Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 14, 2012

My Biggest Takeaway: 2012 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

Every year I talk about my biggest takeaway from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. (I say “every year” as if I have been there more than twice.)

Last year I experienced an epiphany in pitching. This year the pitching had the desired outcome, but was not my biggest takeaway.

Instead, I learned that what I’d thought was my greatest strength as a writer may in fact be my greatest weakness.

A strange confluence occurred at the PWC. I took three 3-day courses: Novel—Character with Jonathan Maberry; Middle Grade/YA with Marie Lamba; and Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasty and Paranormal with Caridad Pineiro. The topics seemed disparate: Character, genre-specific tips, and world-building.

Instead, they ended up talking about the same issue: character.

Obviously, Novel—Character was about character. But Marie Lamba taught us that voice and strong character are the hallmarks of successful MG/YA books. And Caridad Pineiro told us that she figures out her character arcs first, and then builds the world around them, to test the characters to their utmost.

Character is something I always felt confident in writing. I knew my characters. I could write a believable character. A three dimensional character. I prefer character-driven books to plot-driven books, I’ve devoured scores of them—how could I not be a natural at writing character?

Very easily, apparently.

Now, my problems with character did not strike me like lightning at the conference. For months, if not longer, I have felt that somehow, my characters were not what they should be. They were not as alive as they could be. That while they were real for me, they were not for my readers.

I had critiques from different people all saying the same basic thing: “The story is great, but I just didn’t connect to the characters as much as I’d like.”

The conference simply cemented these niggling doubts for me. The character strength I thought I had is actually the weakest part of my writing. I need to figure out why, and how to fix it, because that is what is holding me back from having that story that is truly ready to go out to the public. This lack of connection is the hazy “something” I have sensed lacking in my stories for a long time.

Why hadn’t I noticed this before? Probably because there were so many other areas of writing that I needed to improve. There was a time when my instinctual characters WERE the strongest part of my writing. But that’s not the case anymore. The rest of my writing craft has risen, and the character development has not kept pace—likely because I hadn’t thought it needed work.

Now I know better. I’m not quite sure what the problem is, so I’m not quite sure how to fix it, but I know where to look to get started.

Vibrant, believable, complex characters—that’s what I’m looking to gain from this year’s takeaway.

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Responses

  1. The biggest take away from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference is the importance of networking and making connections. Most of my classes focused on plot development. I made some amazing connections because this time I wasn’t afraid to ask questions!

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