jeffsoesbe (jeffsoesbe) wrote,

Viable Paradise, Day 3 (Wednesday): Face the Music

Summary: I get a serious dose of cold, hard reality and spend most of the rest of the day recovering from it.

- Early yoga and coffee
- 8 am: Critique session for Andrew and for Me!
- 930 am: Lecture by Laura Mixon on "Story"
- Short break
- Noon: Go to The Bite for lunch
- 500 pm: Lecture by Laura Mixon on Storytron software
- Dinner, work on critiques and homework story
- Watch "Bionic Woman" with everyone
- More work on homework
- Elizabeth Bear tells us a story
- Even more work on homework

Wednesday is actually cut into several posts, as I was doing a better job of blogging during the day.

Wednesday started with some yoga at 6:30 AM with Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Bear, and Pat Scaramuzza. We went through a podcast from It consisted of moving through some basic yoga postures with narration and background music. It was nice; it woke me up and got the blood and brain going.

After a quick shower, I went to coffee with Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon. I had arranged a session to hear their opinion on my story because I liked what I had read by them, and I was very impressed with how they led the earlier critique session on Monday and the feedback they gave. Steven had read the story, but Laura hadn't gotten the chance yet.

Steven and I mainly talked about protagonist motivation as the major thing missing in the story and various approaches to dealing with that (switch the narrator, up the stakes, get more involved, etc). It was a good, fun casual chat about the story and writing in general. Laura promised to give the story a second read and meet with me within the next day or two.

Critique Session
At 8:00 AM it was time for the critique session where "Case of the Killer Dog" was one of the two works under critique. First we did Andrew Magowan's work, consisting of the first three chapters of a book. I really enjoyed reading Andrew's chapters and described them as set in a "complex, fast-paced, brand-soaked, corporate-run, hyper-marketing, socially divided earth" with aspects of urban street violence and virtual worlds. He has a great sense of style and keeps things going from the get-go.

The only big thing I could comment upon was that the use of multiple characters could be difficult and he'd have to make sure that their wants/needs/problems are all expressed, that they progress and eventually weave together. Most other people described the work with similar praise, including Cory who called it "totally full of awesome."

Then it was my turn. "Case of the Killer Dog" is a story that uses the noir conventions and is set in a high-tech, government-controlled, socially divided future where there are augmented animals. The setting is similar, even though Andrew and I have very different styles. So that was a little weird. I called it the "augmented animal social dystopia hour".

I summarize my critiques in true noir fashion:

They gave him a good, hard smack. Then they gave him another one, for later.

It was rough. There were multiple items of praise, for the use of noir, for the augmented animals and how they were presented, for the setting. But the same points that came up earlier came up here, again and again: the story is flat because the main character is not really involved (wants and needs again) and the mystery is too easy.

I definitely felt a little bruised by the end, because I had the conception that the story was in a certain place that was a pretty good place and by the end I realized I was wrong. That's hard for a story that I had thought of as (almost) one of my "first string" stories.

But they're right. I'm dipping my toes in noir and I need to jump in fully. The story is flat, the mystery is simple, and the main character is not involved. Yet the problems are solvable, especially while jumping fully into noir. I think of noir as "in a hard world, a hard man tries to do good things" and that some of the conventions of noir are "everyone has a secret", "things are more complex than they seem", and "sometimes the innocent get punished". I need to bring in these aspects, make things way more complicated, put real problems in front of Mac and have him solve them only to make things worse, and get Mac personally involved.

The main lesson out of that session, and in fact one of the main lessons from the whole workshop, is: Commit yourself fully to the work. Make that connection. Figure out want and need. Jump in.

Lots and lots to think about.

Laura Mixon: Story
Laura talked about why we tell stories and what we like about them. Fundamentally, they help us understand what it means to be human. Stories can be any length, but the novella seems a natural length for SF/F because it allows room for world-building. Stories can entertain and provide meaning.

Writers have to be aware of what they're doing without being mechanistic about it. Scenes should do one or more of four things: Advance the plot; Illuminate character; Provide sensory detail; Elucidate the theme. Many times, these things come from a part of our selves that is non-conscious and you don't immediately realize they're present.

She talked about the inner presence, what some people call the muse, the part of you that is connecting with a story and trying to get it expressed by the analytic part. You have to navigate between that part and the internal editor, the part that wants to be critical and cut and mangle a work. You have to work with self-talk and self-criticism, and not be afraid to make cuts and moves in your work.

Give yourself permission to write crap. It might suck right away. There might be something good in it later. You can't judge a paragraph until it is in the context of the work. Let yourself try and fail and learn from this.

You are trying to move from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. You have to be wiling to change in each part of the move and you will be uncomfortable. Keep pushing yourself, look for things you can do better. Work on new problems and give yourself constraints (like we are doing with the homework).

I was in a bit of a fog after my critique session and thus a lot of what Laura was saying didn't sink it. But I think it eventually will sink in and prove very valuable as I try to move forward and try to improve my abilities.

After Laura's talk, it was time for a break and a field trip to The Bite.

Tags: case of the killer dog, viable paradise, writing

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