Writers Weekend Recap, Part the Third and Last

The reason this post is called “…Part the Third…” is because I’ve already recapped the first two days of the Moclips Writers Weekend — you can read those posts by either scrolling down, or following these links:

Writers Weekend Recap One and Writers Weekend Recap Two.

Part Three gets us up to last Saturday morning. I again skipped breakfast, not because I have an eating disorder, but because sleep sounded better to me than yogurt.

Saturday, the critique groups occurred in the reverse order of Friday’s groups, meaning David D. Levine’s group met in the morning, and Jay Lake’s group (my group) didn’t meet until 2pm.

I took advantage of the free morning to go for another run on the beach, basically a repeat of the prior day’s run. Then we had lunch in cabin 601, and members of David’s critique group made various in-jokes to which the rest of us were not privy, and immediately after lunch David gave his second lecture, this time on “Using Sets and Props to Define Character.” As with David’s first lecture, I won’t give away the guts of it (that would be telling), but the basic idea was that certain props convey things about a character, such as what kind of clothing they wear, or their car, for example. David has a background in theater and many of his examples were related to that, and many of the same tricks apply in written fiction as in a stage play. The way you “dress up” your character, or if you give them a certain kind of weapon or vehicle or house, says something about that character and helps the writer’s job of character-building. Again, a useful lecture, less specifically useful to me individually than the “plot” lecture of the day before, but David does a great job with these.

Directly after the lecture, our second critique group met. This one had quite a different flavor from the first, as three of the stories were YA novel chapters. It’s a whole different deal to critique a finished story than a chapter in someone’s novel, and while I won’t go so far as to say people shouldn’t submit novel chapters to critiques like this, I will say half the purpose of such a critique is defeated by submitting a partial work. It’s impossible to judge a work in a macro sense, to evaluate whether the story arc is successful or not, when evaluating only a small segment. We’re left to judge the beginning as a beginning, and to evaluate the sentences and the dialog as they stand alone, but there’s no way to accurately judge the story, and of course judging the resolution based on a first chapter is out of the question.

Because of this, the second critique group was quite a change from the first, though we did find things to discuss about the novel chapters. Additionally there was one short story considered, and the writer admitted she had hurriedly cut the story’s length by half (in order to meet the critique’s length limit of 15 printed pages) and the story’s problems were mostly down to missing information due to these cuts.

We held off discussing Jay’s story until last, because he wanted to make sure we had time for the stories of us eager, wide-eyed youngsters. In the end we had plenty of time for Jay’s story, which was outside the usual length limit, about 20k words. Jay’s critique went, perhaps surprisingly, just about the same way the other critiques went. That is, people found suggestions to make, and Jay listened and nodded and made notes, and people mentioned what things they liked about the story as well.

Without giving away any specifics of Jay’s story, I can say that the man writes a very clean first draft. My own first drafts are a rough, disordered spew, bearing little resemblance to my finished stories. I view the first draft process as the creation of a block of jagged stone, roughly the right size and shape for what I expect to sculpt, but without any of the detail, nuance or texture that will end up in the final. For me, the revision process is one of scraping off extraneous bits here and there, and adding fine details or bits of polish, until it starts to read like something a person might want to read. It was fascinating for me to see first drafts that are basically at the opposite end of the spectrum from my own. Jay’s story had some informational matters that needed to be clarified, and he agreed he would adjust the structure and balance in a macro sense, but the individual sentences were already just right.

Sometimes at an event like this, you learn interesting and informative things in places you wouldn’t have expected. I’ve always wanted to write more polished first drafts — I mean, when you’re a twelve-to-twenty-draft kind of writer, it sounds pretty good to find a way to reduce that — but whenever I try, I find it reduces the speed of my production so much that the story’s natural flow suffers. It’s not that I believe seeing Jay’s very polished and finely detailed rough draft will somehow magically convey to me the ability to do the same thing, but it’s informative nonetheless.

Following the second critique we had a short break before dinner, and I took a trip down Hwy 101 to a little town a few miles south, where I found a quaint, snobby little market where I chose from their selection very expensive beers, and very-very expensive beers. I selected one of each, and enjoyed a Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale ($5.99 plus tax) prior to dinner. Samuel Smith’s is my favorite brewery in the world, incidentally.

I arrived in cabin 601 feeling pretty good, and enjoyed the final dinner and group photo. We proceeded right back to the conference room, though, for the final presentation by David D. Levine’s, which was his “Mission to Mars” talk. If you have a chance to see David give this talk, don’t miss it. It’s both entertaining and inspiring, and if you’re sure you won’t have a chance to see David give it in person, here’s that link again to a YouTube version of David’s Mars talk.

When the presentation ended, it was still light out but getting cold, and though I figured everyone would go back to cabin 601 for more social goofery (I mean this in a good way), everyone seemed to make a beeline back to their rooms so I figured we were all tired, and went back to my cabin. There I found solace in my last, very-very expensive beer (don’t remember what it was… Asahi? Anyway, $7.49 plus tax for the bottle), and sat outside on the picnic table next to my car. Then I saw people going back to cabin 601, and realized everyone had just gone back to their rooms to change into warmer clothes, so I went back to 601 and people were excitedly talking about going to see Hell’s Belles at the Quinault casino about twenty minutes away. The “away team” ended up just being therinth,
quantumage, Seamus (no link — Seamus, are you out there?), and me.

Hell’s Belles is an all-girl AC/DC cover band and the show, as Sailor Ripley would say, was rockin’ good. AC/DC’s own Angus Young refers to Hell’s Belles as the best AC/DC cover band he’s ever seen, and I’m not surprised. Such awesomeness! If my wife ever runs off with the circus, or leaves me for the mailman, I will endeavor to marry this girl instead:

High voltage rock and roll!

By the time the show was over and we arrived back at the resort, it was midnight or something. SF writers may be cool, clever and smart, and they may even like to throw back a few drinks and act silly, but they don’t seem to like to stay up late. So really, that’s the end of my Writers Weekend story. I crashed, slept in a bit, and by the time I woke up I had to get back to Portland to pick up Lena at the airport. Quite a whirlwind, lots of fun, and something I’d love to do again next year. I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people, and I learned a lot of stuff, including specific feedback I’d hoped to obtain on my story, and a variety of other writing-related wisdom.

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