Thursday, June 21, 2012

Uncle Orson's Writing Class - 2012

I survived Uncle Orson's Writing Class.  For two whole days, Orson Scott Card -- that's right, the Orson Scott Card and not an assistant -- taught us how to write.  That was this past Monday and Tuesday.  For the rest of the week, 14 lucky participants get to continue on and complete the Boot Camp portion.  But not me.  I learned the stuff and came home.

If you're a big fan of Orson Scott Card, you've probably read his two books on writing, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint.  Orson's Class pretty much covers the same information.  So if you attend, you may recognize a lot of the advice.  But what the Class has that the books don't is the master writer himself explaining and answering questions and giving assignments and critiquing you.

Also, you get his rants, which you might recognize from his Uncle Orson Reviews Everything column.  Some people expressed a little annoyance outside of class, but these rants are openings into a genius' mind.  I didn't always agree with his rants, but I enjoyed watching his thought processes and realized how quickly and with so much confidence how he'd go from one topic to the next.  If you want to write like a genius, then all you have to do is listen to one.  It's very eye-opening.

So one thing I learned: let your mind go wherever it wants to go.

I also learned that you don't have to accept everything your critics suggest.  Mr. Card says that if you "rewrite" your work, you're killing it off one small piece at a time.  After enough rewrites, you're left with something amazingly correct, but dreadfully boring.  He claims that when we write, our brains will naturally flow and you don't want to mess with that.  Once you know what the problems are with your work, you're supposed to just write it again--write another 1st draft that will be better than the earlier one.

He says one the worst advices is "show, not tell."  This is where you take a simple passage such as "Tom was irritated" and replace it with some action where you can see the emotion without being told ... such as "Tom tapped his foot repeatedly."  It's okay to "show, not tell" but if it doesn't flow the first time, that's a good indicator that it's not important to the writer.  Do enough of these replacements and your writing starts to look artificial, and the reader will say, "Just tell me Tom's irritated and move on!"

Mr. Card did clarify that he does "edit" his work, which is where you fix grammar, spelling, repeated words, and fix any places where the words don't flow naturally.  Anything more than that just needs another first draft.

The hardest part of the Class was when he asked me to get up and give a story pitch I had prepared the night before.  He laughed at my evident confidence.  Then when I read the pitch, I realized I had committed one of his biggest pet peeves: telling the story as a reminiscence or flashback.  Plus he said, "There is no story."  But then he added just a little here and there, and it turned into a real story that people would care about.  These ideas were already in my head, but somehow they didn't make it into my pitch.

Then someone after me got up there and Mr. Card said, "That is a great pitch.  You need to write that book, and it could start your career.  I'm serious."  At first I was a little embarrassed for messing up my chance to impress the master, but then realized: take what I learned, incorporate it into my stories, and nothing will be able to stop me.

The class was well worth the $175 I paid.  I highly recommend this class.  If you can get into Boot Camp, that's even better.  The things he teaches can be used by anyone and are simple to understand.

Waiting for class to start Orson Scott Card really is that fast.

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