Writing the Fantastic, my July course offering at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, is now open for registration. You can find the full course description and syllabus here, but here are the highlights:
This course expands the study of science fiction and fantasy writing to include both short and novel-length fiction. Infusing a narrative with originality and fantastic literature’s much-discussed “Sense of Wonder”–while at the same time preserving its clarity and heart–is a juggling act that can test a writer’s skills to the utmost. Writing the Fantastic places emphasis on meeting this challenge by merging the otherworldly content of speculative fiction with humane, emotionally powerful storytelling. Through exercises and readings, students deepen their understanding of the speculative subgenres: alternate history, time-travel, horror, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, sociological science fiction, and hard science fiction.
UCLA has tons of great classes and instructors if you’ve already taken this one. The popular stuff fills up fast, so browse now, browse often. My classes, especially my summer offerings, are intended to work as alternatives to something like Clarion or Clarion West, in case this isn’t the year when you can take six weeks off work, or preparation for same. WTF, as I like to call it, is one of the classes that qualifies you to take the Advanced SF Workshop that I also run, periodically, through the program.
I wrote a post here, called X-Men: Days of Boresville.
This part of the sample critique I was writing was going to be all about how you don’t do it… how you say unkind things and mock the story. So! The snark demo seems to be covered in the pre-existing post.
Wow, I hated this film. It made me so angry. The central problem I had with the story, the part that offended all of my sensibilities, was that the past-tense storyline played out in 1973, during the U.S. military action in Vietnam. There were scenes set in a number of interesting Vietnam-related situations, including the Paris peace talks.
How cool, right? You could do a million things with that!
Part of the point was to show how the military industrial complex is always looking for their next big villain, the next reason why billions of dollars have to be spent on bigger and shinier weapons instead of, you know, food or bandaids. It’s Germans! No, it’s Communists! Brown Commies! Wait, it’s mutants! OMG!
So far, so good. The possibilities for exploiting this historical period, of creating a mutant-flavored alternate history of the Vietnam War are incredible. It wouldn’t have been off-topic, or separate from the point–we’re talking about a movie that already made the time and space to use this material. But instead, 1973 and its events were set dressing. Meaningful use of the historical subject matter verged on zero.
As a single example, let’s talk about the way Charles is taking drugs that mess with his telepathy so he can walk. The so-called serum is pitched as medication, but there’s also this ongoing cinematic dance, within the direction, that has Charles looking more than a little like an addict. They don’t have the guts to actually make him one, though.
Do I want junkie Charles? Not necessarily. Addicts and their stories are not my favorite thing. But if I’m going to have to watch him inject himself and act all withdrawaly anyway, why not take the opportunity to do some bravura characterization on this so-beloved character?
Consider: you have a teacher whose whole life is about saving mutants from their own powers and from societal discrimination. Now his school is in ruins because his students are being drafted and sent to Asia. But Charles is gleefully shooting chemicals into his arm not because he cannot bear that terrible reality. And not even because he’s a telepath, and if he keeps his powers he might feel those kids he’s linked to as they kill and die and experience unimaginable horrors. Good heavens, no!
He’s taking the serum because he doesn’t like being in a wheelchair.
Now being shot and paralyzed is a traumatic thing, I’ll grant you. And I understand that Charles isn’t meant to be all grown up and stable yet. But what’s stronger? Taking the opportunity to imagine how a compassionate and caring guy like Xavier would be affected by a war that would inevitably use his people more and harder than ordinary folks? Or being asked to care because he has to choose between superpowers and walking?
Some of you probably know that I am just back from a vacation in Austin, Texas. It was super to get away, to see dear friends and visit the desert. I kept about six hundred of the pictures I shot–we saw everything from scaled quail to a fox!–and these are percolating out to my various photo sites.
Coming up in the next very short while: I will be at the Ad Astra SF Convention this weekend. This’ll be your first chance, if you’re local, to hear me read from Child of a Hidden Sea. We are wrapping up the paperwork portion of our condo purchase next week, and plunging into a few necessary renovations before we move. My next UCLA Extension Writers’ Program course, Writing the Fantastic, opens on April 14th. (There may not be slots available right now, but if it has filled there is a waiting list.)
Then we move to the new place! In, seriously, three weeks!
Much is happening, in other words. How about all of you?
I have begun Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
this week, having finished The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History and Hild, but I have only just scratched the surface. The bulk of my readerbrain is engaged with my Novel 1 students at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. They turned in their first chapters this week, and are deep in the workshop process. The group of them have some delightful books on the go; it’s always incredibly cool to see novels just sprouting, in this very new stage. I’m a fan of beginnings: many of my all-time favorite TV episodes are pilots. But I do need to pick myself another history or science book. I find it easier to read non-fiction when I’m reading student submissions. Hmmm, this probably means it’s time to crack The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013.
Next quarter I will be teaching Creating Universes, Building Worlds, and in the spring I will be running the more advanced Writing the Fantastic. Both classes will be open to new and returning students–I’ve had people take CUBW more than once, just for the chance to workshop again. Both have filled fast the last few times they’ve been offered.
Speaking of books, my very fun day-counting app now has an entry for the release of Child of a Hidden Sea; it’ll be out in 223 days.
One of the things I do as part of my teaching practice is keep an eye on links about writing and, when they seem right for a given class, post them in my classroom at UCLA. What I’ve taken to doing as of this quarter is pinning the links on a single board called, not surprisingly, Writing. This way all of my classes can access all of the links, new and old, that I’ve posted.
As I’ve begun to do this, I’ve realized that posts without graphics (the text-heavy stuff we writers naturally tend to favor) don’t pin well. I was always aware that essays with at least a few pictures were more readable–giving the eyes a break, yadda yadda–but there’s this extra element of ‘need a picture’ now that is part of the reason you’re seeing all these little meme-y things and screengrabs popping up on my site.
Visuals aside, this board has some great writing essays on it. Go, read, enjoy!