Writer Panels Galore

Gorgeous artwork from Charles Urbach!

I’m back from the festivities, where I stocked up on beautiful fantasy art and listened to incredible writer panels! We heard from Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Vaughn, James Sutter, Mike Stackpole, Matt Forbeck, Dave Gross, John Helfers, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor.

Lots of great author brains all in one place!
Here are my favorite take-aways:
  • Let idea seeds brew. When (if) they fuse, then you know it’s time to do an outline.
  • A good story is about great characters. No matter how great your setting is, you can’t have awful characters and still have a great story.
  • Leave doors open. Don’t fully explain every detail, leave it to the imagination and you can come back to it later in the series. Worldbuilding snafus can often turn into opportunities later.
  • Two types of worldbuilding: physical and cultural. You can decide where to invest your time. If you’re not a scientist, strict physical worldbuilding can back you into a corner with details. Get 80% there, then ask an expert.
  • Gardeners and architects: Gardeners grow the story as it goes. Architects build the story ahead of time. They might be susceptible to worldbuilding disease.
  • Iceberg Theory: Readers should only see the tip. You, the author, know the rest, but it doesn’t show.
  • Practical tips: Make sure water flows downhill, use real maps for inspiration on continent features, consider the influence of rain shadows, beware of medieval economics, consider sanitation needs.
  • Be crazy! You don’t have to base your world on medieval Europe and, remember, the entire world doesn’t all need to advance at the same pace. Certain regions can rise and fall or be more advanced than others.
  • Balance your readers’ learning curve by not introducing too much, too fast.
  • All plot stems from character growth.
  • Character growth happens when the character reflects on his or her own change. This growth is permanent and leads to “wicked cool drama.”
  • Always find room for romance.
  • Any fact in the story needs to have a set-up.
  • A new ending may emerge as you’re writing. Don’t immediately stop to rewrite. You can add plot hints in the second draft.
  • If you’re either totally confused or totally bored as an author, you have too much or too little plot.
  • Pacing is the “magic” of writing. It’s an instinctual feel.
  • The difference between short stories and epic novels is where you begin.
  • As you read a book, jot down what you like or don’t like about what the author did, then study how they accomplish it.
  • Betrayal is huge as a plot device.
Oh, and we got to sit in on live tapings of the Writing Excuses podcast series, which was very fun!
Without doubt, my favorite part was meeting Brandon Sanderson and being able to hear his advice firsthand. Among living authors, he is the one whose craft I most deeply admire. He’s done so much to pass along his writing insights to others (In case you didn’t know, he shares his lectures here and his novel drafts here), and he’s finishing my most beloved series. I wanted to say "thanks!"
He and the others talked about believing in the power of writing and characters and stories for all the same reasons I do.
It definitely was a reaffirming experience!
How about you? If you could meet a living author, who would you want it to be?


  1. Sounds like you got some great information. It's so cool that Brandon has his lectures online for everyone to see. I'll definitely be checking out of a few. Besides Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, I'd like to meet Andrew Smith. Oh, and congrats on winning the What If: Plot Twists blogfest!

  2. wow, sounds amazing and that's all great advice. I've met a couple of my favorites, Laini Taylor and Oson Scott Card. In a few weeks I'll be meeting Maggie Stiefavter at a book signing. I'm so excited!

  3. It looks like you had a productive and fun time -- awesome!

    A LOT of great snippets of advice in that list, Nicole. Excellent. Thanks for sharing.

    Hmmm... There are so many authors I'd love to meet. I think anyone who has had some level of success in bonding with readers has advice that I can learn of. But off the top of my head, for living writers, I might say Michael Connelly, C. J. Box, Robert Crais, John Scalzi, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, and a host of others.

  4. It sounds like you had a great time and got some amazing advice.

    I'm not sure which living author I would want to meet. Stephen King or JK Rowling would be pretty cool, though.

  5. These are such great tips. Thanks for sharing them here. It was great to meet you on Misha's blog!

  6. That sounds great. Glad you felt so inspired. Those are some great little tips on plotting. "Wicked cool drama" - sounds good to me! :)