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Most of the rest of my notes on panels are pretty haphazard, as many of them did not excite me. I'll jot the highlights here.

In the panel Vampire Powerhouse, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro said that "whatever you can imagine is better than what I can describe."

In that same panel, PN Elrod noted herself as squeamish in real life, and shuddered when someone mentioned the meathook episode in her Jack Fleming series. A definite example of an author exploring her limits!


In the panel Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Other Fictions that Go Bump in the Night, Anne Kennedy said that the two things that motivate us most strongly are sex and death.

In the same panel, it was agreed that the label used on the subgenre is a matter of acceptability - you don't want to have people seeing you holding a book dripping blood etc. or with "horror" or "terror" on the cover. *Especially* "terror," given that word's current connotation with terrorism. I found this interesting, in that I was disappointed in large part with the panel because my definition of "dark fantasy" does not necessarily equal "horror". Later days may separate the two terms again, but for the moment I may reconsider my categorization of my work as dark fantasy. It's definitely not horror.


In the panel Forgotten Masters: Readings from the Deep Dark Past, David Hartwell suggested that, to understand a period of history, you had to read its second and third rate fiction, that those books offered more characteristics of the period, and that they were more influential than the masterpieces.

Jess Nevins championed Varney the Vampire as the opening salvo in the treatment of the vampire as the tortured soul, rather than as the monster.

It was noted that each period twisted archetypes in response to current anxieties. (This dovetails nicely with the comments in the Alt History panel about fiction being created to discuss events, and I note that Paul Park was on both panels. He talks a lot. *g*)

Hartwell noted that some material you can't think about directly, especially if it includes concepts that are verboten in current society, but you can look at those concepts sideways, or around corners, and through fiction.


In the panel Natural Progressions and Unnatural Spawn: Fantasy Crossovers, Gordon Van Gelder said that you should cross over genre boundaries for a meaningful reason, not just "they fight crime!"
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This panel was subtitled: Alternate History in Fantasy Literature. Moderator was Leslie Howle; panelists included Paul Park, Alma Alexander, and Howard Waldrop.

Someone said that alternate history provides a window through which to examine society.

Waldrop said "The first time [something bad happens] is tragedy; the second time is comedy."

It was agreed that there were two types of alternate history. The first mentioned, the "what if" kind, is where what's explored are the changes to society resulting from the point where the history diverges. "What if" was noted as being particularly popular in the early days of alternate history. The second was referred to as the unperceived narrative, and is the loser's side of history.

I think it was Waldrop who quoted Faulkner as having said that, if you're from the South, you hope that July day happens differently. (No quotes, because I know I paraphrased what was actually said.)

Park said, memorably, that there are as many stories of what happened as there are people it happened to.

Someone noted that you write history to explore what history is.

Books mentioned as alternate history included Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana.

This comment was particularly important to me, though I don't recall who first started the train of thought that led to it: Historical events determine the sorts of fiction being written, because *fiction is created to discuss events*. (Emphasis mine.) People read fiction for two reasons: to confirm their fears, or to allay their fears.

Waldrop said, after trying to explain his cone theory of history, that possibilities lie behind us and probabilities lie ahead of us. [That's semantics, but it's a useful distinction when you're trying to discuss the two.]

And another significant (and unattributed) comment from my notes: The further away we get from the present time, the simpler the frame of the story becomes; perhaps that's why so much fiction is written in times distant from the present.

This and the cliches panel were probably the two I enjoyed and appreciated the most, as they were the ones that made me think. I have only recently approached alternate history as a writer. The comment about fiction being written to discuss events I find particularly telling, for myself, because of some of the work I've done. Maybe it'll help me finally get a handle on the short (novella?) story I wrote that I know full well was in reaction to the events in Kosovo and the rest of the late 90s Balkan conflict. The story remains rather unfocused, probably because I don't understand what I was trying to say. I need to think about this some more.

And I wonder if the comment about fiction written of distant times doesn't have something to do with the fascination, in genre fiction, with pseudomedieval and feudal societal setups? (Eric Flint, in the cliches panel, noted his negative reaction to the idea of feudal societies in space, labeling them unrealistic.)

Like I said, a worthwhile panel, and lots of food for thought.
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This WFC 2006 panel was subtitled "Memorable Supporting Characters," and its description was: Why do some supporting characters, good and evil, stick in the reader's mind? Who are these characters? What do such characters contribute to their story?

Moderator was Wendy Wheeler; other panelists included a coffee-deprived Melanie Rawn, John Moore, Dave Duncan, and Caroline Stevermer.

First question asked was: which was your favorite supporting character?

