Transcription of the WotF workshop sessions. First day, 8/14/05, continues
TP is Tim Powers. KW is K.D. Wentworth. PM is Parenthetical Me, my own glosses.
[KW]: Know your markets.
Don't play games with the reader. "Eight deadly words: 'I can't figure out what is going on.'" The direction the story is going must be clear by the end of the second page. What makes this a genre story must be on the first page. [PM: this answers a question I have had for the last year: do I have to get some sort of sff signifier into the story early? I've had a couple of complaints from editors that about stories in which the sfnal element didn't how up until midway through. KW's 'direction' comment also echos Nancy Kress's teaching that the story 'makes promises to the reader', and must be sure to keep them. E.g., if the story starts out tortured existential angst, it can't turn into a bedroom farce halfway through.]
KW hates all elf stories, stories about characters in high school, and prologues. At least one editor at Del Ray has never bought a novel with a prologue. [PM: agree. I generally find prologues annoying, misleading, and useless.]
KW suggests that that you write your prologue, then discard it, and incorporate any parts that are truly important into the first chapter.
The way to characterize is not chiefly through physical appearance. [PM: Jed Hartman has been talking about one flavor of this in his blog recently: characterization by body habitus.]
Don't start story with character waking up. Or with amnesia. [PM: You can break this rule if you're Roger Zelazny.]
Avoid extremely weird POV's: mad cows, dust bunnies, urinal cakes. In her position as WotF slush reader, KW has seen all of these.
Be careful with completely unredeemable villains as protagonists. Their POV is unpleasant to the reader.
Do not write serial killer stories.
Reiterate: story ending the hardest part. Your airplane must land. You may have to rewrite the ending five or six times to get it right.
Don't start your story with self-written poetry. [PM: do not put self-written poetry anywhere in your story. Unless you're JRR Tolkien. And even he probably shouldn't have done it. Well, okay, Clive Barker got away with it a little bit inImagica. But just a little.]
Do not try to make your characters' names look exotic by filling them with apostrophes. It's been done. It's over. Let's move on. Also: do not construct names that are entirely consonants.
KW and TP: never underestimate the reader's ability to skip 'obvious' clues. TP says he deliberately over-explains important details.
Don't include maps or diagrams.
TP: Beware of overly hook-y, extreme opening sentences: "After I fished Albert Einstein's eyeball out of my martini glass...
Starting a story with quirky dialog isn't bad. [PM: we discussed this on the OWW list a little while ago. Yeah, I agree with this. Lots of examples in sff.]
TP doesn't like present tense.
Do not tell the reader what your protagonist looks like by having them look in a mirror, a pool of water, etc.
Try to write a brief bio of all the important characters. TP asks himself about all the character's important characteristics. (e.g., are they married? Do they have kids?). Asks 'why'? Then asks, 'why, really'? I.e., tries to get at deep reasons for that characteristic.
It helps to have the character be very good at something that he would rather not do any more.
Karen Joy Fowler: "Ask yourself what would character be doing if the events of the story had not intervened?"
It may be helpful to write a scene with the major characters that will not appear in the story, with them solving some problem together. E.g., taking a sick cat to the vet, or installing a starter motor in a car.
Try melding multiple friends of yours into one character.
Try taking someone you dislike and having them save the day, take some sort of courageous and self-sacrificial action.
Try writing a scene where the character gives you advice.
Learn how your characters act when startled, drunk, petulant, situations in which strangers rarely or never see you, but in which friends and family may see you.
No one ever sees themselves as the bad guy.
Know what your bad guy is like when he is being good: being kind, generous, etc. Let him have some skill, fixing cars, playing the piano, etc.
KW: Don't name multiple characters with the same first letter for their last name.
Watch out for mannerisms and tics: don't overuse them.
Know what your protagonist most loves, most hates, most fears, most needs.
Watch out for the passive protagonist.
Don't kill the protagonist and continue the story in another POV. Readers hate this.
Don't use real people as characters. E.g., don't use your ex-husband as a character and kill him. They won't appreciate it.
TP: Ask odd questions: "How is this story like way a safety pin works?" "How is this story like making furniture out of green wood rather than seasoned wood?" Some of this kind of thing works, some doesn't.
And now, a person in a bear suit, dancing energetically:
狡賢い == zurugashikoi == (adjective
which takes な) sly
|Bottom radical is 'shell/money' (貝), meaning here 'wealth/assets'. Upper radical is a Non-General Use character meaning 'hard/wise'. It acts phonetically to express 'bountiful'. This character originally meant 'great wealth'. Henshall suggests taking the upper radical as 'staring eye' (臣), and 'hand' (one of its the many different radical versions), and as a mnemonic: 'Use one from amidst followers to send in pursuit.'|