I am back from the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop Annual conference, in Myrtle Beach, SC. I was an instructor at the conference and led workshops on character development, pacing and story arc, worldbuilding, and assorted issues faced by aspiring writers. The conference organizers did a terrific job putting the event together, the other professionals were friendly and well-prepared, and the members of the SCWW were welcoming, enthusiastic and engaged.
This was my third time teaching at the conference — the first time I was there, I met Misty Massey; the last time I was there, I met Faith Hunter and Magical Words was born — and I can recommend it unequivocally to any of you looking for a writer’s conference to attend. You will have the opportunity to meet and chat with editors, agents, and authors, and you’ll find a vibrant community of talented aspiring writers. It always takes place the third weekend in October and for the past several years it has been located in Myrtle Beach, which is nice little added bonus. I don’t know what it costs exactly, but I would guess that between conference fees, hotel costs, travel and food, you’re talking about an investment approaching $800.00.
I hope that those who attended my sessions learned something from the experience. While I was there to teach, I came away from the weekend having learned a few things myself. In particular I found it valuable to break down and analyze my creative process in the course of explaining it to others. If I were to try to explain a golf or baseball swing, I would break it down into its component parts, and in the process might learn something about my own swing that I hadn’t noticed before. So it was with my discussion of character and especially my talk on pacing and story arc. The questions asked of me by those listening to the talk forced me to consider the details of how I handle pacing and character in my own work.
As I drove home from the conference I spent a good deal of time thinking about those discussions, and how I could put to use more of the advice I was offering to my students. One of the things I suggested again and again is something I’m already doing: I must have said at least half a dozen times that those of us who think of ourselves as novelists should write more short fiction. Why? Because doing so can help us find the right voice for our larger projects, can reveal to us back story about character and setting that might not have been clear before, can help us hone our craft, and can give us additional material to market.
I also mentioned several times that aspiring writers (and professionals) should remember Vernor’s Rule. “Vernor” is Vernor Vinge, multiple Hugo Award-winning author of A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. According to Vernor, there are three basic things we authors try to do: Develop character, advance narrative, and fill in back story. (This is somewhat oversimplified, but we can fit most of what we do under these three headings.) Vernor’s Rule says that at any given time in a novel or story, in any given chapter or scene, we should be accomplishing at least two and preferably all three of these things. If we’re only accomplishing one, our novel has stalled. I still need to remind myself of this at times.
And finally, I did my best throughout the panels and discussions to convey my own love of what I do, to share with those there the joy I get out of telling stories, even as I struggle to master my craft and overcome the difficulties of a strange and unforgiving business. I would do well to remember that joy in the course of my work day. It’s easy to lose sight of it at times, particularly when one manuscript or another is giving me fits. But I really do love this job. Teaching reminded me of that.
I’m home now for about three days and then I’m off to San Diego and the World Fantasy Convention. I hope to see some of you there. Until then, forgive me for the short post, but I have revisions to work on and several more short stories to write in the Thieftaker universe.David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net