Amie Kaufman at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival

Just because you’re a skilled author, doesn’t mean you always understand how you do what you do.  And just because you understand what you do, doesn’t mean you’re always good at explaining it.  Amie Kaufman, however, is a triple threat in this regard.  She is a terrific writer of some of my favourite reads this year, she has a thoughtful understanding of how she does what she does and she is an amazing communicator.  So when I was searching through the Melbourne Writer’s Festival program and saw that they were hosting an “Ask Me Anything” session with her, it went straight into my diary.

It was a wonderful hour.  Expertly hosted by Adele Walsh, the session was so full of gold that my pen could barely keep up. I thought I should publish some of Amie’s key points so others can share in a few nuggets of Amie-goodness.

Voice

How you get that elusive voice in your novel?  I hear this question all the time at Author Q and A and the answer is usually “It can’t be taught”.  But Amie took a different tact.  She talked about how voice is how you can pick up books with two very different characters speaking and still know the same author. She said you can tell lots about a person by how they tell a story, that two people can come into a room and describe that room in a completely different way depending on their background, profession, and experience. Thinking hard about how a character sees the world and how that therefore affects what they see, what they notice, and how they speak. If you include those aspects in the POV, then the voice will shine through.

Synopsis

My friend KD Kells tweeted her question beforehand about writing synopsis.  After confirming the difference between a query or blurb and a synopsis, Amie talked about how while a Synopsis is supposed to be detailed and factual, that you should choose your verbs carefully.  No story sounds interesting when all your told is what happened when. So while sticking to facts, try to still give some flavour to your synopsis so it doesn’t sound too dull.  She recommended Susan Dennard’s blog for information how to write it, and based on the cool structure KD found there, I think I might need to take a look for my own #PitchWars Synopsis.

When you are stuck in a reading or a writing slump

When it comes to a writing slump, Amie says she doesn’t think it’s very understanding and kind to say there is no such things as writers block.  Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean you need to disparage those who do!  She said when she is stuck and discouraged in her work, she finds reading makes her feel more inadequate.  But watching art in a different medium, such as a ballet performance or seeing a musical clip on YouTube makes her excited about art in general, and acts as inspiration to hit the keyboard again. This makes so much sense, and I’m glad to hear that I’m perfectly justified watching so many pastry-chef videos on Instagram (though Amie also spends twelve minutes a day of social media, so ahh, maybe not!). 

She also recommended going back in your manuscript to the last time it felt easy.  Sometimes the reason you are stuck might be because the plot has gone off track.  If you go back to where you know it was working, then you can work out what went wrong.

In terms of a reading slump, Amie recommends getting hold of a romance or a thriller.  These genre’s are wired to be page turning so start with them and then you will be out of your slump and ready to read.

Flashbacks

Amie was asked about Flashbacks; since they are often looked down on, when should you include them? She explained that flashbacks tend to slow the pace, which is why they often frustrate people.  Amie suggested working out when in your manuscript the reader might like to take a breath and include any necessary flash-backs at that point so that it is both a break and helpful information. Brilliant!

Productivity

Amie is productive.  Since she was first published in 2013, she has written and co/written eleven novels and has another eight under contract.  As well as the afore mentioned slump techniques and software that won’t allow her on Social Media for long, she treats writing like a job, clocking in at the office at the start of the day and clocking out at the end. Her writing is what provides for her family, so she treats it as such.

Kissing (and other experiential scenes)

I tweeted my question at the start of the day, and though I was a little embarrassed to publically ask questions about kissing scenes, I really wanted to know! I enjoy writing them, but I never know exactly what to include. Amie’s YA books always have terrific romance and particularly well-done kissing scenes. I wanted to know how to write kissing scenes that felt fresh, and individual to the characters involved.

Amie said with kissing scenes, and actions scenes as well, experiential data is always good.  Knowing what it feels like, means being able to add in specific details that add to the authenticity.  She told a hilarious story of a friend who got her husband to put her in a head-lock for research purposes, just as someone walked past their front window.

Similar to the question of voice, she said it is important to think about the character.  Is this their first kiss? Or just their first kiss with this person.  What are they likely to notice, or comment on.  If you can get into the mind of your character, that will help your kissing or action scene.

Finally, think hard about pacing on a kissing scene.  You want to be able to slow it down for the kiss, but have the pace speed up on either side.

It was a wonderful session. Adele mentioned that Amie is incredibly generous with her time, knowledge, and connections with the YA writing community in Melbourne.  Amie replied writing wasn’t a competition, because people aren’t just going to read one book.  Getting people reading is good for the whole community and so building others up is good for everyone. Her generous attitude is something else we can learn from her.

What writers have you found helpful in sharing their craft? Did you attend any sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival?

And if you want more Amie wisdom, I recommend listening to Ep 276 of So You Want to Be A Writer Podcast where Amie gives a fabulous interview with Allison Tait.  Or if you are interested in Amie chatting about writing in collaboration with other authors, there are a couple of terrific Eps of the Garrett Podcast where she is interviewed with her Co-author Jay Kristoff.

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