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Clarion West Week 3

A great, busy, hard-driving week. We had Ian MacLeod in from UK and he focused on character and how things can flow from that. Character connects to plot and setting and setting connects to character and plot and plot connects to character and setting, yes, but what are the mechanics of character? What are the mechanics of creating a plot and then choosing a character who fits into it? What are the mechanics of working with settings to frame or give birth to characters and plots? How do we generate characters? Why do they have the quirks they do? How do they function within a story?

Ian was great, especially in one-on-one sessions where he offered a lot of great advice. In our one-on-one sessions, he urged me to try thinking about character and plot in terms of opposition, especially since my strengths are in setting and character but not really on plot and action. I often have stories where nothing in particular happens. His feedback on my story “Winter Wheat” was basically that my characters were in positions in which they should have gotten pissed off, but instead they kind of bore the weight of things and soldiered on. “Anger is a great motivator,” he said, and advised that I try using emotions like that to spur my characters into action. (Something I’ve taken to heart in the story I submitted today, to be workshopped on Tuesday.)

When I noted that I have a tendency to work in longer forms (to which Paul Park amusingly replied, “Well, why do you feel you ought to write short stories, then?”), Ian noted that there’s nothing wrong with it, but quoted David Bowie on the amazing freedom of being able to crash a plane and walk away in one piece. When you’re writing a novella, it’s really hard to experiment, or to feel okay after messing up on page 90. When you’re writing a short story, though, the stakes are just not going to be as high, so you’re more free to experiment and mess around. He suggested I experiment with different character types, funny characters or scary ones or crazy ones, experiments in voice-emulation and so on. One of the ideas he threw at me was to try writing a story from the POV of Cthulhu, something I’m not up for right now, but which I may try someday. Maybe.

Anyway, it was a great week, and it ended with us meeting Nalo Hopkinson tonight. She’s very cool, and I’m sure this week is going to be great as well. It’s been so great being among people who really love and care about this kind of literature we’re all into. People who are generally cool and interesting and genuinely nice. As another class member posted, it feels like Rock Star camp for SF writers.

Oh, yes, and Auntie Splinster has written up a good description of the day trip we made on Saturday. I credit the trip and my trip mates for my having gotten over the awful rut that kept my story incomplete until Sunday afternoon. I found too many collections of short stories at Elliot Bay Books, and the Creole food and the local Central Public Library were both really distracting in a good way. (As was the lovely company.)

Finally, just so people know that I am actually doing something here, I’m going to paste in the first paragraph (or two) of the three complete first drafts stories I’ve handed in so far:

From “Why Korean Eat Dog”:

“He doesn’t look any different,€? Jennifer said to me when we got home from the hospital after Ben’s treatment.

“He’s not supposed to, are you, boy?â€? I said. He looked up at us from the tatty carpet with his big, curious eyes, and I’d swear he smiled a little.

From “Winter Wheat”:

January, 2011
In wintertime, the slough over on the Wishnowski place always froze over, and the boys would all get together and play hockey. Jimmy’s ice skates were too small, because they were his cousin’s, but even so, he managed to shoot a couple past John Miazga and between the two twigs that marked the width of the imaginary net. Two goals was really something because John was a high school boy and always said that he had been playing hockey since before ‘Rocket’ Richard had died, though that probably wasn’t true.

From “Country of the Young” (a title which I need to replace with something better):

Ji Ah set the heavy bag down on the floor beside her feet. She wondered if the train’s clattering could set off the bomb, crack open one of the plastic bricks and infect everyone too soon.

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