Rawn replied it was the ones she kills off.

Moore said it was the bad girl.

Duncan said it was the sidekick.

Stevermer said it was the sidekick who gets her own novel.

Second question was: which was your favorite antag?

Rawn said it was the bad guy from The Golden Key; he was so good at being bad that he took over the novel.

Duncan said he particularly liked Professor Moriarty, though he never appeared on screen.

Stevermer said she writes until she hates her heroes, and so she ends up loving her villains for opposing the hero.

Moore said he thought the worst people were those who were perfectly ordinary but so self-centered that they don't care about others.

The panelists were asked to consider whether there could be a story without a supporting character, and the answers quickly given were I am Legion, and The Old Man and the Sea.

Fourth question was, are supporting characters author stand-ins?

Rawn said that all of them are the author and none of them are, and that this was the most annoying question she gets from readers.

Stevermer said No!

Duncan said they were all the author.

Moore said it was a compliment (although sometimes ridiculously so) to think that a great character is based on the author.

Fifth question was, what makes a supporting character leap off the page?

Stevermer said they live their own lives; they are what the author wants to explore.

Duncan said Dickens is full of them, as is Shakespeare. He also suggested that the sure way to get a reader pulling for a supporting character is to make them feel sorry for the character.

Rawn said that it was a character whose worldview was so different from everyone else's, and that these sorts are either very enjoyable to read/write or incredibly annoying.

Sixth question was, did you have a character who turned on you?

Rawn said characters like that are someone the reader can't be ambivalent about.

Moore said something I missed and then "buy two boxes of Thin Mints and kill them," by which I infer he was talking about characters who are so pure they make you gag.

There was some back-and-forth about whether there were qualities that were better used for protags than for supporting characters, but after some hashing about it was decided that there were not.

Stevermer suggested that vices taken to the extreme were perhaps not something you want in a protag, but would not be such a turn-off in a supporting character.

Rawn said she uses secondary characters to learn how to write specific types of people - a physical type she is not, a career she knows nothing about.

Duncan said his favorite story was one called Magic Casement (or something like that), which is about archetypes and has a group of five boys magicked so that only one of them can exist at a time, and that all five were interesting.

Stevermer commented on characters whose voice so thoroughly permeates the author that you take on the characters' behaviors/characteristics.

Moore said that you need supporting characters as a reality check, to show the reader the ease or difficulty of a protag's tasks that the reader has no frame of reference for.

Duncan said that sometimes a character who starts as a secondary character seems to rise inappropriately to attention, and that when this happens it might be a sign that they were the protagonist all along.

Next question was: Are supporting characters easier to write because they don't carry the plot?

Stevermer said that the secondary character carries a lot of the momentum of a story.

Stevermer also said that if there is an interior voice, to write it down. [She means internal dialogue, as near as I can figure.] You can then use the interior voice to summarize an event you don't need for the plot, or whose occurrence is the only value to the plot, not its individual sequences.

Moore said to be careful not to have your spear carriers on screen too much, or the reader might be pissed the character was only a bit player and didn't get more time and emphasis. Shakespeare was mentioned as an exception, in that everyone on the screen had an important role, and John Vance was also mentioned.

Rawn said that messing with readers' expectations can be useful.

Rawn also said to make sure to pronounce names aloud to make sure what's on the page reads the way you want it to.

A final question was posed, but I didn't write down any answers; however, as it's a good question, I'll note it: If a secondary character doesn't suffer or pose a threat, does he carry weight?
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The first thing you need to know about the WFC 2006 panels is that there weren't a lot of them. They started at 10 and ran until 5:30, with the occasional reading or banquet thereafter, and there were usually only two at any one given time, not including readings. There was time set aside for lunch and dinner breaks, without programming. (Very useful to ensure that no one passes out due to hunger, but myself, I could have used more options. And no, I didn't volunteer to help with programming, which makes me the worst sort of hypocrite, but there it is.)

Often, the topic suggested in the program was only barely touched upon, so some of these topics may not match up in any noticeable fashion with the notes. Also, they're my notes, right? So they're notes of a panel through my eyes and my brain, and my filters. I'm not pretending to be reporting the news. However, a lot of what I'm capturing below and in the subsequent posts will be notes of what was said. I'll leave you to make your own value judgments and do your own thinking on the validity (or lack thereof) of what was said--feel free to comment! Dialogues about disputed topics are very enlightening.

The cliche panel was held Friday morning. Moderator was Lee Modesitt; panelists included Glenn Cook, Carole Nelson Douglas, Eric Flint, and Diana Gill.

