Viable Paradise: Day 1

Monday. A little administrative stuff early, then workshops started at 9am.

The general structure for the first two days are very similar: workshop (1.5 hours). Lecture by an instructor (1.5 hours). Lunch break (1.5 hours). Afternoon lecture (1.5 hours). Collegium [a type of lecture that includes regular interaction from the students] (about 1 hour). One-on-one sessions (45-minutes per student, instructors fielding 3 students per day). Dinner around 1830.

For the workshops, students were divided into groups of 5-6, and we discussed two stories. Each workshop session has two professionals in attendance as well, so comment time was brief [little chance of sidetracking].

For the lectures, the instructors alternate, each covering different topics (but with constant feedback or reminders from the others, “What about [x]?” “I was just about to get to that.” or when discussing published works – “this is a good book to study for [x]” other suggestions would also fly around the circle].

Right, Monday. Workshopped two stories. First lecture of the day, Plotting with James D. Macdonald. As part of the lecture, he does a couple of cards tricks and suggests a book on magic (a specific one, but my notes are tucked away right now – but the recommendation is based on the idea of showmanship/presentation)… Skeptical? Had I just read the above and not been there I would have taken it with a grain of salt… but what my fuzzy-headed (right now) take away is that storytelling is like a magic – the key to good magic is to handle the presentation and transfer of information in a way that the audience doesn’t realize they are being manipulated. In card tricks the suggestion is all about subtleties of body language.

In the afternoon, Teresa Nielsen Hayden discussed Exposition  – the skill of incorporating information that has to be included in the story in a way that keeps the reader reading (or, how not to info dump).

In the afternoon, we were given our writing assignments for the week. We counted off by threes, with each group being given a story prompt that we had to work with. The catch? One thing I failed to mention in the last post… during the swag distribution we each picked a paper sack that contained a toy of some kind. The catch to our stories, besides working within the prompt, is that we also have to include the toy in some way. Due Thursday. How the hell am I going to put a mouse/rat together with an orchid?

My first one-on-one was with James D. Macdonald. And it was a lovely sort of brutal. The story I submitted, I had toyed with the idea of a continuation but was not really sure how to proceed, what I had written felt like it had ended at a decent spot. This is where the brutality kicked in: a major part of the story was telegraphed from the beginning [originally written as a Halloween type story, and my first real attempt at horror, what was cool to me was old hat to the establishment], so we discussed what the core moments and meat of the story, shave the rest out, then expand on what I had to follow a bigger arc. [Also known as: story right now is ~6500 words. Pare it down to about 1500-2000, then add three more sections of about the same length to parse out the character arc. Story still sits about the same length but has been amped up considerably, without all of the telegraphing and “cute” [my thought, not his] stuff I was trying to do. To be honest, I was playing with Lovecraft/Cthulu for elements… those were the major things that telegraphed and signaled “oh, okay… one of those kinds of stories.”] Hence the “brutal” statement.

But that’s part of the point… the idea behind the learning element is to shift thinking…

After the one-on-ones came the communal dinner.

Then the individual use of time: back to rooms to process critiques for the next days workshops, poker with the instructors… or just hanging out. To each their own, but Day One was done.

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