Tag Archives: writing workshop

I was accepted to Taos Toolbox Workshop

I get to participate in the 2017 Taos Toolbox Workshop!

One (thousand) exclamation(s) does not cover my utter surprise and excitement at getting the news.

And then, doubt.

Spending-guilt. Do I deserve to go? We can afford the expense, but still it’s a lot of money and there’s no expected (monetary) return-on-investment.

Mom-guilt. Both of my teenagers are going through awful life challenges right now. What if there’s another crisis while I’m gone? On an intellectual level, I know my husband can handle it. But still…

Imposter Syndrome. I have learned the identities of several other workshop students, and they are amazing authors with long lists of published works, or have been to audition workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, and Viable Paradise before. But, in the last year I’ve gotten much better at not letting myself be intimidated by (for example) a room full of Clarion West graduates. Also I’ve never met another writer who didn’t experience imposter syndrome to some extent.

Going to Taos Toolbox Workshop is, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I know I will make the most of it. I know Nancy Kress is a fabulous teacher, and I’ve heard wonderful things about Walter Jon Williams. I look forward to meeting guest lecturers George R. R. Martin, E.M. Tippets, and Steven Gould.

I’ll fill my brain and notebook to overflowing with as many tools as I can.

I have issues, Deadpool

Daughter A’s thrift-store find.

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Writing Classes are the best

I try to go to writing classes when I can because I always leave with some new tools and a better understanding of my old tools.

At the end of June I got to attend the two-day writers workshop hosted by the Locus Awards about creating character, plot, and scenes. It was taught by Daryl Gregory the first day and Connie Willis the second day. Both halves of the workshop were all kinds of awesome.

Both Connie Willis and Daryl Gregory are fabulous teachers.

I just finished typing up my hastily scribbled notes from the class. I’m not going to share everything (that would be a very long post), but I will share a couple ideas that particularly generated ah-ha moments for me.

Inciting Incident
New-ish writers like me hear this over and over again – the story must start as close to the inciting incident (point where everything changes) as possible. Thou must not start with a bunch of backstory to set the scene. But even when I start in the middle of the action it’s hard to figure out exactly where to start and how to give the reader enough information to understand what’s going on.

I feel like I understand what this means a little better. The purpose of an opening scene is to hook my reader. My reader should want to learn more. My opening should raise questions in the reader’s mind to get them to keep reading. My story beginning should make the reader care about my character, so they care about whether or not the character gets what s/he wants.

Once my reader is hooked, then they will care about the character’s backstory and anything else they need to know to understand the rest of the story.

Dialog Scenes
Dialog is way more than just two characters chatting. It can and should be used for all kinds of heavy lifting to reveal plot and character. It never hurts to remind myself that characters should always want something. In dialog, the information conveyed by a character should move them toward their goal. Every speaking character wants something from the other character.

Learning from Material
When I look at my gigantic to-read pile, it’s hard to pick up an old favorite. I knew that reading favorite books and re-watching favorite films or TV shows – paying attention to everything that works and doesn’t work, and figure out why – would be educational. But I haven’t done it much. So right now I’m re-reading “Druss” by David Gemmell, one of my all-time favorite heroic fantasy novels.

These goats have learned to this pulley to pull the little bucket toward them and eat out of it.

These goats have learned to use this pulley system to pull the little bucket toward them and eat out of it.

Have you been to a good writing workshop lately?

Third CW Strike

I applied, and was not accepted, for a third time to the Clarion West workshop.

cookies with eyes

My kids made these Illuminati cookies.

 

Dear Reader, if you found this blog post because you are searching for clues about how to write your own CW application letter, then… Alas, I cannot enlighten you.

 

 

 

Unlike the last two years, I was able to write productively in the anxiety-fraught days between the application deadline on March 1st and March 17th when I got the rejection email. And unlike my blogged reactions of the last two years, I’m not going to dwell on how devastated I feel this time.

In my writing “career” (the four years since I started writing down stories) the biggest mistake I have made so far was in January of last year. I was about 60,000 words into a novel and quit. Why? To write a new short story for my 2014 Clarion West application.

HUGE mistake, letting my desire to attend a workshop interfere with my writing. I derailed my novel completely. What I should have done was use an old story for the application and kept writing the novel. (I’m currently working on the outline for a new novel – more about that later.)

I’m lucky to live in the Seattle area because whilst the CW workshop is going on, the instructor for each week will do a public reading. I loved Cory Doctorow’s novel “Little Brother” and Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Salt Roads,” and Connie Willis’ short stories are amazing. I look forward to seeing those authors (and the instructors whose books I haven’t read – yet) in person.

Happy Writing.

Words Like Lego

One thing that Mary Rosenblum said during the one-day workshop I took with her was: “Words are like Lego Bricks”

That idea really struck a chord with me, and soon after that I saw this Lovecraftian lego sculpture at the business where my oldest daughter works.

giant octopus attacks spaceship

giant octopus attacks spaceship

Words are just building blocks. The magical comes from the way we connect them, and they can be put together in an infinite number of ways. So all I have to do is snap those bricks together and build a story. Edit, and take them apart. Rearrange and build some more.

This is fun, like building with Lego.

Happy Writing!

LegoOctopus_1

Character Building in Layers

Photo of a lilac tree Miriah saw on her walk in Bellevue on 30 April 2013

Lilac tree in Bellevue. It’s Spring!

Looks like Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Beltane!

I’ve been busy with real life, the kids, etc. Slushing has also kept me busy (since February 1st I’ve first-read 179 stories totaling 702,600 words).

About two weeks ago I attended a Clarion West ONE-day workshop with Mary Rosenblum “Step Into Their Shoes – Breathing Life Into Your Characters”. This workshop was amazing. Mary Rosenblum is not only a wonderful author, she is also a fantastic teacher. If you ever get the opportunity to take a class from her, I urge you to do it!