The panel description was: Pirates and Arthur are fantasy cliches, as are dragons. What about Nazis, dinosaurs, ninjas, and talking gorillas? Do elements of such ideas exclude them from frequent use in fantasy, preserving them from becoming cliches? Or is it only a matter of time?

Cook said that cliches are what makes fantasy work; they're built-in as part of the human story.

Douglas said she uses the elements of a cliche to attack it, thus building tension.

Gill noted that, in order to be a cliche, there as to be something interesting behind the concept or it would never have been so frequently used to begin with. [This in particular made me think.]

Flint said that cliches were very helpful in blending genres.

Modesitt asked the panelists what fantasy cliche annoys them the most?

Flint said it was Elves - if they're so perfect, why are they dying out? (direct quote, there.)

Modesitt said his pet peeve were dragons. He couldn't get around the lack of understanding of physics and other real objections to their presence in a society. (He noted he was an economist.)

Gill said she hated spunky heroines. She said there has to be more to the character beyond just that she's spunky.

Douglas took the opposite tack, and said she despises the wimpy female protag.

Cook named the unicorn; he noted that in one of his earlier stories he'd made them more like wolverines on steroids, and liked them much better that way. Other panelists agreed.

Gill said that you can take any cliche and make it work.

Modesitt asked the panel when they would deliberately use a cliche?

Cook said he'd use it as a mirror to play other characters off of.

Flint said a writer shouldn't work so hard to avoid cliches as to make a silly mess of the situation or character. There's only so far you can bend a character.

Douglas said that, if characters are well-built, they can't be cliches. (hear, hear!)

Cook said that cliches are very useful shorthand - you no longer have to spend 30 pages selling a concept if your reader already has bought into it; all you have to do is invoke the cliche.

Modesitt said you have to understand the expectations beneath a cliche. You have to consider the ramifications of its use on the rest of your worldbuilding.

Flint said he was very unhappy with SF future worlds with societies structured like those of the feudal past; why wouldn't a future society look different than what we have already seen? He specifically mentioned the difficulty in supporting mercenaries, economically.

Modesitt added, as a trained economist, how he was disturbed by the lack of understanding in so much fantasy of the realities and necessities of social structures. The amount of labor needed to support 10,000 armed knights so they could do battle with 10,000 other armed knights is mindblowingly huge and, in a feudal society, almost impossible to achieve.

Modesitt asked is there anything so fundamental that, despite overuse, it's not a cliche?

Flint said that the concepts of religion and religious writing (he specifically named the Bible as an example) are so ingrained in every society that they could not be cliches.

Gill said there were only about 5 basic plots, and those were not cliches.

Douglas said the Hero's Quest and its mythological elements are archetypes.

Modesitt asked if readers/editors really want what's really different?

Gill replied it depends on what the reader's in the mood for.

Cook said no, not really.

Flint offered a quote from Mercedes Lackey: "the fastest way for an author to starve is to write what the fans tell her."

Modesitt asked what happens if you as an author invent something that becomes a cliche?

Douglas said it becomes harder and harder to do something different as you accumulate more stories to your credit. She suggested that writers consider using multiple protagonists for variety--that a long series will last longer if the writer doesn't always tell the story from one protag's eyes.

Gill said don't get lazy; keep working at it, keep seizing what's new and incorporating it into your work.

Flint said to be careful not to become too focused and burn yourself out - keep doing new things.

Flint had a great quote: "A cliche is a trope done badly."

Modesitt noted that a concept like the "common tongue" would never have happened. [Chris whistles and looks away from the screen.]

Cook said that two cultures seeing the same thing and understanding it differently is the source of terrific conflict.

The book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland came in for hearty recommendations for writers wanting to avoid poor use of cliches.

Modesitt said a writer could give one scene showing how the basis (buildings, food, cooking) work, and then they could just make offhand references to such basics without having to go into detail again. He said he'd been twitted about having so many cooking scenes, and asked us to consider when people would be making decisions about their plans if they're traveling, or fighting, or otherwise occupied--of course, since they would all be gathered to eat, that was the logical point at which those plans would be made.

I personally thought this was the most useful of all the panels I attended, in that it made me think about what a cliche was and why it was--not just that we should not use cliches, but how to use them properly.
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I'm back from World Fantasy Convention, and I've got notes for some of the panels I attended. I think what I'll do is one post per panel, so any comments readers (::listens to crickets::) might want to leave will apply to that one topic. Hopefully, that'll be less confusing. *g*

If anyone else is blogging details on panels I missed, I'd love it if you'd point me at them.

Thanks to everyone who pushed me to go meet and talk with people, and who introduced me around. I appreciate the effort.


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