What Do You Want?

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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Okay, guys, I’m going to cheat a little today.  But it’s all in the name of making you happy!  I’ve been asked to appear at some upcoming cons (one of the really fun aspects of a writer’s life!) and of course, I have to help by making suggestions for panels.  Normally I can come up with a half-dozen or so reasonably good ideas, but I suddenly found myself worrying that we’re repeating the same old panels over and over.  I know we can always talk about “Strong Female Characters” or “How To Approach An Agent” and hopefully reach a few people who haven’t seen that panel a hundred times, but maybe there are other subjects we’ve neglected. 

Normally the blog is about bringing information to you, the readers, but today I’m asking for your help.  Are there any panel ideas you’ve always wished would turn up at a con?  Any writing subjects that we’ve somehow let slip past us?  Old familiar panel ideas that can be twisted in new and exciting directions?  Even if they sound crazy, I want to hear your thoughts.  Some of the best panels I’ve ever participated in were born out of silly ideas that grew into great things.  So fling me a few suggestions, and let’s see what happens. 

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15 comments to What Do You Want?

  • Ken

    How about “What makes a great character?”

    Who do you love (or love to hate) and what is it that makes them that way?

  • sagablessed

    How about ‘BIC: Ways to get your writing done’? Like discipline.
    Or, ‘Fear of failure: it’s not the end of the world’? Ways to encourage yourself.
    Last: ‘Dialogue in novels: for heaven’s sake, listen’?

    I mean, I go to places teens and college kids congregate to listen to how they speak. It is research. If you write a YA/teen book, but your dialogue is from the 50′s, it will not resonate with the target audience. Likewise, if a chracter is a doctor, and he is speaking of quatum mechanics….book fail of epic proportions. Research is required. This can be applied to sub-sets of groups as well.

    OK, this could become a doctoral thesis. Going away now.

  • sagablessed

    Sorry for mis-spellings. Dog on lap, lol.

  • Monsters as Heroes, Heroes as Monsters – Probably already done, but there are a number of novels out with monsters as the good guys, and Piers Anthony had Xanth, where at times monsters were the good guys, like Bash the Ogre. Then there’s movies Shrek, the Goblin Quest novels from Jim C. Hines, and others. I’m writing a monster hero myself. Dunno what all the panel could entail, making the character work, dealing with prejudice, dealing with odd eating habits, getting to know your monster, etc. Who knows.

    Then on the flipside, are heroes as monsters. Either heroes that work with an ends justify the means attitude (Elric, as example), or people that others in the book see as the good guy that’s really the villain of the piece (more like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast). Humans that are the villain against your monster hero, as well. Again, not sure how to spin it. Maybe how to make these guys (or girls) dark or downright evil while still making it seem as though they and others feel they are in the right.

    Just a thought.

    Oh, here’s another! How to keep up with house chores when you’re a writer and you can’t afford a maid. ;) How to explain to relatives and guests that the mess is only temporary until you get through the first draft. ;)

    Inspiration in Interesting Places – Places one might not think of where inspiration might strike. And the strangest place you’ve had inspiration strike.

    Stay on Target, Stay on Target! – ways to keep motivated and stay focused despite daily distractions, occasional setbacks, bad news, and those pesky bill collectors. ;)

  • What about a panel examining taboo or supposedly taboo subjects? Should they be taboo? Why or why not?

    eg. Rape. The oldest of my little sisters has complained to me often about the frequency of rape occurring in the fantasy novels she reads. She hates it, and doesn’t understand why it keeps popping up. Especially when the main character winds up getting together with her rapist (apparently this has happened more than once). She asks me why and I don’t have an answer for her.

    And on the flip side, what about the formerly “taboo” subjects thankfully becoming more widely acceptable, eg. LGBTQ fiction, or more importantly, LGBTQ characters in mainstream fiction?

    Tricky subjects, perhaps, but they’re worth looking at. Will try to think of other topics, too.

  • Adding to Laura’s, researching LGBTQ tastefully if one of your characters is any of those, but you are not, and portraying it tastefully as well. I did a ton of research on, just as example, Vodou, Dahomean Vodou, for use in the RPG supplement I did (and this also works for another suggestion below), for the specific purpose that I did NOT want stereotypical Hollywood Voodoo (though my editor did). I think it was the most research I did in the book, more so than even ships and combat at sea…which is saying something. I wanted to be as true to the religion as possible, while still making it fun to play. Some might say that only another person of the same persuasion can write about it, but there are more and more successful men out there writing female characters and vice versa. If you are a hetero, how do you go about putting LGBTQ characters into your works and doing it so that it’s not a cliche? Honestly, there’s nothing I hate more than when I find a stereotype in a book. It’s annoying.

    Also,

    Getting your religion right!!! Even if it’s a fantasy religion loosely based on Greek and Norse religion mashed together with a smattering of Chinese-esque dragons for good measure… Yeah, research. But I’m sure this gang can make it a cool panel. ;)

  • I really enjoy the workshop panels, and it doesn’t have to be two hours, but maybe getting folks who want to write, writing. The very first ConCarolinas I went to, Faith (and I think Misty and David were on the panel, too, but I can’t remember because you guys are ofen on panels together) did a tag-line/log line/ first line brief workshop. It was very useful. I had no idea what I was doing in terms of writing, and that helped by making me do something I’ve never done before. Now I’ve written several of those, but you know, an exercise on a first paragraph, even with an assigned topic (Ed, Alan Wold, and James Maxy did one one year that was like that, but that was a 2 hour workshop). Just brief things where we try it, share with other people (if not the whole room) and maybe a couple of the authors do it too. Sort of like improve “give us a character, a place, and a conflict” and then everyone writes a first paragraph, or line, or something. I find things like that–concrete, making the muscles work panels–do even more to make me enthusiastic. (And I’m always enthusiastic about writing after cons!)