One thing I learned in the class is that depth can be added to characters during the editing process. An approach Mary suggested is to edit for characterization in layers, progressing to the next level on each pass.

Levels of Characterization
1. External – What the character does in reaction to physical stimuli.               (The first draft)
2. Internal – How the character reacts physically. Body language, facial expression, etc. that indicate thoughts, attitudes, emotions, etc.
3. Modify the internal reaction to convey a sense of backstory.
4. Modify the internal reaction with character faults that are known to the character.
5. Fine tune so that as the story progresses, character traits that the character is NOT aware of are revealed to the reader.

Photo of a fern Miriah saw on her walk in Bellevue on 30 April 2013

A tentacle fern, ready for Spring!

Here are some more things I’ll be thinking about when I try to create deep characters. (This is sort of from the notes I took in the class, filtered through my brain. Mary’s version and numerous insights were SO much better.)

Voice – What the character says and does.
I’ll be asking myself, would my character really SAY that? Because if I write a character speaking with my vocabulary instead of their own, then that character will sound like me instead of himself. I’ll also be asking myself, would my character really DO that? As the author, I am holding the puppet strings. But the reader should not be aware of those strings. So if I need the character to notice a clue or look out the window to further my plot, I’ll make sure she has a believable reason to look.

Environment – How the character is molded by their world and society.
It can be really easy to fall into the trap of having my character react to situations the way I would. But if (for example) I have created an oppressive world, then my character needs to reflect the pervasive world view. I will ask myself how my character has been affected by living in that society and how he has internalized that society’s ideals. Then I’ll ask myself if she is reacting in a way that makes sense.

Perspective – How the characters evaluate what they observe.
People are constantly noticing what other people are doing, and observing their environment. So I’ll be asking myself how my character relates those observations to themselves. How do they interpret the surroundings and people around them? What does it mean to them? A person who gardens will notice more specific things about a room full of plants than a person with no interest in plants.

Change – How the character changes over the course of the story.
I will remember that like regular people, characters don’t just have an epiphany and change suddenly. The character needs to change as the result of external stimulus and experience. In a character-driven story, the character should make one step along their character arc in each scene.

For more about getting into a narrator’s head, check out Cat Rambo’s recent blog post.

Happy Writing!

not accepted and moving on

A drawing by Alison Hetherington

by Alison Hetherington

I applied to the Clarion West six-week Writing workshop, and received my rejection letter last Friday (March 22).

Oddly, it wasn’t until after I sent in my application (five weeks before the deadline) that I realized how desperately I really wanted to go. It was like holding a lottery ticket. I hardly ever buy lottery tickets, and even when I do I don’t daydream about winning a million dollars (well, not for more than five minutes). But I did daydream about going to Clarion West, and how indescribably amazing and life-changing it would be.

Hoping for that golden-ticket phone call was far more stressful than I had expected it to be. I watched the forums on the Clarion West web site. On March 12, applicants on the forums were already speculating that acceptance phone calls were imminent. Although I made only a couple of brief posts myself, I saw the craziness I was feeling echoed in post after post from other people. Some “forum-ers” with far better Twitter-stalker skills than me found a tweet from one applicant who got their acceptance phone call on March 19.

I wish I could say that I was able to channel my anxiety into a flood of productive writing. But no. I have been at a creative stand-still for the past two weeks. Today I dredged up my last unfinished short story, a Sci-Fi story based on an early 1600s Border Reiver ballad. Because it’s time to shake it off, move on, and keep writing!

My rejection email included the phrase “our readers particularly commended your work”, which I’ve heard is a good thing. I will be thinking about participating in the Clarion West write-a-thon, and I hope to apply for the workshop again next year.

And this summer in Seattle there will be weekly Clarion West Instructor readings to look forward to.

Happy Writing!

Villains

photo of a Robin, Western Washington, June 2012

A robin in the tree outside my house.

Last weekend I attended Foolscap, a small, local Fantasy and Science Fiction convention. One of several cool things about Foolscap is the Friday Writer’s Workshop. I got to attend four presentations, all of them extremely useful and informative.

The Villains workshop was particularly eye-opening for me. It was taught by the amazing Kat Richardson, author of The Greywalker Novels. She recently wrote an essay, “A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy” about how important a Villain is to a story. Kat is not only a gifted writer, but also an excellent teacher.I had several actual “ah-ha” moments during Kat’s workshop. In particular, I have two short stories I’ve been working on that were sort of “stalled” because I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. Now I know – they need a “better” villain! The villain defines the conflict. If the story is kind of ho-hum and uninteresting, it’s probably because the conflict is too vague or undefined. What does it need? A villain. A villain that’s as deep and fleshed-out as the hero.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. A couple weeks ago I was in the process of creating my new character for a GURPS-based role playing game. My husband and I joined a group that is just starting a new campaign. So I was paging through the “GURPS Basic Set: Characters” book, reading about possible Advantages and Skills for my character. I mostly skimmed through the positive traits I could “buy” with points. The Disadvantages (faults) and their consequences were far more interesting. (I chose “Weirdness Magnet”, -15 points.)

photo of a Robin, Western Washington, 2012

A robin and his breakfast.

Speaking of villainy, I am now a First Reader at Strange Horizons!  I am very excited about this opportunity. It’ll take a lot of time and work, but I feel so honored to get this awesome learning experience!

No, I will not be blogging about reading from the “slush pile”. For anyone that is interested in an “inside perspective” from the point of view of experienced First Readers, I  recommend Sarah Olson’s blog post (from a few months back) “Slush Readers’ Advice for Writers”.

Happy Writing,

Miriah