I went to quite a few panels at ArmadilloCon, but a few in particular stand out in memory.
The opening question on the technology panel was this: since science is hard to get right consistently in our books, can we tell an interesting story while still following the dictates of science? Will readers stick with a story that isn't completely accurate?
Nancy Kress, who was moderating the panel (and is very well-spoken), had an insightful comment: there is a spectrum of stories, all the way from hard sci fi on one side to whimsical fantasy on the other. Readers and writers both have comfort zones along that spectrum. What's important is to recognize where your story belongs on the spectrum and write it accordingly.
Another panelist (Adrian Simmons I believe), said that more important than accuracy in the details is understanding the rules and implications of the technologies that appear in the story. When coming up with a new technology, always ask “What other uses could this technology be put to?” Then think about what can go wrong. Stories are all about messes that need to be fixed.
CITY AS A CHARACTER
I went to a similar panel last year, but I still got a lot out of this one. Cities are a large part of world-building, whether they are real cities or not. All cities have their own unique atmosphere, and the characters in a story should feel that atmosphere.
One of the major points on the panel was the fact that cities aren't built in a day—they grow and develop; structures come down or are buried under other structures; styles change. When describing a city we must give the impression that the city has existed for years and will continue to exist into the future.
The comment that really stood out to me was that the writer should know the city well enough that the reader feels like the city is truly built of stone and mortar, not cardboard props. The reader should believe that if the character happened to take a wrong turn down an alley, the alley wouldn't contain wooden set pieces but a whole new living, breathing scene.
I was excited about this panel since it deals directly with an important aspect of my current project. Unfortunately I was so caught up in the discussion that I didn't take very good notes, but I here's some of what I remember:
The panelists brought up several important aspects of mythology: the usefulness of mythology to explain natural, cultural and psychological phenomena; the importance of mythology for passing along the morals of a society; the archetypes that show up in mythology and that resonate with us still today.
Several of the panelists felt strongly that writers should at least be very familiar with the myths that their stories are based in. Some stories based on mythology ignore the culture of the myths and leave out important details. Sometimes writers will use mythological characters as props instead of fleshing out real people.
After attending the panel I feel very motivated to get back into working on my own mythology-inspired novel.