Viable Paradise 17: What did you learn, Timmy?
I’m sort of behind the times in doing my Viable Paradise wrap-up post, but I tagged a mini-vacay to DC on at the end of the trip and, frankly, my brain has kind of been mush since I left the workshop. It is still very mush-like almost a week later actually, if we’re being honest. So apologies if this is less than coherent.
For those of you wondering, Viable Paradise is a week long writing workshop with professional SF/F novelists and editors as the instructors. VP is an in depth and intense week of working on your writing. It is transformative and amazing, and I can’t recommend the workshop enough.
Just be ready, because you won’t quite be the same person as when you left. Although, if you’re lucky (like me) you will have found a whole tribe of new friends. I now have 23 new friends to critique my writing, lend me a shoulder to cry on, and just generally geek out about stuff with.
I decided for my VP blog that instead of a high level overview of my experience, I would just hit the highlights–moments, lessons, thoughts, words that struck me and stood out for me. So here we go…
(Disclaimer: I’m working from my notes for the week which were detailed but not exhaustive, so if I wrongly attribute a quote please forgive me and let me know so I can fix the tag.)
“Put your characters where they are the most interesting.” ~James D. Macdonald
This nugget was from “Uncle” Jim’s incredibly detailed lecture on plot. I thought this was a great piece of advice. If you think about, say, the Vorkosigan books, is Cordelia at her most interesting as a relatively normal Betan ship captain going through her normal day to day scientific and captainly duties? Or is she more interesting as a total fish out of water on the backwards, misogynistic, anti-science Barrayar? This was one of those great nuggets that sounds simple, but that you can actually unpack forever.
“Your characters need to want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.” ~Elizabeth Bear (I believe quoting someone else…)
Another great lesson for my own writing. A lot of times the motivations for my character’s get sort of muddy, or I find myself bending over backwards trying to get them to go where I need them to for the story. I think having a clear want and clearer motivations might help clear this up and strengthen my plots a lot.
Specificity in Details
This was my big takeaway from the week across all of my story critiques, the lectures, the informal chats, everything. You would not believe the amount of work and thought that the professionals put into their own details. And this is definitely something I need to work on.
A great example was from my own story where I had a character drinking a glass of ale. When I wrote that it was just a throwaway thing: he’s drinking, he’s a fantasy character–he’d probably have ale. But in my critiques I learned that the fact he’s drinking out of a glass is significant. What kind of ale he’s drinking can matter. Why ale and not beer or vodka or…?
Details matter, and the more carefully you choose your details the better your work will be.
Speaking of Details…(aka Other Awesome Misc Things from the Week)
“You shoot or loose an arrow. You do not fire it.” Thank you, Debra Doyle.
“Fairy tales start with ‘once upon a time…’; war stories start with ‘No shit, there I was…’” ~Elizabeth Bear
“History is the trade secret of science fiction.” ~Ken MacLeod, quoted in a lecture by Steven Brust
Write the book that you want to see on the bookstore shelves that isn’t there yet. Write with passion and sincerity; don’t just write what is selling at the moment. –Paraphrase of Scott Lynch
Don’t focus on awards, money, groupies, fame. Focus on the things you can control like making time to write, having fun, submitting your work. –Paraphrase of Stephen Gould’s very inspiring talk
Don’t bet against yourself, and don’t do the editor’s job for him. Which means: submit to the best markets you can and let the editor reject you. Don’t reject yourself by never submitting at all. That’s not your job. ~This bit of wisdom is a synthesis of various things which Jim Macdonald, Stephen Gould and Patrick Nielsen Hayden were telling us throughout the week.
“Every book you write is a permanent advertisement for every other book you write.” ~Teresa Nielsen Hayden
VP17 Class Photo
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Rampe)
And, to wrap up, here are some great blog recaps from my fellow classmates and new friends about their VP experiences. Click on the name to read their blog post: