Today, I tired a new experience and attended a one-day writers' workshop sponsored by the Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA). There were approximately 75 women in the room - and me. As the only man present, I started to blog that I 'stepped outside of my comfort zone', but that would be untrue. Having worked most of my life in the healthcare industry (which is predominately female) I'm very comfortable around women. I was not "drowning in an estrogen sea" as one attendee put it. I do, however, have some observations.
- As the only man in the room, I was an oddity. Several women cast sideways glances my direction as if I might be lost, or had mistaken the Holiday Inn ballroom for a gentlemen's club.
- I dislike standing out. A friend of mine from DFWWW, Carolyn Williamson, was kind enough to save me a seat - right up front where my big ole broad-shouldered, former football tackle self could block the view of 99% of the ladies sitting behind me. Carolyn assured me I was not in anyone's way, but for the longest I felt conspicuous. To say I'm a back-row joe is putting it lightly. At no time in my educational career did I ever sit at the front of the classroom. I made my A's and B's from the back, thank you very much. Of course, I could have moved, but didn't because Carolyn had been so nice to think of me, and the other tables in the room were full.
- The most frequently asked question of me was "So, Kyle, what type of romance do you write?" I would laugh and respond "I don't, but I believe all stories should have some romantic elements."
- When DARA advertised a 'Continental Breakfast' they didn't mean some donuts a member picked up on the way over. They were serious. We had muffins and fruit and pastries and scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and bacon and sausage and juice and coffee. These ladies know how to provide a Texas-sized-stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. Lunch was even better with a similar astonishing array of choices, plus the best cake I've eaten in a long time (I wish now I had had a second piece). And hot cookies for an afternoon snack. I was good and didn't have a cookie despite some teasing from my fellow tablemates.
- Romance writers know their craft. During the presentation (more on that next) we were asked to preform some quick writing exercises and to share our work with the room.* We normally had 5-10 minutes to complete the task. As writers volunteered to read their efforts, the quality they had produced in such a short time amazed me. Many were as polished as if the author had spent months wordsmithing instead of mere minutes. I've always said the Romance Writers of America offers the best educational opportunities of any professional organization.
- Your protag, villain and suspects - basically every main character - need a secrete. Some piece of backstory (not dumped, of course) that isn't quickly answered and keeps readers turning the page.
- Don't let suspense go on for too long. The reader will grow numb. (I am bad about non-stop action that never gives the reader a moment to take a breath. Gotta fix that.)
- The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz were used as an example of an item that all major characters wanted but only one of them could have. This was a new concept I had not heard before. It adds tension to a story and should be an item from the protag's past so its even more significant.
- Sensory details are a good way to build tension (yeah! I believe I do these well based on feedback at DFWWW).
- It's okay to call writing a pain in the ass and not to claim you 'love' the process. Simply put, writing is hard work. Some days the words flow. Other days its like pulling mental teeth.
In summary, I'm glad I tried this new experience. I had an enjoyable time and learned a lot. DARA is a terrific organization full of talented writers. Hallie Ephron provided solid instruction that gave me insight into writing mysteries. As an additionally bonus, some of her advice may help me fix a few trouble areas in my WIP steampunk novel.
What about you? Ever step outside your comfort zone and try something new? If yes, what effect did it have on your writing?
* Did I share my writing? Not back-row Kyle. I'm happy to listen to other, braver writers read their efforts.