Friday, August 10, 2007

Losing my writers' workshop virginity

Ah, the ArmadilloCon writers' workshop.

This is the first writers' workshop I've ever been to -- actually, the first time I've had my writing critiqued. It's like crack. I'm hooked. I want more, more of this experience!

Not because the critiquers praised my work. Of course they didn't, nor did I expect them to. I'm very aware of the flaws in my writing. But it was so interesting to have other people read -- really read -- my work and analyze it in detail, and tell me what they did and didn't like. This was so much better than reader comments I received on some of my stories that were published in fanzines and on the internet. Those were limited to "it sucked" or "I didn't get it". This was the whole new dimension of critique.

Louise Marley, Sarah Arnold and Chuck Emerson at ArmadilloCon 2007 writers' workshop Author Louise Marley (the teacher of our group), and students Sarah Arnold and Chuck Emerson. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery

As I said in one of my earlier posts, due to size restrictions I could only submit half a story. Because of that, I did not expect to get helpful critique, but what I got exceeded my expectations. To summarize the readers' comments: my ideas were interesting and BIIG. But the story wasn't so much a story as an outline. For a novel. Some comments were of a nature "this sentence needs to be a chapter", or "I really want to know how this or that happened". I guess that's not too different from the ole "show, not tell". There were infodumps in some places. Several reviewers commented that the story was completely devoid of setting and the action was totally internal -- and that's very true. All the reviewers asked me to put in more images, some sensory stuff, to help them see the characters. That's an entirely valid comment. My characters are devoid of external descriptions. Not just because descriptions are desperately difficult for me to come up with. I don't see my characters as 3-dimensional people... or even 1-dimensional ones. They are just moving points in space that draw trajectories connecting my ideas.

Steve Wilson, Patrice Sarath and Matthew Bey at ArmadilloCon 2007 writers' workshop Patrice Sarath, the coordinator of the writers' workshop (center), Steve Wilson, and Matthew Bey (instructors). More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery

The most fascinating thing for me was to see how people saw different things in my story than what I've put in there. A topic I thought was secondary, they perceived as primary. And they had very few comments on the topic I myself perceived as primary -- perhaps because the primary topic does not reveal itself in earnest until the second half of the story, which they didn't have a chance to read.

A curious fact: based on the text alone, only 2 of 6 critiquers figured out English isn't my first language. That's not to say they didn't find flaws in my writing style; they did. The most common criticism was repetitiveness.

In any case, the workshop experience was rich beyond my expectations. I still haven't had a chance to absorb all the comments. What I said here is just scratching the surface. What saddens me is that the aspects of the story that require fixing are probably beyond my skills right now... and may be for a long time.

Here are more of my pictures and blog posts from ArmadilloCon 2007.

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