Sunday, November 2, 2008

Words of advice from the deadly presenters at the 2008 BWRC

In June this year I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the Copyright Agency Ltd ( through their Professional Development Grants scheme to attend the 2008 Black Writers Reunion and Conference ( in Tampa, Florida.

I gave the keynote address on the Black Words: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers research community of AustLit (, and the current state of Indigenous literature and publishing in Australia. I was also able to do some professional development of my own, attending numerous sessions on different aspects of the writing and publishing industry. Even as an established writer, I came away from every session with a greater understanding of the craft of writing.

Some of the sessions that stood out for me include the following:

WORKSHOP: Writing effective dialogue: the key to great fiction – with Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of four novels. Check her out at:

Tips from JPR:
1. Dialogue has to advance the story – advance the plot.
2. Dialogue shows the character.
3.Dialogue gives an immediacy and intimacy with the story and characters and helps to show tension and conflict. It brings tension off the page.
4. All actions / reactions / gestures between characters will exist between dialogue – turning backs, rubbing hands and raising arms are the gestures that go on during dialogue.
5. Diction must match characters. Each character must have idiosyncrasies that affect their rhythm of speech.
6. When you add a tag like ‘He said’ you take the reader out of the immediacy.
7. Readers should be able to know who’s saying what by the style of the diction.
8. Most good dialogue is about the subtext – what’s not being said (between the lines).
9. Create the dialogue on the page so it comes alive.
10. Pretend that you are writing for the stage and it will improve your dialogue.
11. What is the power display during dialogue – are characters standing or sitting?
12. A character is: what they say / how they say it / how they react and how they think.
13. A whole lot of dialogue in first person is a monologue.
14. Even a 1st person monologue (dialogue in a solo voice) needs emotional restraint / tension / diction and structure.

WORKSHOP: S.P.E.A.K. – Sensational, Powerful, Engaging, Authoritive Keys to Public Presentation with Patricia Haley

Patricia Haley is the consultant for In A Manner of Speaking, and her interactive session gave vital tips on how to be the deadliest public speaker on the circuit. According to Patricia, the key to delivering the best performance is:

• Know your material – this will give you the ‘WOW’ factor.
• Research and prepare your topic (good planning makes you sensational).
• Recite the mantra: “It’s not who you are but what you know”.
• Sensational speaking comes from the power in your voice.
• Take a risk – when you want to get your point across, get quiet momentarily, and draw people in. Be a magnet and draw people to you

• Powerful speaking means having prestige, influence, force, potency and effect.
• Be genuine. The audience is there because they want to hear what you have to say.
• Connect with your audience (if possible mingle with your audience before your gig).
• Relax or meditate before your gig to ensure you can be ‘present’ with your audience.
• Time is everything – engage your audience with the correct terms and right pitch.
• Check the presentation barometer – are people engaged or watching the clock?

• Remember the events that you have personally attended- what captured your attention about those? What worked? What did not work? What did you find particularly interesting? What did you learn?
• Interact with your audience sincerely.
• Look at people in the eyes – lose eye contact you lose your audience
• Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

• Master what you say.
• Before your speech do the following:
1. Reflect – think about what you are going to say so you are confident about what you feel, know and believe.
2. Edit what you are going to say – be succinct
3. Read and re-read your speech and you will edit again while learning the material more.
4. Talk the talk and walk the walk – work the stage, hold your product. Look authoritively (I think I just made that word up!).
5. Believe that you can do it.

THE KEYS - Unlock your potential
• You are speaking for a purpose and that should be your focus.
• Don’t put the emphasis on being perfect.

Further tips:
• Checkout books on public speaking on
• Join Toastmasters – an organisation dedicated to having people become confident and comfortable as leaders and presenters.
• Check out for articles and further tips.
• Check out Public Speaking Australia:
• Use a digital voice recorder – tape yourself, listen objectively to determine where adjustments need to be made.

WORKSHOP: 9 Things Every Writer Must Know about the Law – presented by Prof Tonya M. Evans-Walls

While Prof Evans ( was obviously focussing on issues and laws relevant to American-based writers, however, the questions she poses are also relevant to Australian writers. The 9 Questions writers should know the answer to are:

1. What is intellectual property? And in Australia be sure to understand the concept of Indigenous Intellectual Property as well.

