Fiction Unboxed Summit: How it worked

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Yesterday I showed you photos of my weekend in Austin; today more specifics (especially for those of you thinking about going to the spring Colonists event).

Please note (of course) that the spring event WILL be different simply by nature of the fact that there will be more people and the broad world story strokes will already have been established.

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A month before the event, we had a Google+ call when all 5 attendees and all 3 hosts jumped online to ‘meet’ each other, talk about the weekend, and more. That was extremely helpful! Partly for establishing a base of what we all wanted to get out of the weekend, but mostly (for me) for diffusing a little of the anxiety in meeting new people (I am such an introvert).

Then a week before the event, we got a 12-ish page pdf with a very rough agenda for the weekend. We were mostly planning on directed brainstorming about our individual stories, but also about character arcs, marketing, pre-production and other what-you-need-to-publish concepts.

However, once we all got there and got started, we did not stick to the agenda too rigidly. For starters, we all happened to get together in the hotel bar the Friday night before, so we got our proper introductions out of the way then.

We also did not do any real ‘breakout sessions’ where Johnny, Sean and Dave worked with anyone individually. There wasn’t really a big need, since there were only 5 attendees. For example, the agenda set aside an hour and a half to talk about series and serials…. but 4 of the 5 of us were planning on writing a series anyway, and the 5th was thinking about a serial instead of series. There was no real cause to spend that long discussing it.

I will say that I did NOT leave the Summit with a completed outline as I had hoped to, but A) I’m not certain that would have occurred with an hour of one-on-one attention from Sean or anyone. And B ) I think the bigger world brainstorming we did was far more helpful to more people, and I’m not going to be selfish about it. Plus, on the flip side, I 100% feel like I can email them in a month or two and just run over some of the story plans/problems I might have if applicable (I plan on doing that anyway, since my series is going to take place ~20 years before The Dream Engine in Alterra, so I want to make sure tiny details match).

Instead, we as a group brainstormed big world events, how they would effect The Dream Engine story in books 2, 3 and 4, how those events intersect with other events in the world (that Garrett and other authors will be writing about). We came up with a map and some basics of inside-Alterra (which helped me a lot) and we came up with some world-rules that I think will help other writers a lot.

I feel like without the rigid schedule, we were able to relax, be ourselves more and become better friends. I love this video from Monica – about the humor and personalities at the Summit

Again, I’m sure the spring event will be different. I would assume simply because of the number of people (about 5x as many attendees if it sells out), there will be a distinct need for more structure. If I were guessing (or if I were planning) I would say the Colonists summit would include more structured teaching, and small groups for brainstorming.

I was *definitely* aided by having a rough premise/story idea. Two of the attendees came with a story idea and changed partway through the weekend, and I’m sure that will work for them too. But for me (I am a planner), I loved having my basic idea and just figuring out details with Sean, Johnny and Dave.

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To be honest, the biggest surprise of the weekend was how un-teacher-like Johnny, Sean and Dave were. They totally have that ability (and again, I’m sure it will come out at the Colonists Summit), but that is not what this weekend was about. It was much more of a mastermind, brainstorming, shared ideas, being open to being wrong and collaborative. As an example (and I’m sure you will hear about it on a future SPP episode)  I know for certain that one of the ideas I came to the Summit with Johnny is excited to weave in to future Dream Engine books.

So gratifying.

I had never worked on fiction collaboratively — other than asking my husband if my ideas were ok. Obviously he says yes :) But in all seriousness, when I was brainstorming ideas for a series in this world (over the summer), I was tentatively thinking about a Ruddermouth story, because they travel a lot and I thought it would be a fun adventure and excuse to travel all over Alterra. But, then I started editing short stories for an upcoming anthology and there were several (very different) Ruddermouth stories, so I started to rethink it.

I just didn’t want to have to worry too much about making sure my Ruddermouth matches someone else’s Ruddermouth if another attendee came with a similar idea.

As it happened, there was no reason for me to worry. Of the 5 attendees, 3 of us are writing outside of Alterra altogether. Monica and I (and Dave, I believe) are writing IN Alterra, but nothing really overlapping. It worked out perfectly. There was no worry about anyone ‘stealing’ ideas because we just had a bunch of moving pieces that we could make fit together however we wanted.

As I mentioned above, I came to Austin with an idea about how the Ministry of Decorum works that will feature heavily in my books, but that Sean and Johnny can weave in behind the scenes in their books. Dave was the only one who even joked about ‘don’t steal my ideas’ … but since everyone there is/wants to be professional writers, to be honest we all have plenty of ideas of our own.

In fact, I was more concerned about stealing my own ideas than I was about anyone else stealing them (I have an idea for another series that is percolating and my main character was starting to look a little similar).

If we didn’t have the open collaboration (again, hours and hours of broad world building), we would not have been able to come up with some of the fantastic ideas that are growing. One of the attendees came with an idea for a story set in Africa, and the bones of that informed the ideas for 2 other attendees. The basic plots of Dream Engine 2 and 3 helped shaped the plot of Garrett’s series that is happening on the clear other side of the world and has no overlap.

The creative work that we did as a group could not have occurred without the open brainstorming. The entire world would look different, and likely not be as rich, if Sean and Johnny had tried to come up with all of this themselves.

I could not be more excited to read all the books the other attendees are writing! I would definitely recommend attending the Colonists Summit in the spring if only for the exposure and access to the brainstorming. I love meeting smart people and being in a whole room of them was amazing!

What I am working on:

My young adult series will take place ~20 years prior to The Dream Engine and it is about a boarding school training future employees of the Ministry of Decorum. Totally cliche YA, which I love. You’ve got the recognizable elements of fish-out-of-water main character, but with all the specific details to Alterra. I actually think hanging my story on such a common structure will help bring in more readers who may not love The Dream Engine for various reasons, but can get behind the world as a whole.

Right now it is tentatively 7 books long, and inspired by books like Etiquette & Espionage, Little Women, Lemony Snicket and others. If you have any other steampunk, YA or Victorian-era books you think I should read by all means leave them in the comments!

Over the week+ since the Summit, I have been ‘location scouting,’ collecting inspiration for fashion and other details for the school on a (currently private) Pinterest board. I have been thinking about the overall series conflict, and my book 1 conflict, and I have started writing already. It’s amazing what you can discover just by starting.

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I have a rough idea of what happens in all the books (more so in books 6 and 7), and am about ~8,000 words into the first draft of the first book. Once I get farther I will know what questions I need to clarify with Johnny and Sean. Once I get to the end of book 1 I will have a better idea for books 2 and 3.

I am planning on going to the Colonists Summit if I can, just for the experience of collaborative brainstorming again. I would be honored if someone read my book 1 and decided they wanted to write their own book around the boarding school, and I think meeting in person with those kinds of people would be so beneficial for me.

One more post tomorrow about the Summit. Mostly just a glowing review.

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