additional scrutiny for actual places and that there is less flexibility in being able to have a building like a library somewhere when it’s not.  Unlike the imaginary place where you can just add that in.

Both Karen and Mollie agreed that their novels use setting as an additional character as well.  And Mollie talked about being able to play with ideas of what doesn’t normally happen in a small town such as a neighbor selling drugs or running a brothel.

Mystery WorkshopI attended the afternoon “Let’s Create a Mystery” workshop with Austin S. Camacho and Mollie Cox Bryan.  The group was small and we had the opportunity to each talk a bit about what we are working on.  Then we talked about some of the different types of mysteries.  This was followed up with the essentials of mysteries followed by an exercise of creating a cast of characters and a basic mystery premise.

In the questions part, I asked about subplots which I seem to struggle with.  Mollie talked about making sure there is a balance between plot and subplots.  She also stressed that my critique group could help with that.  Austin raised an interesting point that subplots can interrupt the momentum of action by having characters have to deal with the problem within the subplot.  And that a good subplot is connected to the main plot.  I have always known that the subplot needs to relate to the main plot but hadn’t thought about how it could interrupt the main plot.  It should have been obvious but I’ve been so conscious of trying to weave in the plot that I forgot to look at obvious things like having it help me with the main action.

So, I pose it to you:  What do you use your subplots for?  Any tricks as to how you weave them in or how you use them in relation to the main plot?

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