  • The Bechdel test for books. Alison has this wonderful test for movies to see how they represent women. A panel on this for women characters in books would be, if nothing else, very telling.
    This is the url for the movie list:
    http://bechdeltest.com/

    Bechdel Test

    1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
    2. Who talk to each other (ammended – for at least 2 minutes)
    3. About something besides a man

  • Saga, I love the idea of the dialogue panel. I know I hate when Southern characters in books use goofy phrases that dropped out of common parlance a century ago. Thanks!

    Laura, that would be an awesome panel topic. Have you seen Seanan McGuire’s recent LJ post? In it she talks about a reader complaining that her fiction was unrealistic because none of her characters had been raped. I’m going to have to work on this one, because I agree with you that talking about taboo subjects is important.

    Daniel, I know what you mean about the difference between real and Hollywood voudou – I grew up in the Lowcountry and went to school with kids whose grandfathers were houngans and could cast roots on people who pissed them off. Hollywood wants us to think it’s all groaning zombies and naked women dancing wildly and flinging chicken blood at each other, when it’s far deeper, richer, and possibly terrifying than Hollywood could ever dream of.

    Y’all, these are some wonderful ideas and I’ll do my best to make sure they make it onto programming at the next cons!

  • Misty – Yep, I saw it last week, which between that and a phone call from said sister (who’s studying Nursing in the far north) it was fresh in my mind. Great post, that. I’ve already promised my sister that I am not putting rape front and centre in any of my books.

  • Ooooh, I just had a thought. I’m headed to SIWC next weekend. One event that happens every year is “SIWC Idol”. Writers can submit the first three pages. Someone with a delightful accent reads them out (up here, it’s Jack Whyte with his Scottish brogue) and a panel of agents (but it doesn’t have to be agents) listens until one of them says “STOP!” and explains why they would reject it. It’s a great way to find out if your opening really works, and if not, why not. So much fun!

  • Laura, “Idol” sounds like a marvelous idea! Definitely putting that one in the list.

  • I’m always up for a good LGBTQ characters in fantasy panel, and in historicals too. I didn’t realize how used to not having them I’d become until I was back reading Tamora Pierce and ran straight into a wonderfully depicted trans character, and then ran into reviews absolutely enraged about the idea of depicting anything slightly queer in a positive fashion, as if the only okay way to have queerness was as villains or victims who deserved it. Yuck. Yuck.

    And the rape thing is really horrible. I was editing a manuscript as a favor once, and in the first 20 pages the female MC wandered into ye old fantasy tavern, and got raped, clearly with the intent of her becoming pregnant to produce Powerful Heir TM, and I was like, ok, hell no. I am not reading any more of this. NB: Hugely unfortunate plot device: Avoid! Avoid!

    To keep this comment on the sex spectrum, another thing that has been frustrating lately is the idea of applying poorly thought out stereotyped social mores to your fantasy world. If, say, your fantasy world has legal, institutionalized prostitution that allows its courtesans to be wealthy and well protected, the social attitudes are going to be a little different than if you have illegal prostitution that occurs on street corners and doesn’t provide protection for the girls. I was just reading about the late 19th early 20th centuries and how wives couldn’t go to restaurants or the theatre for fear of being mistaken for mistresses. It really made me think, if you had a choice between being someone’s wife, staying stuck at home, keeping on top of the budget, and providing regular sex, or being someone’s mistress, getting to go out, getting to be supported, and providing regular sex, which one sounds like more fun? (One has a better pension program, but really, who worries about that when you’re 16?)
    Basically, I mean it would be interesting to talk about world building in terms of ‘how do the economic institutions of your fantasy world influence its social mores?’ Or, you know, something more catchy than that.

  • Razziecat

    I really like Cara’s idea. Too often, even in well-written fantasies, the social mores are the same as ours. I’d like to see a panel on why we, as writers, so often fall back on these stereotypes. Is it because it’s easier? Because it’s more accepted by editors and readers? Do we feel the social structure of our fantasy worlds is just “background noise” and is less important than the plot and the characters? Is it because we are uncomfortable with things that are different from our own lives/ experiences, or because we don’t feel “qualified” to explore these areas? Some examples of common stereotypes could include: MC as thief and/or assassin; MC as reluctant or failed wizard; female MC as prostitute or rape victim; MC as adherent of noble god fighting devotees of evil goddess; MC as disguised prince/king/ or princess/queen. Note that none of these is bad in and of itself: We just tend to fall back on them often, and I’m curious as to why.

  • Cara, I’m reminded of how well Joss Whedon’s character Inara. Companionship was a respected profession that served to open doors for the crew of Serenity, and the only reason Mal didn’t like it was his unadmitted love for Inara combined with his dislike of sharing. Remember the end of ‘Shindig’? Inara tells the dandy that he’s being blackballed by the Companion Registry for his behavior. It’s pretty different than the world we live in, where sex workers have to put up with abuse just to make enough money to eat.

    In other words, great suggestion!

    Razzie, I agree, a panel on why we depend on stereotypes would be very interesting. I just finished a great book featuring a MC who used to be a member of a religious sect that worked as assassins in the name of justice. Their goddess would send them to kill whomever she deemed guilty. Their target was free to guard himself as best he could, but if the assassin managed to get through the defenses, the death was seen as justified. Very different, and made for an excellent read. I’m hoping to have the author here as a guest soon.