Posts Tagged Viable Paradise
By comparison to all of the other days, this one was quiet. Collegiums all day. Debra Doyle in the morning, talking about research (the act of, and opportunities for), followed by Patrick Nielsen Hayden discussing publishing (the history of how the SF/Fantasy market has evolved). The afternoon was more of an open floor, where any last minute issues that may have previously slipped minds of the faculty earlier in the week were able to be brought up, or fielding lots of questions from us, the students.
Dinner was leftovers, and several people spun off for their own adventures. Macdonald took a group out to watch the sun set over the water. Some of them later went in to town (after returning and having dinner) to find some ice cream. At some point, there was a lot of packing going on as we prepared to leave the next day.
The Steve’s (Brust & Gould) as well as Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden took up musical residence in the downstairs room – guitars, some banjo, Gould on harmonica, and songs. Lots of songs. They played until close to one in the morning, I heard. I didn’t make it, I bowed out before midnight.
The mood was a joyful somber, happy we had the experience, happy that we had survived, but sad that the moment was coming to an end…
More on that in another post…
No, seriously. after getting the writing assignment on Monday, the running joke from the faculty was “the Horror of Thursday.” More on that in a moment.
This was the day the schedule became more “academic” – the workshopping was done and it was now time to turn more to conversations about bigger elements of writing craft. Scott Lynch started the day with a discussion of world building [personally, this was something worth the price of admission, in my opinion]. Simple take-away, and why I say this was worth it for me: I come from a gaming background, so when I have attempted to construct bigger fantasy things (especially bigger fantasy things) I have tended towards bogging myself down in the minutiae of developing the world. Not a bad thing, but working on all of that meant the story wasn’t going anywhere (yes, tectonic plates were discussed, not to mention dismissed). Right, the simple take-away: focus on what’s relevant to the story, and develop as needed. When bigger back stories are needed, worry about it then (and only use what is needed as “relevant” to the moment in the story it’s needed).
As a gamer – fellow old-ish school folks might remember some of these: I played mostly 2nd Edition AD&D. Forgotten Realms was usually the flavor of choice for most of the groups I ran with (which would be why I have a slew of FR paperbacks on my shelves, and am quite happy several of them are now coming back as ebooks – for the ones I wasn’t able to get way back when). But, as far as gaming supplements go, some of my favorite ones were the “Volo’s Guide to…” series (started with Waterdeep, but books also included Cormyr, the Sword Coast, the North, and a few others). I enjoyed them for the depth of extra details they provided, and became part of what I aspired to develop for my own fantasy setting.
And it failed miserably, as I hinted at above (read: lost momentum on the story since I was trying to build up the scenery).
Which is why I said Scott’s talk was all sorts of awesome for me. It helped me get out of my own head – for now at least – to skip what I had been doing and remember to focus on the important stuff: the story.
The second lecture of the morning was Steve Brust, and was subtitled “Stupid Writer Tricks.” The day was sunny, mostly clear, and only slightly chilly by this point (temps had risen to around 60), so we carried the session outside to keep things interesting.
After lunch Steve Gould talked about some of the perils of the writing life (yes, they are out there, and they are mostly social/emotional issues). The point here was to make sure we come up for air/socialization, and to not be afraid to ask for help.
Then came… the Horror.
We split up into small groups (of 3 students per faculty member), and took our fragile little stories that we had been working on since Monday, and processed them like slush in our groups. The story from each group that was judged “most complete” (by the students, not faculty) was then offered up to the group to be slushed again – the first page was read aloud by Macdonald, with the qualifying question: what would you be most likely to keep reading, based on the first snippet that we heard.
After this, we were told to find space on one of the walls and hang our stories up so that everyone could have the chance to read them.
Thus was the horror survived, and much rejoicing (and “mandatory fun”) was had.
After dinner we went for a walk to stargaze over one of the strips of beach down the road from the inn. We also watched the water for the bioluminous jellyfish that tend to gather in the area. Later that night, we reconvened (around 11pm) for more social conversation and stories from the faculty, with cookies served, the major event being Elizabeth Bear reading the story of The Unstrung Harp (or Mr. Earbrass writes a Novel). (“TUH!”)
