Monday, August 12, 2013

SpoCon 2013 Overview and Exercises on Characterization

SpoCon was last weekend, and it was a pretty good place to be! Things got started rather slow, but overall it was a good experience for the following reasons:

  1. I got to talk to Brandon Sanderson a few times (even go to dinner with him!) and he was super nice to me, which is great because I'm actually not 100% sure if he likes me or not. XD He gave me some pitching advice and I got to ask him a WoT question that's been bothering me since January. 
  2. I had good company. Stayed with some coworkers from SEL, and they were very fun to hang around with.
  3. Good panels. While no convention has all flawless panels, I was able to attend some good ones, including a character panel, a WoT panel, and a funny (if slightly crass) improv performance called "Whose Plot Is It Anyway?"
  4. New friends! I met three guys, one of which runs 17th Shard, at the convention. They were very nice.

I will say I was surprised that I like Super 8 hotels better than the Doubletree by Hilton. They're basically the same hotel, except Super 8 gives you a microwave, free breakfast, and doesn't charge for parking! But it was nice to be able to stay at the actual hotel hosting the convention. Never gotten to do that before.

My biggest suggestions for next year would be to start the convention on time, not in the late afternoon of the first day. I was very, very bored Friday until 3:00 PM. That, and do more with the special guests. The filk guest was hilarious, but I only saw him, briefly, at one event.

To end, I'll post my notes from the last panel I attended, which was on using RPG experience to build better characters. This panel was given by Deby Fredericks.

(Please excuse the formatting, Blogger can only go so far.)


Lesson 1: Every Character Has a Role to Play

  • Every character does something that the other characters cannot do
  • Characters cannot just appear in the story randomly; they have to do something for your story

*Exercise: Write down principal information on two primary characters and what roles they have

Lesson 2: Balance

·       All characters cannot have the same abilities
·       Writers need to consider the emotional balance between characters
o   Who is in charge, who has power, how do they keep it?
o   What if the characters cannot work together?
o   What if they’re a traitor?
§  The above are subplots

*Exercise: Describe the balance between characters. Power balance, emotional balance. How does the balance shift over the course of the story?

Lesson 3: Skills and Powers (Character Class)

  • If your character is going to suit the role you want them to play in the story, you need to know what skills they have that will allow them to fulfill that role, or how will they obtain those skills

 *Exercise: Writer the characters’ background, motivations, and how they bring in their skills to the story.

Lesson 4: Gaining Experience
  •  One way to show the gaining of experience it to have young characters.
  • It’s always more fun for readers to cheer a character who starts at “level 1” and grows as the book advances.
  • If you character can do everything, the reader won’t worry about them.
  • If the villain is weaker than the hero, the story will either lack drama, or your reader will cheer for the villain.

 *Exercise: What skills do the characters need to improve during the story? What skills will they need that they don’t have from the start, and how will they gain it?

Lesson 5: Strengths and Weaknesses

·       The story is a finely tuned machine, otherwise it will go up in smoke.
·       In roleplaying, buying skills with “points”
·       Using disadvantages justifies powers and abilities
o   Every character can’t be good at everything
·       Ultra-powerful characters aren’t interesting if there’s no chance that they will lose.
·       It’s crucial that your readers believe your characters can fail.
o   Killing characters (like the Shepherd in Serenity) shows that your characters are vulnerable

Disadvantages can motivate, limit powers, threaten the characters, make things complicated or cause trouble. People can be hunted or have people you want to protect. Some disadvantages are huge handicaps (Like Xavier from Xmen) or small handicaps (like Spiderman's bad luck).

*Exercise: Write your character’s disadvantages.

*Exercise: Describe how each character’s disadvantages brought them into the story, and how will they interfere with the plot?

Lesson 6: The Big Dream

  • The big dream is a long and complicated task with a lot of steps. It is too much to do in a single book, so it works well for series. (ie, Ash in Pokemon who wants to "catch them all")


  1. Oo, thank you for all the notes! I'm loving them.

  2. Glad you had such a good time at the conference. And thanks for the writing exercises.

  3. Great lessons and did not know that about Super 8. How awesome was it to get pitching tips from Sanderson?!!!

  4. I've never been to a con that went perfect, at least from my perspective, but the ones I've gone to, I always remember that the folks that make it happen are volunteers, and earn nothing but the satisfaction of doing the best for the guests and congoers as they can manage.

    1. True story. I don't think I could have done better, that's for sure!

  5. Glad you had fun and learned so much.

  6. Thanks for sharing your notes. Looks like I really missed out by not attending.

  7. Great post. I enjoyed it despite the Bloggered- I mean botched formatting. *grin*

  8. Hey Charlie - thanks for dropping by my blog today but I have doubts that you really have a four foot long hair growing out the side of your face. :)

    CONGRATS on your baby and thanks for the great writerly tips.


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