2. What is a copyright and how is it created and what can and cannot be copyrighted?

3. What is the Poor Man’s copyright and how can you register your work?

4. How much can you quote without permission (eg, if you want to use song lyrics in your novel, how do you go about it)?

5. When in the writing process should you register your work?

6. How can you get permission to use copyrighted materials in your book?

7. What laws should you be aware of if you write about real people and events?

8. Who owns the copyright if you collaborate with someone else on a book?

9. What contracts are an absolute must if you decide to self-publish?

Tonya Evans-Walls has blogs and examples of her own creative writing on MySpace at:

Resources to help answer the questions for Australian writers:

• Australian Society of Authors:
• Australian Copyright Council:
• Arts Law Centre of Australia:
• Writing Cultures: protocols for producing Australian Literature:

WORKSHOP: Working with literary agents with Mondella Jones

Mondella Jones runs her own literary agency ( in California and has a background in marketing, event management and editing. This workshop focused on some of the common mistakes made by writers when trying to find an agent:

1. Most query letters are TOO long! Keep your query letter brief – it should only be long enough to gain an agent’s interest.
2. Don’t submit material without having sent a query first – most agents won’t return your mss if it is unsolicited, and NEVER send the complete mss
3. Don’t use generic greetings – find out the agent’s name AND their gender if possible. If you don’t know the gender from the name itself, use ‘Dear Mondella Jones’.
4. Don’t send a query for an incomplete project – if the agent is interested they will want to see it all straight away. The agent will have moved on by the time you finish it.
5. Don’t send in an mss or letter with spelimg misteaks or typos - Check your grammar and punctuation. Have someone else read your work before you send it off.
6. Don’t send anything without an SSAE – if you want a response, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and for the correct amount of postage!
7. Don’t forget your contact information – apparently Mondella has received a number of wonderful projects but they arrived with no contact information for the author – der! Agents don’t have time to hunt you down!
8. Don’t send to just any agent – do your research, see which agents represent the kind of books you’re doing.
9. Don’t seek a new agent while you have an existing relationship with anther agent – apart from it being unprofessional and bad form – they all speak to each other so your current agent will find out anyway.
10. Don’t skip a professional editor – use a professional editor once your mss is complete, not your cousin, lover, mother – unless they are professional editors.

For links to relevant organisations related to Literary Agents, Editorial Services, Ghostwriting Services, and Manuscript Assessment Services go to the Australian Society of Authors website:

WORKSHOP: From writer to editor: Copyediting Principals that work with N.Kali Mincy

N.Kali Mincy ( a writing coach and speaker with over 30 writing credits including “Creative Writing: Teaching New Writers Character Development in Fiction,” “The Fiction-Writing Toolkit,“ and “Copyediting Essentials.”

Some quick tips from Ms Mincy for copyreditors:
- Always ask for the style sheet for the house you are copyediting for
- Ask the right questions of the author you are editing – be specific. Give options of how something may be written differently.
- Look for redundancy / repetition.
- Consider the audience – their age and their education.
- The editor’s job is to propose. The writer’s job is to dispose!
- The copy editor’s job is NOT to make content changes.
- The first sentence / the first paragraph is the most important.
- Look up words you are unsure of
- Use the 4 C’s – clarity, coherency, consistency, and correctness

WORKSHOP: How to write a screenplay with Mike Matteo - author, screenwriter, teacher and film junkie

An exciting and energetic session, Mike suggested students in this session ask themselves the following questions:

• Why you like a particular movie?
• Why you don’t like a particular movie?

All screenplays need conflict, so ask yourself:
• What if?
• What now?
• What next?

In life, one thing happens after another. In movies, one thing happens because of another.

Every screenplay needs to do these things:
1. Get the audience’s attention
2. Establish nuances of character
3. Establish character relationships
4. Show internal conflict – how is character being affected
5. Build foundations for the rest of the script – needs to set up the next part of the script

Some terminology and explanations
• Plot point – an event that makes the script move along quicker.
• Thought line of action – every action has to have a valid reason.
• The protagonist - needs to be liked but needs to have flaws.
• The Antagonist – needs to be strong but balanced, they are either about greed or power or both. Must also have a human quality and essence of humanity.

Examples of films to watch
With a plot driven script – Armageddon
With a character driven script – Forrest Gump
Opening scene – The Godfather

Final tip: all writing should evoke emotion / should make you want to see more, read or see a sequel.

Suggested reading: The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats, Part 1: the screenplay (otherwise known as the ‘Bible of Hollywood’)

The next Black Writers Reunion & Conference is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 18-19, 2009. For more information go to:


Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Very useful stuff, Anita. Thanks for sharing! I'll be directing members of my writers' group here.

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Thanks Rosemary - glad it could be of use. I actually got a lot out of writing my notes up and remembering what I need to do to perfect the craft. Peace, Anita