Here at last are the photos from the workshop. Alexis Glynn Latner and I took turns taking pictures with the class.
Myself and students.
Alexis and students.
Thanks again for a wonderful workshop.
Okay, on to the important stuff. On vacation, I thought a lot about the workshop and what we mean to do when we write. I think that beginners often fall into the trap of cleverness. This is the “jar of Tang” syndrome that the Turkey City Lexicon covers so amusingly. It isn’t enough to tell a good story. We want to create that twist, that bit of cleverness, that shocks readers with our genius. (In my case, it was one of my early sword-and-sorcery short stories that was really about rivalry between sisters! Wow! See? So modern! So…clever.)
Cleverness will bite you on the ass if you aren’t careful. Readers don’t really care about clever. They just want a good story. Cleverness, or seeking the twist, will only get in the way of the story. I read a workshop piece once in which the writer created all these long names with Greek roots for their symbolic meaning that had nothing to do with the plot or the characters themselves. The names were unreadable and the symbolism wasn’t so much. This was a beginner caught up in cleverness.
A good story beats cleverness every second of every day. One of my most successful stories only became successful when I forced myself to just write what happened, instead of going for the overarching metaphor or the singular cleverness of the conceit. (It’s “Into the Dark,” and that’s me reading it.)
I think beginners can make great strides if they forego cleverness and embrace storytelling. The cleverness comes, as so many things do, when we stop trying.
Now, cleverness in the service of story certainly has its place. Worldbuilding requires cleverness, as does plot, character — all of the components. But cleverness for its own sake will only detract. So get rid of the twist endings, the fancy names, the highly convoluted plot, or the unconventional story telling mode (seriously, second person singular will not rescue a bad story from tedium, and neither will telling a story out of sequence).
You have a story to tell. So just get on with it.