Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

Attending the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium

Last year, with the support of my husband, Brett, I decided to get more serious about the writing craft, which included attending writing conferences. In Utah, though, writing conferences aren’t very common, and affordable ones for families on tight budgets even less so. A couple of friends couldn’t stop talking about the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium (LTUE), and, at $30 for one day, Brett and I decided that it was our best option.

This 3-day conference comes around every winter. This week was the week. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a science fiction/fantasy conference and not specifically a writing conference. A variety of tracks are offered, from filmmaking to writing to art to gaming, but you can attend classes from any track you wish. The panelists have experience of varying degrees in these various fields. When you see the talent lineup, you realize that $30 a day ($65 for all 3) is a great deal. Many of the artists presenting are successful, award-winning artists.

Looking at the schedule, I found that Friday had the classes that I felt would benefit me the most. I picked out the classes I wanted to attend, Brett took the day off from work to take care of the kids, and I went to Provo for a day of learning.

It was like being in college again for a day. I attended sessions from 9am to 6pm, with a 1-hour break to have lunch and do some reading and writing. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. All I did was sit, listen, and take notes, but my brain was running at a high rate all that time, processing everything I was taking in. It would take too long to write everything I learned. Instead, I’ll share the things that stand out the most:

  • When characters are working towards a goal, they need a clear plan, which means the writer needs a clear plan. Do your research and understand how to make these plans believable.
  • A writer needs to understand each character’s code of conduct, whether that character is good or bad.
  • There’s no such thing as a perfect book. Perfect books are boring. Even the best books have imperfections. When writing the first draft, don’t let the desire for perfection keep you from completing the story. Your characters need to have flaws, anyway.
  • Your writing is more likely to be timeless if your characters and their relationships are relatable. Ultimately, a writer can’t control how popular their book will be a hundred years from now.
  • Test your story to see if it passes the “demographics test.” Does it reflect the demographics of the location in which it’s set? If you can change a characters gender or race without changing the story, do it. If a vital character is of a different gender or race than you, have someone of that race or gender read your story to make sure they are portrayed correctly.
  • Only the most important things in a setting need to be described, and only as the character notices them. Writers aren’t paid by the word anymore.
  • “You don’t write thinking about the rules, you edit thinking about the rules.” (Cary Kreitzer)
  • When writing fight scenes, giving a blow-by-blow list can get boring. Focus more on emotional responses. Don’t be afraid to talk to experts.

I wish I could have attended more sessions, but I don’t regret any of those I did attend. I learned valuable tips and lessons from each one. As the panelists spoke, I had ideas to improve my story and solved some problems that have been troubling me. Another big takeaway from all the sessions combined was that, whether the writers were self-published, indie published, traditionally published, or not-yet published, they had one thing in common: writing makes them happy.

I have 9 ½ pages of notes to look back on and refer to as I edit and start new drafts. Of course, my pages are different from the notes taken from the other writers in each session. We all take away the tips and advice most applicable to our writing. And, although the conference focuses on sci-fi/fantasy, so much of what is shared can apply to writing in general. Even the advice of a video game designer was useful to me as a writer.

Today is the last day of LTUE, but I’m already making plans to go next year. There is always more to learn. If you are a writer and have never attended a conference, I highly recommend it. You will hear what you need to hear to improve your craft.

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