CraftFest: Where Writers Learn From The Best


Last week I attended ThrillerFest IX in New York City. This annual event is held by the terrific organization International Thriller Writers, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. While at ThrillerFest IX, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the best in the business. Two days were dedicated to CraftFest, which was comprised of seminars dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Below are photos and highlights from some of the sessions.

John Gilstrap talking about common misconceptions when it comes to writing about guns.

“Broken Bones, Ballistics & Backdrafts” – John Gilstrap

  • Clips and magazines are not the same thing.
  • Weapons of war are intended to interrupt the blood supply.
  • When bullets are involved, there’s no such thing as a flesh wound.
  • A head shot is like cutting the strings on a marionette. You’re unplugged. 
  • Silencers are actually called suppressors. It knocks the sound down. It doesn’t silence it.

Chris Grall showing the crowd how to properly handle a gun (the gun he’s holding is a prop).

“Firearms 101: Avoiding Pistol Errors” – Chris Grall

  • 99.9% of the guns you will write about will have magazines, not clips.
  • Clips are used to load magazines. A magazine is a place for storing ammunition. 
  • Glock doesn’t make a 40, they make a 23 that can hold a .40 caliber magazine.
  • For the writer, I prefer the double-action pistol. 
  • Why do you guys make mistakes? Because gun manufacturers are dicks!

Steven James discussing characterization.

“What No One Is Telling You About Developing Memorable Characters” – Steven James

  • Stillness is power. 
  • Variable status is the key to dimensionality.
  • Characters should have different levels of status in different situations. 
  • You can undermine 100 pages of writing by using the wrong word when describing a character. 
  • A character with an attitude is always more interesting than a character with a history. 

Lee Child & Joseph Finder talking about writing together.

“What Does He Know?” – Lee Child & Joseph Finder

  • The reader creates the character just as much as the writer. – Lee Child
  • Give readers just a blip here and there so they are intrigued enough to want to learn more. – Joseph Finder
  • Do it once and do it right. – Lee Child
  • I’ve always been intrigued by having an opening and veering in a different direction. It’s exciting. – Joseph Finder
  • Editing for me is an infuriating thing because sometimes editors are right. – Lee Child

Steven James discussing plot twists.

“Plot Twists” – Steven James

  • If something is only unexpected, people won’t be satisfied. 
  • When you write, you always want to escalate the tension. 
  • There’s always a coincidence in a book and it’s the one that incites the story. 
  • Always give the readers what they want or something better. 
  • Foreshadowing is the way you remove coincidence. 

John Sanford describing how to engineer a story.

“Writing As Engineer” – John Sanford

  • I don’t have detailed, hot sex scenes in my books because they slow down the story. 
  • In my case, I have a crime already in motion on the first page to grab the reader’s attention. 
  • When your character walks into a house, you should describe what it looks like, sounds like and smells like. All of these things give it reality. 
  • You can use the same house layout 33 times in a row and people won’t know it as long as you change what the outside looks like each time. 
  • The first page is the one that’ll sell the book. 

Linwood Barclay going over the editing process.

“Your Editor Just Might Be Right” – Linwood Barclay

  • I’ve never written a book about a writer who wanted to kill his editor, but I bet it would be good. 
  • If you think that your stuff is so good that it doesn’t need to be edited, you’re missing an opportunity for it to be better. 
  • You need an editor whose opinion you can trust. 
  • Every one of my books has been made better by the editing process. 
  • You live or die on the first page. 

Linda Fairstein discussing going from a day job to being a full-time writer.

“The Day Job: Fact To Fiction” – Linda Fairstein

  • To go from a job where I spent 30 years surrounded by people to the solitary atmosphere of being a writer was enormously difficult.
  • I go to an office to write because I approach it like a job. 
  • When I had a day job, I’d wake up early and write for an hour-and-a-half to two hours for four or five days a week. 
  • It took me two years to get into a different kind of daily rhythm. 
  • Most of my heavy research is done before sitting down to write. 

T. Jefferson Parker and John Lescroart speaking about finding your voice.

“Learning From Your Heroes & Finding Your Voice” – T. Jefferson Parker & John Lescroart 

  • It’s wonderful to indulge your heroes but at some point you have to get rid of them and make your writing your own. – T. Jefferson Parker
  • You can’t commit to finishing your book. You have to commit to being a writer. – John Lescroart
  • Even after you find your own voice, you never know how people are going to receive it. – T. Jefferson Parker
  • I set a goal for myself to fill four pages a day. – John Lescroart
  • I think I get 75 to 80 percent of my inspiration from other writers. – T. Jefferson Parker

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