And yet another thus… thus did Day 4 come to a close.
Wednesday is designed as a half-day for a number of reasons. First, the obvious – we had stories to write for Thursday. Just as obvious, it’s a good time to allow for a breather, so we, as students, have a chance to process some of what we’ve been getting.
Workshops in the morning (the last round), lecture, then break at noon to call it a day.
This was the day for my story to be workshopped, I had Elizabeth Bear and Patrick Nielsen Hayden as the faculty. I made a comment to my group after we finished that being critiqued on a Wednesday, while good, is not as immediate of an impact as if it had been Monday, having already had the two one-on-ones (which, in my story’s case, meant some things I had been told on Monday were already being considered by the time the group got to me on Wednesday to tell me very similar items). Understand, I appreciate their feedback on what they were given, but after my Monday one-on-one I was already (mentally) working on how to redraft/restructure the story. Their feedback drove the point home that the story would need to be overhauled significantly.
Not a bad thing. However, Bear said earlier in the week that most of the goal behind the workshop isn’t to fix the one story, it’s to adjust the thinking to apply skills to future stories. [It’s just fixing this one becomes a side benefit, if it can work… my thoughts.]
The lecture of the day was from Elizabeth Bear on the subject of Point of View. The quick version: it fixes everything. [Longer version, attend for yourself.]
A fair gaggle of us walked into town with Steve Gould where we ate at Linda Jean’s Place for lunch. Afterwards, Steve took us on a small walking tour of a Methodist Revival Camp (one street over from where the restaurant was), before we walked back to the Inn for some writing.
For the record: I started and restarted about three ideas before taking a short nap to let things stew. Naps, like POV, can often fix things. At least, it helped me rethink how I wanted to proceed.
One of the things that I realize that I left out of my previous “Day 2” post was a mention about my second one-on-one session… this one with Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Working with her was a much different experience from working with Macdonald, and here’s why.
As mentioned before, Macdonald focused on the story itself, and plotting. In my time with Teresa, she did what I later heard referred to as her “parlor trick” – line/copy editing the manuscript. In the span of about forty-five minutes, with conversation, we went through about eight pages with a focus on trimming the word count and tightening up the prose.
As was later explained, the idea is more for us to see that it’s not a difficult process (as long as we can get out of our way), but to also see how a few changes can make the work that much tighter.
Structurally very similar to Day 1. Workshop stories. Lecture. Lunch. Lecture. Collegium. One-on-ones. Dinner.
The morning lecture came from Debra Doyle, with the subtitle “Your sentence goes clunk, and other problems.” The focus being, in fact, constructing stories at the sentence level – word choice, presentation of information [how the sentences are structured]. Story is important, but how can the writer make sure the story comes through as clearly as possible?
Sherwood Smith flipped to the opposite end of the spectrum for the afternoon, discussing techniques for those that may be more visually oriented – when it’s all about capturing the images that we see in the mental movie as we write, and how to capture and work there.
Elizabeth Bear talked about story/plot formulas… “how to cook a workable plot every time.”
Yes, I am generalizing… the topics are great, but they are really things that are best experienced in person, since it’s not just the information being presented, but the conversations surrounding them that really forms the takeaway from this sort of experience. [Besides, the lectures could be completely different from what you may experience, should you attend yourself.]
It was at night though, after dinner, that things got… interesting.
That was when we had “Beer with Billy.”
In other words, the cadre had selected a work of Shakespeare prior to the workshop and prepared reading copies for everyone [this year was Richard the Second, but the play was not revealed to the students until the scripts were handed out]. Alcohol was available for those that desired to partake (as was cider or plenty of soda or water). And we read Shakespeare. Aloud.
The way the reading works is that everyone sits in a circle and someone ends up starting the play – either by volunteering or being thrown under the bus – and with each new speaking part that comes on, the next person in the circle takes that part. They then maintain that character for the duration of the entire Act. At the end of the Act, the next person in the circle becomes the first person, and the process repeats. (So, we had 24 students, and eight faculty all doing the reading. Act 1 had about ten characters. The 11th person in the circle became character # 1 in Act 2.)
