I spent the last two weeks living in Lewis Hall at Kansas University, in Lawrence, Kansas, attending the CSSF Short Story Workshop
run by SFWA Grand Master James Gunn
and Chris McKitterick (mckitterick
Each participant submits three stories to the group. Each story is read and critiqued during the first week, along with individual and group assignments. I rewrote the opening scene of "Recycled Dreams" and a new 800-word scene for "Wholesale Goods." That new scene earned me my first words of praise from Jim. Every year, one student really "gets" it, internalizes the lessons and puts them into action. This year, that student was me. Yay.
Over the weekend, each of us rewrote one of our stories (as much as could be done in a weekend). Those rewrites were critiqued during our last week. I rewrote "Wholesale Goods" and received my second compliment for being the most improved. I was a little embarrassed but it a good boost of confidence.
I learned many things during the workshop. I've summarized a few of them below. These are the things that I personally took away with me. If any of these things are wrong, it is solely due to my interpretation and no fault of anyone else.
- Ask the next question.
- Think of each scene as a story; it should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, but also move the story forward.
- The Science Fiction Sentence - start your story off with a sentence that clearly tells the reader they're reading Science Fiction
- Dramatize the story instead of just telling it
- Main characters should be at least as smart as your reader. Dumb protagonists are bad.
- There are more than five senses. Invoke at least three of them per scene.
- 'Defecate' describes it, but 'shit' lets you smell it.
- The most important thing to a story is an interesting character with a problem.
My writing skills have improved significantly thanks to the CSSF Workshop. Special thanks to Jim and Chris for running the workshop, again to Chris for offering to let us hang out at his house and watch old Science Fiction, and last but not least kijjohnson
, who took the short story workshop as well as taught the novel workshop, for the encouraging words and discussions on our individual problems and challenges. All of my fellow workshoppers were wonderful people and I enjoyed spending time with them.
The next thing that I need to fix my overuse of passive prose. I'm going through "Wholesale Goods" now, rewriting it to be active. As it do this, I've discovered something. Passive voice is telling. Active is showing. This draft is ending up to be a much more solid story. I'm hoping to have it finished and submitted somewhere (no idea where yet) in a couple weeks.
I'm itching to finish my revisions, submit, and get started on new stories. I have three bouncing around inside my skull right now. I outlined one of them during the workshop. I just need to do the same for the other two. I also started putting together a set of writing exercises to work on the things I want to improve on. I'll be posting these in the coming days/weeks.
If you're a new writer and thinking of attending a Science Fiction workshop, I can't recommend this one enough. The teachers are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. As with any workshop, go in to it open-minded and willing to consider the feedback and advice offered. You'll be a better writer for it.