1. Rechan
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    Rechan Member

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    Conducting a Writing Panel: What to Cover?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rechan, Aug 9, 2010.

    A small niche convention I'm going to attend has no panels on writing, so I volunteered to conduct at least a panel. I have been published (in fact I have a novella coming out), I've been to quite a number of panels, co-hosted a panel, and for the last few months I've been reading a lot of book son writing. So I can at least try to run my mouth a bit.

    The first panel I've thought of is simply: Writing Short Fiction.

    What I want to do is 90 minutes, split between "lecture" and Q&A, with an exercise somewhere in there.

    I also am thinking of trying to hit all the highlights. Story beginning, structure, characters, dialogue, description. Trying to give a real sampling of everything.

    Any suggestions for content? Advice?
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you talking about a presentation: where you are the main/only speaker or expert?

    A panel usually has a several speakers/experts that the moderator gives questions to on the given topic of the panel, and then opens it up to visitors.

    They are two different animals. I've been on panels (never moderated one) and given presentations to on writing and publishing to 6th grade audiences up to college level, and have one at a writing conference scheduled for October.

    What advice I give would be determined if you're going to be part of/lead a panel or if you're going to present on your own to a group.

    Terry
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    As someone who has attended more workshops, presentations, and conferences than I like to count, I can say that there is another approach which works well. You can challenge the attendees with a few little tasks to illustrate the main points of what you are wanting to show them.

    Just as a basic example, you could distribute a one-page synopsis and ask them in pairs or groups to come up with one sentence that summarises the story. Give them a time limit. You would be driving home the point of clarity and focus in short story telling.

    No one likes to be talked to for too long. After 15mins attention starts to drift. You need more than one break for an exercise and Q&A imo. It is always good to involve everyone and let them feel they have contributed and that you value them. Also, several tasks break up your talk into digestible blocks and the material stays in the mind more, as do little video clips, demonstrations etc.

    If you are just going to read them something, they might as well take the hard copy and go off and read it somewhere else before coming back for a discussion later. You want to use the force of group feedback to stimulate ideas and activate their buried knowledge of the topic.
     
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  4. Rechan
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    I've never been to such a panel that you describe. Not at any convention. There's never any moderator.

    I'm the only one on the panel.

    This has never been my experience. In mine the part that sags the most is the Q&A, where you get into corner cases and "Here's the specific problem for my WIP" where those who don't care about that author drift, or the conversation gets way off track.

    And a panel isn't really a great setting for workshop style exercises. It really is very brief. In my experience exercises eat a lot of time and that is really what I do not want.

    There's always been audience participation, making points, and being humorous. There will be visual aids too. I know at least how to engage an audience, how to be interesting.
     
  5. Rechan
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    Rechan Member

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    To further elaborate, this is not a writing convention. But a small horror convention. Last year's attendance was 979. The convention is in need of programming. There's quite a few things on constuming and art, but so far nothing on writing.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was going to suggest similar to Modhoca. I have never done a writing panel, but I have organised several speaking and some local history ones. Lecturing works but unless you are a good speaker however interesting your facts you will bore the backside off the people listening. The writing idea of show not tell works well when teaching.

    Murder Mystery is always my most popular. I try to base things on Agatha Christie she is so logical, and the way she organises her material makes her easy to use. She has written some horror, science fiction, fantasy type stories that you could use. The Hound of Death is fabulous for horror inspiration.

    I give people strips of paper with words on or a name and information about the character, they are related, then we use them to construct a speech or spoken story together. When I have the luxury of a white/black board I write up phrases that come up and we improve them, to give them greater impact.

    It seems to work well enough that people gain confidence and we all have a ball.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then what you're doing isn't a panel. A discussion, a lecture, a presentation, yes. Don't list or promote it (such as in the convention's program) as a panel since it isn't. Those that attend may get something other than what they expected.

    Are you really going to lecture for the better part of 90 minutes then, except for answering a questions, but not getting way off track? An hour and a half of talking, even with a powerpoint or other presentation support is a pretty long session.

    The setup may not be great for workshop style excercises, but a handout or two for the attendees to work on (to illustrate or help solidify a point made) can be handy and keep the audience engaged. Yes, it will take up time, but what better way for the attendees to learn than hands on?

    As you're probably going to be the only writing-type event, you're obviously wide open on what you want to present. One thing to cover might be the submission process. How to find a market (such as duotrope.com or ralan.com for example). How to read and interpret guidelines. How to format submissions (for online and for print). How to write a brief cover letter. How to write a short bio if asked for one. How to wait and how long to wait. Submission etiquette.

    You could talk about the basics in a contract. First rights, electronic, print, reprint, serial, anthology. Exclusive, non exclusive, noncompetition clauses, copyright--just look at the contracts you've signed for examples/topics.

    If you want to focus on writing, consider:
    passive vs. active structures, and how to make writing more active where appropriate.
    effective dialogue and proper dialogue tags and how to use punctuation with them.
    showing vs. telling
    Selecting a POV, and discussing the advantages of each.

    It is best, I believe, to focus on topics you've experienced and worked through, more than what you've read and learned through books. Attendees will expect you to know first hand what you're discussing as much as possible. They know you're not Stephen King, but they'll be looking to you, if not as an expert, then at least experienced in the topic(s) you're discussing.

    I've had one novel and a couple dozen articles and short stories published thus far. I'm an editor, reading slush for a magazine and edited anthologies. I've met, spoken to and interactged with quite a few agents, editors and authors over the past six or seven years. I've had a lot of experiences related to writing. Even so, I feel that there are a lot of areas I am not qualified to teach or present to other writers, hopeful through experienced.

    Good luck, and of course, over prepare. Better to have too much to get through than not enough.

    Terry
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    :) Although only rarely do people compare about an early lunch lol I know I have done a good job when I don't get complaints about over running
     
  9. Rechan
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    Beg pardon for deviating from the dictionary definition. There has not been a con schedule or book that I have seen which has advertised a lecture or workshop. The events were merely referred to as panels. If this is inaccurate, then it is the fault of the conventions for establishing an incorrect use of the terminology. However, because it has been used consistently within conventions in my experience to encompass the format of a talk/discussion and Q&A, and I have never encountered any actual confusion from panel atendees over the nature of such a thing, I suspect it will not confuse anyone else accustomed to the same. If you will forgive me, I will continue to refer to it as a panel.

    I am going to run this panel in the same format as every other panel I have attended. I found the contents and structure useful and enjoyable, and my experience has not deviated. Thus I believe it is good enough for me to repeat the process for others as I have experienced it conducted in the past.

    All I am inquiring about, the only assistance that I am requesting, are suggestions of topics and things to address. Which you have provided, and for that I thank you. I will put the topic suggestions into consideration.
     

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