Home From the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop

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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
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13 comments to Home From the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop

  • There’s something about being around other writers for an entire weekend. It’s so revitalizing, so inspiring. I just came back from SiWC, myself, and wow did I have a rewarding time! Hope you have a great time at the convention.

  • Welcome back, David. I haven’t been to SCWW for a few years but you’re right: it’s a great one. Last time I was there I spent a long evening drinking whisky with James O. Born and Michael Connelly. It felt like the writers’ poker game on the TV show Castle 🙂

  • I totally ditto David’s comment about the SCWW Con. It is always well done and an excellent place to meet writers and other professionals in the field. Glad you had … Wait. Did you have fun??? 🙂

  • Laura, I agree. Part of what made the conference so enjoyable was watching that energy infuse all the SCWW members. You could see them growing more excited about the workshops and about their own work as the weekend progressed.

    Thanks, A.J. I spent a good deal of time chatting with other professionals — this year it was mostly agents and editors; only four of us were authors. But it was a great group.

    Faith, yes, I did have a lot of fun. I worked hard, but I enjoyed myself.

  • Sounds like a wonderful conference, David! (Note to self: seek out such opportunities more directly!) I, too, find that discussing process makes me more aware of my ideal process, my actual process, and the gaps between the two. I generally find myself much more energized after such events. I’m glad that you had such a great experience!

  • MW has been very helpful to me for exactly the reasons you describe, David. Breaking things down and understanding on a detailed level what works, what doesn’t, and why has been at least as beneficial to me as to to anyone who reads my posts. Thanks for the opportunity.

  • David, your workshops helped so much. I’m starting on my short stories to support the TOGS! Have fun in San Diego. Thanks for your hard work.

  • >>I, too, find that discussing process makes me more aware of my ideal process, my actual process, and the gaps between the two.<< That's beautifully put, Mindy, and captures perfectly my experience over the course of the weekend.

    Edmund, I get this from writing MW posts, too. The weekend brought it into sharper relief because it was fairly intense. On Friday and Saturday alone I led four workshops totally eight and a half hours. Rewarding but pretty exhausting.

    Barbara, thanks for the kind words. Glad you found the workshops helpful. Best of luck with the TOGs!

  • David, I drank enough caffeine to kill a horse at the SCWW conference, and I was still in an exhausted haze by Sunday, so I can only imagine how you felt. Thanks for some great classes – I only managed to make it to two of yours, but you have a gift for the teaching side as well as the writing side (or, heck, maybe you don’t have a gift and just work really hard at it, but the result is much the same). That’s a combination I always hope to find at these things.

  • Thanks, Mike. It was a pleasure meeting you and chatting with you at the conference. I look forward to working with you again.

  • Huh. I get called Mike in person all the time, even though it isn’t my name. I always thought I must just look like a Mike, but apparently I transmit Mikeitude over the internet as well. I’m guessing you’re thinking of someone else, especially since I’m never all that pleasant to meet. 🙂

  • Definitely thinking of someone else. My deepest apologies. I met so many people during the course of the weekend; please forgive the error. Faces and names together I can handle; putting faces to an online name, obviously beyond my people skills. Again, sorry.

  • No doubt it doesn’t help that my wordpress name is different from my real name, which is in fact Bill. But that probably won’t ring any bells either, since so many people form the impression my name is Mike in person anyway and I didn’t do anything memorable at the conference (apart from rolling through the author’s signing Saturday night on a luggage cart while playing the banjo). I just wanted to make sure you weren’t laboring under the misapprehension that you’d communicated with the real Mike. And again, excellent work on your classes.