For the past three days, I attended my first ever writing conference! I attended online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Story Embers held their annual conference, and this year had twelve speakers to discuss outlining, scene craft, and plots.
The Story Embers Engaging Plots Summit began on April 22, 2021 with the fantastic Nadine Brandes who spoke on the power of imagination. It was incredible to meet her live and be able to engage more in the online chat.
Following her was Brett Harris talking about the importance of a high concept premise. Receiving feedback on a concept saves hundreds of hours editing, by making sure the core and basis of a story is strong before writing it.
Steven James spoke of the art of the twist, and the mechanics of unexpected, inevitable twists that impact readers. “A twist gives readers what they didn’t know they wanted.” This was definitely one of my favorite sessions of the summit!
Balancing multiple plotlines is hard. That’s why Kristy Cambron helped explain how to keep them separate and untangled, while keeping the plot exciting and each chapter leading into the next.
To start off the second day of the summit, Josiah DeGraaf, one of the many incredible writers behind Story Embers, spoke next on what the Bible teaches us about writing good plots. He walked through all the major plot points and emotions connected to them.
After Josiah’s session, Katie Phillips talked about act one of stories. She focused on what to avoid and what was vital to a strong setup. I learned about how to introduce my characters, write a compelling inciting incident, and lead into plot point one with steadily increasing stakes.
Mollie E. Reeder plunged into the dynamics of act two, the thick of the story. The first half of act two consists of try/fail cycles with the main character attempting different approaches to reaching their ultimate desire or goal. The midpoint is halfway through the entire novel, and marks the point of no return. The hero is all in. The second half of act two is a decline in the main character’s victories as we get closer to the climax.
The final speaker of the second day was Catherine Jones Payne, who taught me about the third act. She discussed how to end books neatly and not just stop them with a cliffhanger. Before the ultimate showdown comes the low point, which is now one of my favorite story beats. The goal seems impossible, and the hero has failed and can’t get back up. But with a new hope, the hero can continue to the climax, prevail, and have their happy ending.
Story Embers Engaging Plots Summit day three began with Daeus Lamb’s incredibly informative lecture on nail-biting scene craft. He taught me different types of character obsessions and the order and layout of scene structure. I learned what makes a character interesting and a scene engaging. He also pointed out ways to raise stakes in a way that’s personal for the main character to cope with.
Daniel Schwabauer spoke next on how to turn a plot into scenes. He discussed levels of conflict, tension, and including a third element to drive characters. (Such as Frodo, Gollum, and the Ring.) This was one of my favorite sessions and I took away a lot that majorly impacts how I write scenes. There are two types that continually alternate: disaster and dilemma. Disaster scenes have a plan in motion, tension, and a failure at the end. Dilemma scenes have a reaction to a disaster, characters weigh options, and they make a choice at the end. Then, back to a disaster sequence.
On emotional scenes, Stacy Hawkins Adams discussed how emotion makes characters real more than anything else. She provided tips for writing strong emotion well, and how to avoid cheesy melodrama and over-reactions.
The final speaker of the Engaging Plots Summit was Allen Arnold. He spoke about imagination, and how important it is to think differently. The universe began with a story, with an Author who wrote all of creation into existence. As a writer, I strive to be like Him by creating worlds of my own.
Overall, this was an amazing experience, and I will absolutely attend the Story Embers summit again in the years to come!