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Month: July 2011

Interlude: the place your journey started

Interlude: the place your journey started

I am home from Taos Toolbox. I am still going to go over notes and memories and fill in the blanks, including some FAQs I’m getting (the short answer is: Yes, you should apply.)

But for now I’m going to spend the last few hours of my vacation recalibrating to my almosthusband and our life.

More soon.

Taos Toolbox: Days 4-6

Taos Toolbox: Days 4-6

Today is Saturday, our first “day off” since we arrived. Naturally, nobody actually took it off. Walter posted a comment to Facebook saying that we are the hardest working class he’s ever day–I can believe it. Nobody here is fucking around.

With the notable exception of last night. We ended the week with a plotting exercise. My novel was the subject, since it needed SO MUCH help. It took a dozen people more than three hours, but by Crom we got that thing plotted. I am SO grateful to my classmates for their help. But after that we were all beat and ready to blow off some steam. We went to town, went to dinner, came back with whiskey and wine, and stayed up ’til 3:00 a.m. talking in the common room. I am continually amazed at how great everyone is: kind, smart, funny–all of the things that are most important in friends.

There is already some talk about doing retreats together in the future.

Even now, it’s Movie Night–Memento is on the tv but some of us still have our notepads and laptops out.

Today I finally finished a draft of “The Three Feats of Agani,” a story that I’ve been agonizing over for the past six months. We’ll see how critique goes.

Taos Toolbox: Day 2

Taos Toolbox: Day 2

Today Nancy talked about effective description–that it needs to be specific, tonal, and interactive. By this she means that it’s not enough to say someone has a beer–whether it’s Oly or Blue Moon matters, because it tells you something about the person. For description to be tonal, it needs to take on characteristics based on the viewpoint character’s state of mind. The shade of a tree can be cooling, sheltering, restful, or depressing and sinister, depending on who is standing in it and where their mind is at. Interactive description involves a character coming into contact with the thing being described. So sure the coverlet is red, but standing in a room saying the coverlet is red is just kind of boring, so you say instead that she threw the red coverlet to the floor.

This came up a lot during the critique of my novel excerpt. I have what Nancy calls “White Room Syndrome,” and I know it. I even have “White City Syndrome” because I’ve been afraid to just go ahead and decide what city it’s taking place in (Minneapolis is where I originally thought it should be, and I think I’ll just go with it). I have a much easier time imagining people interacting with each other than with their environments, so there’s a lot of scene-setting that just hasn’t happened, or in some cases, happened too late. So I have a lot of work to do in that area.

Walter talked more about plotting today, which is another area where I am in sore need of help. I won’t recount his entire lecture here, but some of the techniques for building plot that he went over are:

-Doubling, where the main character’s problems and situation are mirrored by another character, who takes a different approach to it.
-Back story.
-Side story, subplot. Subplots should reflect on main character and his/her problems.
-Foreshadowing. Crucial for surprises, particularly changes in character.
-Red Herring.
-Deleted affair, where the entire story occurs immediately after an event we never see, such as a war.
-Raising the stakes.
-Reveals and reversals.
-Literalizing the metaphor.
-Pyrrhic victory.
-Narrative hook.
-Frame story and framing device.

In Found Objects I’m trying to use doubling, side story/subplots, and reveals and reversals. We’ll see what else I end up with. I apologized again to the class for not having my outline done, and Walter asked if I would mind having my novel used in a class plotting exercise on Friday. Mind? I am SO GRATEFUL for the help! I really want this thing to work–I love the characters and theme but damn do I not know how to plot something as long as a novel. Short stories, no probem. Novels, I’m at a total loss.

The class really seems to be gelling. They’re all just such nice people, sincere and pleasant to be around. I wish we had a little more time to socialize, but we’re all working too hard for now. Maybe this weekend.

So far, so good. My only complaint is that my stomach hasn’t stopped hurting since I got up here. I was talking to my suitemate and she said hers did the same thing at high elevations in Colorado. It’s pain, not queasiness, which would be more readily associated with the elevation–but then when everyone in the house has the stomach flu and is hurling I just get pain for several days, so maybe this is what queasy feels like to me. It’s worst when I eat, so dinner is kind of a tense affair for me as I try not to grimace my way through a delicious meal. I’m really hoping it resolves soon, because it sucks and it’s making it hard to sleep, or eat, or smile.

