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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Online version of the Writing Fight Scenes workshop!

I know that some people who were interested in my fight scenes workshop weren’t able to make it out to Seattle this past weekend. I have good news for you: I’m teaching an online version this upcoming weekend! From 1-3 p.m. Pacific time (4-6 p.m. Eastern), through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. To register, send an email to catrambo@gmail.com saying you’d like to sign up for this one, and telling Cat whether you would prefer to pay via Paypal, Venmo, or some other route; whether or not you are a former student or Patreon supporter of hers; and how you heard about Cat’s classes. There are also three scholarship slots available, if you are unable to pay — details at that link. (Note that she particularly encourages QUILTBAG and POC people to apply.)

Things they never teach you

Writing advice books tend to go into great detail on things like how to structure your plot, or develop character, or describe things, or whatever.

They do not — in my limited experience; hence this post — bother to say much about how to decide where to break chapters, scenes, or paragraphs, apart from telling you to start a new paragraph if you’re switching speakers in dialogue. Maybe a vague nod at “cliffhangers are exciting!,” but that’s about it. You’re just supposed to figure that stuff out as you go, apparently. Or else (and this is entirely possible) it never occurred to the writer of the writing advice book that there’s an actual skill buried in there.

But I haven’t read a huge number of writing advice books, so I’m perfectly willing to believe that someone out there has at some point unpacked this stuff for the reader. Any recs? Because it’s one of those things that I do instinctively, without much ability to articulate how the decision-making process goes — and since I enjoy teaching writing, being able to articulate it would be useful.

I return to the teaching fold!

Temporarily, at least. πŸ™‚

I’m currently slated to do two teaching stints in 2020. The first is coming up soon: Pen, Paper, Action!, a one-day workshop at Clarion West in Seattle on February 8th. There I’ll be covering not just fight scenes in specific, but action more generally.

The second is later this year, during the Sirens Studio that takes place before the main conference. I’ll be teaching a writing intensive on creating religions for fantasy worlds — going beyond deciding who the gods are, and delving into how beliefs can be integrated into the daily lives of the characters. Sirens is a beautiful event focusing on women in fantasy; I haven’t been to the Studio before, but I was one of the Guests of Honor at the conference in its second year, and had an amazing time.

Registration for both of these things is limited, so if you’re interested, sign up soon!

what I did with my June

As you know, Internet Bob, I spent most of June in North Carolina, teaching an intensive creative writing course on science fiction and fantasy. It was a splendid experience: the kids were really engaged, and bonded amazingly well with one another. There’s nothing better than teaching for a class where everybody wants to be there and supports one another.

Some people expressed an interest in seeing my syllabus for the course. I’m not going to upload the whole thing — it’s got a lot of extraneous detail — but I did want to talk about the readings, and the topics we covered in discussion.

With the readings, I made a very calculated decision not to go the route where you assign “classics of the genre.” Those classics are decades old, and almost exclusively written by white guys, with a cameo appearance by Le Guin; it was important to me that I show the kids a fresher and more diverse face of the genre. (I also thought at first that I could dodge the problem of getting permissions and paying for coursepack printing if I chose readings that were all readable for free online. This turned out not to be true, owing to the extremely limited availability of computers — but even so, it made getting the permissions much easier.) The oldest story in the pack was, I think, from 2004. Here’s the full list:

As you can see, it ended up skewing heavily female — owing in part to the fact that in many cases here I was approaching friends and asking if we could use their stories. (My budget was extremely limited, and I figured friends were less likely to demand a $200 reprint fee. Plus, I know a lot of really amazing writers!) The textbooks for the course were Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing and The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, making Richard Parks the only white guy on the entire syllabus. πŸ˜›

Regarding topics, I spent the first week on the usual suspects: ideas, grammar and dialogue, setting and worldbuilding, character, point of view, conflict, plot. Week two started off with some basics about research, writing habits, critiquing, and revision, and then we had three days of “here, have every major social issue in condensed form” — sex, gender, and sexuality; race and ethnicity; economic class and privilege; disability (and super-ability); religion; and violence and its role in stories. Week three had a day devoted to in-class critique and then a grab-bag of practical topics: intellectual property and fanfiction, writing for other genres or other media, and how the publishing industry works.