And yes, we read the whole thing.
Afterwards, this put us close to 10p, it was back to our rooms for more critiquing (for Wednesday), or writing (for Thursday), or doing whatever we felt like needed to be done – passing out, perhaps, from information overload.
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.
Sunday. The day started out clear, a little on the chillier side (mid-60’s, overcast and with a breeze… good thing I had a jacket), and quiet. This was the only day to sleep in and maybe explore before the rigors of the workshop commenced.
I spent my morning rather leisurely, reading a book for my MFA class (trying to finish it before everything started), as well as doing a little writing (homework), before trekking into town. I walked to town, taking in the views as my path took me along the water, even straying off the pedestrian/bike trail to walk into nature around a pond. I took some pictures to try out the phone (will post some later in the week), did a little souvenir shopping, then had lunch at a local place, getting my check just in time to see the drizzle that was settling in over the area. It was light, just one step heavier than a mist, and while an annoyance it was far from a terrible event. I made it back to the hotel still mostly dry, and with enough time to relax a little before the festivities started.
And start it did, since this is the first chance I had to really catch up on everything here (yes, it’s been that busy).
Sunday night was the official “welcome” dinner, after which we were given our t-shirt and swag bag. The bag contained our schedules – for both workshops and 1-on-1s, a water bottle, bundle of writing supplies, notepad, some other materials (mine had a bound copy of articles, some others had plastic organizational folios). And of course, stories. The joke before we got them was “our 200 pages of reading for the week.” Then we got our bags, and they indeed held close to 200 pages of prose. (The stories we submitted for application are what would be critiqued.)
After the swag had been distributed, and discussed, we split into groups to play some games: Thing, and Mafia. The point behind the games is two fold. First, they served to give a chance to interact with other members of the group and get to know each others names; second, to have a little bit of fun (writer’s can’t be serious and brooding all the time, you know).
About the games:
The group I was in had about 15 people, including Elizabeth Bear, Steve Brust and moderated by Steve Gould, and we started with Thing. The premise – like that of the horror movie – is that the players are a group of scientists at an Antarctic research station. One of us has become infected by an alien (The Thing) who is now posing as a scientist. [The original thing: determined at random by drawing of cards – all black with one red. Whosoever gets the red starts as the Thing.] The objective: The scientists are trying to “kill” the Things before the balance shifts (Things outnumber Scientists). How it’s played: Once the Setup is completed, the players “sleep” (everyone closes their eyes and the Thing is given a chance to reveal his/herself to the moderator), the players pick two players to “test” – if the person tested is human, meh, okay, whatever. If the person picked is a Thing, they must “die a horrible death.” After the second failed guess (i.e. – human), it becomes night again (repeat the “sleeping” and the Thing selects someone else to become a thing). Then repeat – two guesses, “sleep” another scientist is turned – until either all of the Things are eliminated or there are more Things than scientists. One thing of note: IF it’s the second guess of a round and you eliminate a Thing, you can test again (and again, if eliminating another Thing – until getting a second “human”).
Sound complicated? It’s not, really… the hardest part is deciding (by committee) who to test each round. Players are allowed to bluff and misdirect (for example, Steve Brust repeatedly said “I am a Thing” for most of the rounds, even when testing revealed he wasn’t – until much later in the game). Our game went so long that it came down to only two Scientists left… I was able to stay in until the last five before being turned then ousted.
After we finished, we joined the other group (which had already finished a game of each, and had folks already calling it a night), so those interested could play another game, one called Mafia. Principle is similar to Thing – a card is dealt to each person, and depending on the card means you’re either a Villager or Mafioso, with one person as a Commandant. The Commandant is able, during the “sleep” between rounds, to indicate players to “test” them, determining if they are Mafia, potentially using that information during the “testing” in the rounds. The variance, though, is that “at night” (the “sleep” stage) the Mafia “kills” one of the Villagers; during “the day” the group offs someone else – in hopes of taking out the Mafia members. [I stayed up and played, and was a Villager, and was one of the last two villagers left when there were two Mafia left – forward moves meant Mafia won.]
After that, it was back to my room to tackle the first two stories for workshopping the next morning.