Monday, April 13, 2009

Editors’ Panel at MWG Conference with Lee Goldberg and Kate Angelella

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Chance of showers, high 49 degrees. It's foggy and misty outside this morning.

On April 3, opening night at the MWG conference in Cape Girardeau, MO, Lee Goldberg (screenwriter for Monk, Diagnosis Murder, etc.) and Kate Angelella (an editor at Simon and Schuster), graciously participated in an on-the-spot critique session. After a facilitator read the first two pages of works-in-progress from conference attendees, Lee and Kate then gave their impressions and suggestions.

Giving immediate feedback without the benefit of having a print copy isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Kate and Lee did an excellent job, and they were very good sports about it all. Seven works were read the first night, and I jotted down some comments and suggestions from Kate and Lee, which I’ve summarized below:

Kate Angelella:
Watch point of view
Avoid telling rather than showing
Dialogue should be distinct and real
Watch exposition
Parse exposition out slowly
An object can convey the mood of a piece
Put yourself in the reader’s position and ask: Why should I care?
Watch clichés
Root your stories in something reader can relate to
Don’t overwhelm with information all at once
Sprinkle information throughout novel
Include action
Reader should connect with main character
Character should be authentic
Dialogue shouldn’t sound embellished or affected
Prefers writing with a distinct cadence, lyrical, literary
“Voice is the key!”

Lee Goldberg:
Stories need a sense of urgency
Get at a dramatic point
It’s okay to have a little bit of mystery at first
Give a sense of place
Don’t be an “Irwin the explainer” with overdone exposition
Stories need conflict, drama
What is your story about?
Why is it compelling?
Why is it entertaining?
Don’t need sex scenes or car crashes (to be compelling)
Do need emotional truth, conflict, drama
Opening page is your “query letter”
Don’t have the main character thinking too much out loud in the opening
“Story is conflict.”
Give a sense of choreography of scene, especially in fantasies
Don’t overwhelm reader with details at the beginning
Ground your reader
Focus more on character and emotion and less on phrases
Don’t be too in love with your writing
Hook! Tease!
Stay with what’s true
“Exposition is the death of good writing.”

There you have it, advice from two experts who know what it takes to get published. Over the next week or so I will post more of what I learned at the MWG conference, so stay tuned!


  1. Uh-oh. I've got some work to do BUT thanks, Donna, for taking such great notes! Makes me (almost) feel like I was there :-)

  2. Hi Cathy,
    Thanks. I try my best. The problem is usually figuring out what I wrote down and making sense of it all.

  3. All these comments are good advice. I hope you'll be posting more about the MWG conference. I've always wanted to attend one of these but I never seem to be in Missouri when they happen!

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  5. Let's try again (blogspot is giving me a fit today)

    The information is helpful and definitely correlates to advice I've heard from other successful writers.

  6. Wow, Donna! What fabulous notes! Thanks so much!

  7. Hi Sean,
    You bet, I'll be posting more. I read on your blog that you've settled in at Oxford. Hope the move went well. I'm assuming it's Oxford, England, and not Oxford, Mississippi?

  8. Hi Pat and Becky,
    Glad to hear the information is helpful. I plan to post more later.
    Take care,

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  10. Yes, Oxford in England. I'm up here doing a book on medieval handgonnes for Osprey, the UK military history publisher. I'm also working on my next novel and am hopefully doing some other book projects. I'll be attending the London Book Fair next week and will post all the buzz when I get it. Maybe someday I'll actually make it to the Missouri Writers Guild conference!

  11. Hi Sean,
    Your book sounds exciting! Hope you have a great time at the London Book Fair. I will check your website for updates.


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