As you can tell from that list, it was intense. Six hours of instruction a day, plus a seventh hour of evening study, in which they read or worked on their stories. And bear in mind that a number of my students had never even written a complete short story before! At least when you go to something like Clarion, you have some sense of what you’re in for and what you’re capable of. But as I told the parents in the final conferences, part of the point of TIP is to ask these kids to do more that they’re capable of — because that’s the way to find out just how far they can go. I’m ridiculously proud of the work they did and the amount their writing grew over those three weeks.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/590176.html. Comment here or there.

livin’ la vida monastica

I’m in North Carolina now, for the TIP course I mentioned before. Ahhhh, dorm life: I’m living in a cinderblock box that normally houses two undergrads, and boy, do I pity them. This is not what you would call a spacious room.

It’s funny to watch myself fall back into a mode I’ve lived in before, which I tend to think of as “monk-like.” With so few possessions, I become very organized about putting them all away in their places. (You would think that’s a more necessary trait when you have lots of stuff, and you would be right. But I’m better about it when my life is spartan.) I’ll have a very organized schedule, too, including a much earlier bedtime than is my wont. This is how I lived on digs, and much like how I live when I travel, too. It’s a stripped-down existence, with my attention almost entirely focused on what I’m here to do.

Of course, since what I’m here to do is “teach creative writing,” there’s a certain overlap with my normal life. On the way out here, for no apparent reason, one of the short stories I thought I would never actually write stepped up and spat out nearly four hundred words. “Fate, Hope, Friendship, Foe,” the seedlet that for the last nine years has consisted of a set of signs I saw while driving from Dallas up to Bloomington, and the fact that I had a life-sized statue of Atropos in my backseat at the time. Will it turn into a complete story? Who knows. And I have a new idea, too. I don’t know if preparing to teach creative writing flipped a switch in my brain, or if this is the same switch that’s been flipped since early this year, when I found myself itching to write half a dozen short stories instead of the novel I needed to finish.

Anyway, blogging will likely be scarce around here for a while, as I am going to be very busy. But if there’s any cool news to report, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/589262.html. Comment here or there.

Where I’ll be next month

By that title, I don’t just mean “I’ll be going to X place during June” — I mean I’ll be in X place for essentially the entirety of June.

Some of you may be familiar with Duke TIP. (Others of you may know the very similar CTY instead.) This is a program I participated in as a kid; when I was twelve, I went to Davidson for three weeks to read and talk about science fiction short stories. The next year it was marine biology in Galveston; then it was tropical ecology in Costa Rica; then geology and a bit of archaeology in New Mexico. TIP is probably the single coolest thing I got to do during my adolescence.

And now I’m going back, this time on the other side of things. I’m heading off to North Carolina in early June to teach a creative writing course, focused on SF/F/H. It will be ridiculously intense: class runs for two three-hour blocks every day, M-F, and another block on Saturday morning. That’s thirty-three hours of instruction per week, for three weeks straight. It’s “Clarion for twelve-year-olds.”

I’m not only allowed, I’m expected to make this the most awesome and challenging three weeks those kids have ever seen. We’re talking about seventh- and eighth-graders who have scored a 570 or better on the verbal portions of the SAT. Want to know what I’m giving them for a “how to write” textbook? Delany. I’ll be lecturing a bit, but there will be much more in the way of discussion, and they’ll be doing writing exercises until their brains fall out. My challenge will be to figure out how to pace things such that they get enough variety to keep the brain-falling-out stage from happening too soon.

I won’t be blogging the process as I go, because I don’t think that would be appropriate. But I’ll probably have thoughts about it after the fact, and I’ll certainly share my syllabus/readings/etc. In the meantime, if I’m less chatty online than usual during June, you’ll know why.

It’s because my brain will be on the floor, along with those of my students. πŸ™‚

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/588755.html. Comment here or there.

newsletters make it official

If you are San Francisco Bay Area-local, or capable of traveling here in March, you might want to check out FOGcon. It’s a new con starting up March 11-13, with a theme this year of “The City in SF/F;” having looked at their programming possibilities, they definitely have some interesting and varied ideas for how to approach that topic.

I’ll be there, and will presumably be on at least one panel. Furthermore — I guess it’s official, since it got mentioned in the recent newsletter — I’ll be running one of their writing workshops. Looks like the setup will be stories under 10K, submitted with cover letter by February 15th; default arrangement is for a Clarion-style workshop, with each student reading and critting the other pieces in addition to the instructor’s feedback. Erin Cashier, Jed Hartman, and David Levine are the other instructors, and we’re each getting our own section, so if you have a preference for one or another of us (or want to specifically run away from me), mention that in your cover letter.

(This will actually be the first time I’ve run a workshop like this at a con. But I have taught writing before, for one semester.)

Anyway, if you’re interested, register soon! I hope to see some of you there.