Thursday, February 21, 2013

Radcon 2013 - Part 2

    This was a full day from 10 am to about 8 pm with only a couple of short breaks between panels. There was a lot of information and my notes aren't quite as good as I hoped. Next year I'm going to be a bit more choosy about panels and give myself more break time. "To Outline or Not To Outline" was first on the menu and an interesting mix of opinions from always, sometimes, and never. I fall into the never as I never follow them. Characters take off and do their own damn thing or I decide to tell a totally different tale. One bit of good advice that I took away from the panel was the suggestion to write an outline if you are stuck. Work out the scene and see what's going to happen or what might happen. Also, make broad outlines, broken up by events or chapters, then worry about the minutia later on. Panel two was "Where have all the heroines gone?" which mentioned Buffy and Wonder Women. Luckily, the panel didn't turn into a Buffyfest, but rather focused on real life examples that would be better and more realistic role models. "Sex, Love and Writing in a Changing World" was an interesting panel as it explored the question of alternate sexuality in fiction and what boundaries were being pushed, both in terms of characters and by authors. I took away that like in previous years, works of sci-fi and fantasy, are willing take that step forward to explore more than just the standard designations and not being bound to convention or society's reluctance to accept those differences. Character gender identification becomes both more and less important to the story. Authors are more than willing to test those boundaries, though a point was brought up as to make sure they weren't a stereotype or cliche. The answer, and really it's sort of a duh thing, is to make them people with all the normal issues and failings and strengths that any other character would have.

    After a break for food, the next panel was "Women in Horror". It was given by a Devi Snively, who teaches horror film courses and makes shorts. She discussed how horror films are given a bad rap for exploiting women, while comedies are given a pretty much free pass. As she points out, in many cases, the last person standing is a girl [smart, clever, resourceful - aka The Final Girl trope], while the men are killed off quickly and efficiently, often for being stupid. There was a strong argument against the Final Girl Trope, as it remakes the heroine into a more masculine figure. [i.e. - male privilege]. The "Mixed Genre" panel consisted of Tanya Huff, John Dalmas, and S Evan Townsend. It started out with Ms. Huff spilling her coffee and swearing, then got better. A few of interesting tidbits included: Why does anyone get paid for writing erotica? Tanya Huff brought that up and asked if they had heard of the internet. Marketing is the root of all genre designations. Her Blood Ties series was originally Dark Fantasy, but is now marketed as Paranormal Romance [It isn't]. John Dalmas wrote a detective novel, but got rejected because it wasn't "sci-fi" enough. So, he wrote a prequel and a sequel that were definitively sci-fi and sold the lot as a collection. Then resold it twice later on to different publishers. Again, marketing, which drives the genre classification on one simple rule: "How many copies can we sell?"

    "Creating Believable Characters" came next and really just hit on the same things that I had heard before. Give your characters issues. Superman is boring without Kryptonite. Batman is boring without the totally messed up background and mental issues. I've been looking at a few of my past stories with a critical eye and thinking "how can I mess with them?" and "are they interesting enough?" Characters are nothing without crisis. When everything's going fine, where's the tension? Toss them in a room, have someone pull a knife of them, and see how they react? Do they run away? Put there hands up? Use someone as a shield? Grab a chair and start beating on the person? One of the panelist, Pat MacEwen, said she uses real people then alters them to avoid being sued. I was not comfortable with that solution, as it seems to be a bit of cheat. But then again, I spent Friday night of the con people-watching in the lobby and getting ideas.

    I got to be a panelist on "Suspension of Disbelief", which I'm pretty sure was planned by two of the other people. Sort of lost in the flow of conversation, which was disappointing, but I did get to make a few points on credibility and buying into a concept. Having done mostly short stories, I've had to put out the concepts up front in only a few sentences and run with it. By other accounts, there's a certain amount of conceit or lower level of plausibility from the genre. Sci-fi and fantasy just by the virtue of the subject matter have a lower bar than say a Tom Clancy novel about a nuclear submarine captain defecting to the US. Last panel of the day was "Understanding Evil", mostly centered around the concept of sociopaths and psychopaths. It was less of a sci-fi / fantasy panel but more of a delve into the human mind and what makes up all the weirdness in out brains. What it really comes down to a few things [and giant grain of salt time]: there is a difference between a sociopath and psychopath [but if you are a sociopath, you're probably a psychopath, but not necessarily the reverse]; just because you're a sociopath doesn't mean you're a killer, just as amoral, controlling, manipulative asshole [Politicians & CEO's]; and it can't be cured. There's a few schools of thought on the numbers which range from 2% of humanity to 4-25% of the business leaders and politicians. My friend, Christine, lent me the book "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson which goes into depth about The Hare Psychopathy Checklist and applying it to people in places of power. If you haven't read it, go get a copy and enjoy.

    That ended the Saturday panels and after a quick meal, we went and caught the last part of a fire-dance troupe called Ignition. They even did a routine to the song "Gangnam Style" which was pretty awesome, even if the flaming bullwhip came apart and nearly set the grass on fire. Next year I think I'll try to get a room that overlooks the courtyard.

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