Friday, October 21, 2011

Panels With Professionals

...or, How To Be Totally Intimidated By Authors More Popular Than Myself

I've done a lot of discussion panels at sci fi conventions in the years since my first novel was published. Some have gone well. Some have gone badly. Some were well attended, others not so much. Some introduced me to new friends, and others revealed the bitterest of enemies. The topics have ranged from Fan Panels about the stuff I'm into (like Transformers and Doctor Who), to professional panels about writing, publishing and genres.

Fan panels are a blast, and they deserve their own blog post. Pro panels can also be fun, but for a fresh-faced newbie like myself... well, actually, I've been at this for six years now. But I still feel like a newbie among professionals. Especially when I'm sitting next to people who've been at this a lot longer than I have.

For one thing, they come Prepared. Not prepared. I'm usually prepared for my panels. But other pros come Prepared.

What do I mean? Here's an example from last year. I was on a four-person panel on the topic of humour in science fiction and fantasy. Should be a breeze for the author of Epoch and Evil, right? But while I was prepared to talk about the funny things my characters will get up to, the other three panelists were Prepared with the nuts and bolts of what makes a joke. There's something called The Drop. That's when the funny part of the joke happens. I've always called it the bit when the funny part of the joke happens. They called it The Drop, and thus appeared a lot smarter and knowledgeable than me. I ended up feeling so inferior that when it came time for me to reveal my humour-creating secrets, all I could think to say was: "I... um, do cruel things to my characters."

Another panel on the creation of believable characters in fiction was even worse. I got verbally chastised by a living legend for not doing it right. The other panelists (including the aforementioned living legend) discussed the facts about what makes a character into a believable person while I sat in my corner trying to look small and unobtrusive.

The kicker? All that stuff the other pros talked about that goes into character development? I already do those things. I just couldn't vocalize it properly, because I was feeling intimidated. And I wasn't Prepared.

I need to do better than that. I need to look at the way I write and find better ways of explaining those methods to an audience. I am, after all, a professional. I'm on those panels for a reason - people expect me to communicate what I do and how I do it.

And, I need to chill out, dude, when I'm around other pros. Just because someone has sold more books than me does not mean my opinion isn't valid. It just means I need to work a bit harder to make that opinion heard.

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