- Get up, do pushups and situps
- 8 am: Critique sessions for Ben and Rose
- 930 am: Lecture by Debra Doyle, "This Sentence Goes Klunk"
- 1100 am: Lecture by Elizabeth Bear on want and need
- Lunch lecture by Cory Doctorow on Blogging
- 130 pm: Colloquium on general issues (outlines, scams, etc)
- 400 pm: 1-on-1 with Debra Doyle
- Afternoon: finish Critters crits before "Padre" goes out; finish Wednesday critiques; type in session notes. Time dilates.
- Evening: dinner; walk to see jellyfish; talk to Cory about "tech work with social worth"
- Night: some hanging out, including with the instructors
- Late night: Start on the homework story.
Tuesday began much as Monday did, with some exercise, some breakfast (cereal, again!) and critique sessions.
Today we critiqued stories by Ben and Rose, in a session led by Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Debra Doyle.
For Ben, I felt like there were things missing in the narrative and that it felt a little travelogue-y and bland which, after interacting with Ben the night before, wasn't right as Ben is a very dynamic and interesting person. I thought the work was broad and that he could easily pluck three different short stories out of the events of the story. It turned out that Ben had actually taken a novella and chopped it down into 8000 words for the workshop and now realized that it showed in the state of the story.
For Rose, she submittded a big, fleshed-out, well-written fantasy world with some way cool magic, yet I never really connected with it due to my own failings in that part of the genre. Rose also unfortunately learned that she had accidentally recreated chunks of the "Buffy" universe (including the magic I said was "way cool"), even though she had never seen the show. Not that it's anything bad, but she has some "Buffy"/"Angel"-watching homework ahead of her so she can understand how to make her world unique.
But again, these were very complete works with a lot of good things in them. Also again, the critique group was very insightful and useful with their critiques. This is a talented, smart bunch and now I'm wondering how my session tomorrow will go.
Debra Doyle: This Sentence Goes Klunk
Debra's theme was the things in a story that make it go "Klunk" and thus take the reader out of the flow of the narrative.
Much of this depends on your style, so you have to know what your style is. Are you a general effects person (move the story along) or a special effects person (as much about how it's being done as what's happening). Classifications of style like plain, high, or low are useful when thinking about this aspect of your writing. Mixing styles and genres can also produce very interesting outcomes.
Detail is an interesting aspect. You want the story to move along fast enough that people don't start "counting the rivets on the moving train", but you don't want things to get missed. You can vary complex and simple sentences to provide rhythm and avoid monotony.
But the most important thing is getting the first draft done so the whole thing is out there. After that, you start worrying about style issues.
You should also read a lot to understand writing patterns. Read works out loud to hear how they really sound.
Don't overload a sentence. Don't use dangling modifiers - they are deadly in SF/F. Become allergic to words ending in "ing". Stay away from adverbs, especially "ly" words. As someone said, "they give your prose a curly effect, like poodles running around the page." Watch out for your "habit" words - the ones you use all the time. Avoid using the same words too many times too close together. Watch out for dashes and ellipses. Be careful and deliberate with your names. Know that words contain meaning and history.
Imagine your story being read by a 13 year old boy with a large vocabulary, a filthy mind, and no respect. Don't make him snicker!
This was a good lecture with lots of useful advice for tightening and cleaning up your prose once the first draft is out there. Get that first draft done, and then dive into the next drafts with all this information in mind. I think Debra could dive into anyone's manuscript and just scour the heck out of it. And I have a 1on1 with her today! Oh dear.
Lecture: Elizabeth Bear, "Want Versus Need"
Bear talked about general techniques for making sure your stories have conflict, because conflict with characters is what drives stories and makes them challenging and interesting. You can have stories without conflict, but they are usually pretty dull.
Conflict at its core is when either: two people want different things, or one person wants two different things. As the saying goes, "the universe fails to arrange itself for our convenience." Don't be kind to your characters.
Your main character has to want something, so the reader roots for them and finds them interesting. These wants can change over the course of a work. The reader wants the character to make an ethical decision, and we can call that a need. This is the core of "Want Versus Need". Things can change over the course of a story, but by the first page you must have a goal and a character and a problem.
Bear looked at various movies and analyzed them in terms of this structure. She and the class talked about "Die Hard", "Casablanca", "Unforgiven", and some war movies. They all have these needs versus wants for all the characters, and sometimes you have two good characters or two evil characters coming into opposition because of their wants and needs.
One way to approach a work is to take a very basic plot (like from "Shakespeare") and make every step as hard as possible. Also make sure there are things that can and do get resolved.
Since Bear and I had the 1on1 yesterday, I knew the basic outline and subject of this talk. It was still useful, especially the analysis of the movies I knew but I hadn't thought out in depth.
Lecture: Cory Doctorow on "Blogging"
At lunch, Cory gave us a run-down on the state of blogging and some tools people can use to start. He also gave some helpful hints on having an interesting blog.
You have to think like a newspaper editor, not a magazine editor. Write useful, important headlines and great leads. Save people from clicking to other places if you can. You should blog on something that you want to write about. The most important thing is to have a conversation with whatever audience you have.
