One thing I adore about writing conferences is that I always get the BEST ideas from the workshop homework.
This year, I chose three workshops to work on Neeta Lyffe II: I Left My Brains in San Francisco--Real-world worldbuilding and Obviously, God has a sense of humor, both done by my good friend Walt Staples; and Structuring characters, by Tanya Stowe.
What I loved about each of these (and the others I took) was that they gave just a little bit of theory, some practical examples, then presented a challenge for me to apply the ideas to my own work.
In the worldbuilding, we examined different aspects of creating a fictional world based on reality: doing research, seeing the world through your characters eyes and creating characters that are a natural result of your world. I already knew my world pretty well from Neeta Lyffe, but not only did this give me a chance to apply it to San Francisco (and to determine where I need more research), I also came up with some funny ideas--like the Ninja Monkey Dance! (It "was" all the rage in the early 2020s.) I also rounded out where the zombie invasion will come from, and came up with a couple of minor characters. Here's one.
Chenille: A student at ArtsInstitute-San Francisco, Chenille is into environmental art. She's a fangirl of Hollister Grant, the scientific "genius" behind the Global Fattening theory, which says that climate destabilization is not caused by warming or cooling but by the uneven distribution of the human population due to rampant urbanization. When Grant returns as a zombie (which Neeta re-kills), Chenille's deepest desire is fulfilled when Ted affirms that yes, the fish had indeed nibbled at his corpse, before he returned to shore.
In humor, Walt explained some of the basic conventions of humor--slice of life, the double-take, the change-up pitch, the build and pop--and challenged us to write something for each. I'd never dissected humor before, and Walt is as funny in his lectures as in his stories. Here's my "final exam":
When they entered the trade show floor, Ted grabbed Neeta's forearm. "Rule One of trade shows," he instructed. "Always stop first and take it allllll in."
Neeta made a visual sweep of the floor. Dark fabric on piped made booths where entrepreneurs demonstrated and sold the tool of her trade, some with flat-screens playing videos to show their superior effectiveness. This year, the cleaning products and containers dominated the row farthest away from the food court; at least their complaints had paid off. Nothing like trying to enjoy the convention center's clam chowder with someone spraying chlorine bleach from a supersoaker only a dozen feet away. That aisle had been reserved for protective equipment: rubber boots and biohazard suits, gloves and motorcycle helmets. Vendors selling the more practical equipment took up the middle. Swords and chainsaws, and…was that a lirpa? Every year, he brings a few of those, and every year some Star Trek fan figures if he can't use it at work, at least it will look impressive on his wall.
To the back, they saw a spout of flame and heard a shout, but the sprinklers didn't go off. Someone must have gotten to the extinguishers in time. The flamethrower guys usually knew what they were doing.
And, of course, sticking out like a guilded thumb, a stage for Zombie Death Extreme. Saturday, she was going to have spend half the day there schmoozing people in the name of a contract she only signed to get out of debt last year.
She shrugged. Looked like any other zombie exterminator trade show her mom had dragged her through as a kid, but when she looked at Ted, she saw his eyes glowing like it was Christmas.
"So?" he asked. "Monofilament swords first, or the flamethrowers?"
"Remember our budget?" she said.
"Hey, a guy can dream!"
I never took a creative writing course, so Tanya's information was wonderfully new to me--about the character arc, the "dark moment" every protagonist must have, relationship barriers, tangible objectives... I must admit, it was so late at night when I did that assignment, I read it as "tangible OBJECT" and was rather confused until the next lesson. Tanya also patiently led me through several tries in pinning some of this down, as a result of which, I understand my "love triangle" of Neeta, Ted and Marcel a lot better. I came up with a fun scene where they are at a convention dance, and Marcel tries to woo Neeta on the dance floor and does a pretty fair job of it, but Ted steps in and wins her over with--you guess it!--the Ninja Monkey.
A fun advantage of this was that I showed my family the Ninja Monkey. My husband danced it with me, and my daughter just stared and shrugged. "And my friends wonder where I get it."
The CWCO is done for a year, and I can't say I'm not relieved--it's a lot of work--but I'm so grateful for the wonderful presenters and the opportunity to build up my book. If you have a chance to attend a conference, online or live, then I highly encourage it!