Thursday, September 1, 2011

Uncle Orson's Literary Boot Camp

Orson Scott Card & Travis Burnham

So I survived Uncle Orson's Literary Boot Camp (August 8th - August 13th, 2011). This year it was in Greensboro, where Orson Scott Card lives. When I first walked into the room at the conference center, I saw Card, but didn't think it was him. Why? He's primarily a F/SF writer and I just didn't expect him to have such an impressive presence. He's got a great voice, deep and impressive, that he projects well. I didn't know until later that his undergrad is in theater.

The week broke down like this:

Day 1: This is a day where we (mostly Card, but with Q&A from the audience) talked about the first part of the information found in OSC's book, 'Characters and Viewpoints' (which you should definitely read if you're interested in writing). To sum it up, stories are about struggle, not conflict. There doesn't have to be an evil, nasty villain. Most stories fail because they do one of three things. 1) They start in the wrong place / point in time 2) The author chooses the wrong Point of View or 3) Bad expository writing.

Day 2: Another day of Card and Q&A. Summing it up, there are four types of stories: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event. Most stories fall into one of these, but of course all stories have at least some of the other elements. Our homework was to come up with 5 story outlines and write them on index cards. Inspiration for the stories needed to come from research (2), inspiration from walking around Greensboro (x2) and from an interview with a stranger (x1).

Day 3: We have the whole day to write a story from scratch using one of the story ideas from the previous day. Tough to generate that many words with a deadline, at least for me. My story was called Debris and I was up until 4am writing the story. We had a very nice break in between and had dinner with Orson Scott Card at his house. He is just SUCH a nice guy. Genuine, generous and, well, goshdarn cool.

Day 4: All day reading, reading, reading and critiquing, critiquing, critiquing. Though I thought I'd been writing slowly, mine was the third story. Everyone, all fourteen writers, comment and are "Wise Readers" for the story. Meaning they don't pick and tease the grammar, they just talk about what made sense to them, and what didn't, and then some what if's. Orson Scott Card goes last.

Day 5: More reading, reading, reading and critiquing, critiquing, critiquing

Day 6: A final day of reading and critiquing. We finished around 3pm.

I think both the workshop and the boot camp are, though not all that cheap, worth every single penny. Orson Scott Card makes himself available, and the information and opportunities that you get are priceless.

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