Our assignment tonight was to write a paragraph of no more than seven sentences describing a person alone in a room in a house, doing something. I still have that and one more critique to do, so I’d better get to it.

More tomorrow!

Taos Toolbox: Day 1

Taos Toolbox: Day 1

So it started today, for real. Got up at 7:00 and was in the common room by 8:00, finishing up a critique. People filtered in and we got started right on time.

Nancy talked today about writing in scenes, and the necessary elements of a scene:

  • Orientation – where, when, who
  • Purpose – advances plot, deeps characterization
  • Dramatization – dialog, action, description, thought
  • Tension – what the character wants
  • Ending

Walter discussed plot, and gave us handouts on Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula, and Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (as examples of plots and how to understand them–he wasn’t advocating their use.) Our assignment for tonight was to pick an existing movie, break down the plot, find the turning point, and then write a different ending. This could be in synopsis form, or we could actually write it out if we wanted. I summarized. I picked The Truman Show.

Apart from workshop time and dinner I’ve been in my room, reading for tomorrow’s session, working on that assignment, and thinking about which project I’m going to work on for next week.

Tomorrow my poor little novel is up for critique–based on some things Nancy said this morning during her lecture I know what some of the problems are that my classmates will undoubtedly be commenting on. “White Box Syndrome” struck me in particular–I have had a hell of a time setting the scene in the second chapter, so I fully expect to be called out on that.

It’s funny, I found myself severely rattled while giving my two minutes of notes to my fellows on their work, but I’m not nervous about my own being critiqued at all. Maybe it’s because I already think it’s weak, so I figure I can’t really be disillusioned. I’m certainly not here because I think it’s great, or even good–if I thought it was good I’d be asking Wendy and John to read it, and if I thought it was great I’d be querying agents. (I wonder if I will ever think it’s great?)

Oh and Nancy let me off the hook on the outline/synopsis–she says she can’t write the damned things either. So we’ll see if anyone thinks they’d want to read on without knowing what I had planned next.

My classmates are all smart, talented, serious writers. It’s nice to be back in a workshop setting–it feels a lot like the SBWC workshops, really, except that we’re critiquing more pages. I miss John and the kids already, but it’s familiar, and comfortable, even so far away from home.

Taos Toolbox: Day 0

Taos Toolbox: Day 0

I am writing this from a tiny California Pizza Kitchen in a terminal in my least favorite airport in the world, namely LAX. I am assured that it is only my least favorite because I haven’t been through Chicago O’Hare. I happily concede this point.

The last time I sat in this spot, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a California Pizza Kitchen–I think it may have been a Burger King. But I recognize the mural behind me–I have pictures of it. The last time I was here I was on my way to Defcon in Vegas. This time I’m on my way to Taos Toolbox.

I haven’t had time to get excited about it. Wedding stuff took up every spare minute of the past couple of weeks–I didn’t even get my outline done in time. Clearly I have a gift for planning major life events. I haven’t been able to get excited about the wedding, actually, either–there’s still too much to do. I’ll probably get excited half an hour before the music starts, when there’s nothing left for me to do or worry about getting done.

I wonder if I’ll be able to turn all of that off for the next two weeks and just be a writer. The stuff that needs doing I mostly need to be home to do, so worrying about it will be particularly ineffective.

The novel I’m workshopping is an urban fantasy absolutely riddled with plot holes. This makes me feel incompetent, like I’m going to be the remedial kid in class. John assures me that a workshop is a perfect place to get help in working out those plot holes. He is usually right about most things.

I’m fond of the characters, though, and many of the ideas, so I hope that my classmates and instructors will find something worth fixing in it.

I started reading my classmates’ manuscripts on the first leg of the journey, and am preparing to get my crit on. We have two minutes to present our notes. I haven’t done face to face critique in a couple of years now.

I should get as much done as I can now–I only got four hours of sleep, so the longer I’m up the less likely it is that I’ll be coherent. Class starts at 10:00 tomorrow morning–I won’t get in to Taos until about 9:30 tonight. I wonder if people will be exhausted from travel and hiding in their rooms, or if the adrenaline will kick in and everyone will want to hang out and get to know each other?

Update: Exhausted. Classmate Jeff and I were the last to arrive at 11:00 p.m. (it was much further from ABQ than we thought! Good thing we like each other) Have met my suitemate, who waited up for me. Passing out now. Workshop begins at 10:00 a.m. More tomorrow!