Colloqium: General Subjects
The colloquium was about a bunch of things: synopses and outlines, scams, avoiding writing stupid cover letters.
Before that, there were some questions about languages and alien/different languages and dialogue. You can use English but play with syntax, word choice, etc. You could be like Tolkien and change word choices, but this is harder. Remember that dialogue takes time, it's not free. Listen to things that are going on in prose, cast people in your roles, watch gestures in everyday people and physical actors, listen to people talk.
Emotions are difficult, but the effects of those emotions are something you can describe. Sometimes you can just use a simple approach and even just use dialogue and scene. Fourteen-year-olds are good readers for these aspects; they will see things but have no tact and will tell you exactly what they think.
Outlines/Synopses: Editors and agents want to read something that gives the flow and sense of the book and what it would feel like to read the book. It's almost the "Children's Book" version of your book. It's an aerial view of the work. It shows that you have a plan. Think of it as telling the story to a friend, with all sorts of snippets. Note: Put the chapters first and then the synopsis, so you don't poison the chapters with the synopsis info.
Cover Letters: Keep it simple, but include personal and professional details that are pertinent ("I'm a marine biologist, my book is about a marine biologist who ...") or might make it more popular. Don't catalog all your sales; just pick the most recent/prestigious. DON'T mention other rejection slips. Get names right.
Scams: There are many scams or scam-like things. Agents can be real agents, incompetent agents, or criminal agents (or wannabes). There is much info on various scams at the SFWA webite (something they're good at), at Absolute Write and at "Predators and Editors". Remember Yog's rule (Yog = James McDonald): "Money flows towards the author."
Other: There was discussion about slush piles. Much of a slush pile is far below the level of people in Viable Paradise. It's "unsolicited crap by people with neuro-chemical disorders." VP people are probably in the top 6-8% of the slush pile.
1-on-1 with Debra Doyle
Debra was pretty positive about my story, saying it was a clean copy with almost no red marks (and coming from a strict grammarian like her that is a nice compliment) and that she liked the story and wants an augmented cat! It got borderline close to "twee" (a word I didn't know, definition), but didn't cross it.
We mainly talked about the noir aspects, and ways I could jump fully into noir rather than just dipping my toes in it. Debra asked some very pertinent questions like: Where did the money come from? Who benefits in the end (the security company and the augmented pet company)? In noir, things are more complicated than they seem and everyone is a little big guilty. Work with that. Also, Fritz has to die (his original fate). Sorry, Fritz.
It was a good session - Debra (and James, at the end) brought up some good points about noir and the story as a whole. She really helped open up some new possibilities in the story that I think can help give it some depth (and even work towards the want and need of the main character).
The Remains of the Day
I didn't have anything until dinner and seeing the jellyfish, so I finished up my Critters critiques because I was behind and had a story coming up Wednesday so I needed my 75% status. When reading these stories, the "top 6-8% of the slush pile" comment started making sense. The stories on Critters were a little klunky, a little rough, they started off slow or wobbled in the middle, and were definitely not as tight or complete as the work of the VP students. So, I tried to apply my VP learnings to the Critters critiques and give feedback that might help these stories come up a notch.
Dinner was more comfort food (pasta, meat, salad) and some good conversation. After dinner, we walked down to the beach and saw the jellyfish. The tide was going out from one of the lagoons, and as the jellyfish hit the turbulence of the bridge they lit up with incredibly bright phosphorescence. It was quite impressive. They are apparently very small but can make some serious light.
During the walk I talked to Cory about "tech work with social value" (something I think about) and he pointed me towards a couple places: Geekcorps, and MIT Fab Lab. I'd heard of both before, but didn't know much about them.
Geekcorps can be thought of as a "Peace Corps for Nerds" where people go on rotations and handle social tech projects in other countries. I think HP has some involvement with GeekCorps, so it could be a nice possibility.
Fab Lab is an effort out of MIT to set up fabrication labs in depressed areas where people can use fabrication technology to make, well, whatever. The concept is from Neil Gershenfeld (his book "FAB") and they are preparing to start deploying Fab Lab centers all over the globe. Very interesting cool-sounding stuff.
After the jellyfish watching, people hung out at the beach for a bit and talked about science fiction, about the stars (it was a clear and beautiful night) and space travel and "life out there", and told some stories about various SF personalities of past and present.
When I returned to the Island Inn, I did some emailing and went up to the Nielsen Haydens' room to tell Teresa about Derren Brown, the mentalist who plays mental tricks with people using the power of words (YouTube video of the "birthday present" gag). There was a group of instructors and staff hanging out, so I stayed with them for a while, had a "scurvy cure" (a very tasty drink of fruit and alcohol) and chatted for a bit. Finally, I returned to my room where I started in on the homework story but quickly succumbed to the long day and lack of sleep and crashed about midnight or so.
And so the second day was over. Late in the afternoon, I started experiencing a sense of time dilation that made me feel like I had been at Viable Paradise forever and my old life was lost in the distant past. The only sense I had of it was email and phone calls with home, bits of text and voices transmitted through air and space. When and how would I get back to this other world? At this point in time, I didn't know the answer to that question.