Tag Archives: teaching

Establishing horror in five paragraphs or less… #amreading

DSCN0555One of the exercises I run past my “Creating Universes, Building Worlds” group is to start a piece and, within five paragraphs, establish the speculative subgenre–fantasy, horror, cyberpunk, hardSF, whatever.

Then I have them rewrite the same fragment in a different genre.

It always yields interesting results, and something that’s pretty consistent, from class to class, is that few people tackle horror and many of those submissions are less in your face, less out-and-out unabashedly horror, less easy to identify than the fantasy, the dystopian near-future SF, the time travel, and the space opera.

I was reminded of this today when I read “each thing I show you is a piece of my death,” by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, because by the time I hit the word canker, I’m not in any doubt. And from there the authors just dial it up:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
–The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare.

Somewhere, out beyond the too-often-unmapped intersection of known and forgotten, there’s a hole through which the dead crawl back up to this world: A crack, a crevasse, a deep, dark cave. It splits the earth’s crust like a canker, sore lips thrust wide to divulge some even sorer mouth beneath–tongueless, toothless, depthless.

The hole gapes, always open. It has no proper sense of proportion. It is rude and rough, rank and raw. When it breathes out it exhales nothing but poison, pure decay, so bad that people can smell it for miles around, even in their dreams.

Especially there.

Through this hole, the dead come out face-first and down, crawling like worms. They grind their mouths into cold dirt, forcing a lifetime’s unsaid words back inside again. As though the one thing their long, arduous journey home has taught them is that they have nothing left worth saying, after all.

Because the dead come up naked, they are always cold. Because they come up empty, they are always hungry. Because they come up lost, they are always angry. Because they come up blind, eyes shut tight against the light that hurts them so, they are difficult to see, unless sought by those who–for one reason, or another–already have a fairly good idea of where to start looking.

It’s a great story, if you’re looking for a creepy read.

slayer

Slayers are so helpful on the #BuffyRewatch

slayerThis week’s rewatch covers the episode “Help,” which is the one where a young teen predicts her death, and Buffy tries to stop it.

Today is the last really full week of work for my Novel One students at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. They’ll walk out with a first chapter, an outline, and a plan for moving forward with their projects. Starting next month, I’ll be teaching “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” which is the speculative fiction course with a focus on short stories. There are still some slots for students in this one; if you have any questions, let me know.

In terms of one-on-one mentorships, I will not be taking new students for at least the first couple of months of 2014. I could be persuaded to run a waiting list, so if you are interesting in this and we haven’t talked before, reach out.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, if you happened to celebrate it last week.

Write ups, chin ups, push ups

imageI am thinking about dialog today. It’s a topic I’ve covered to some extent in my Yakkity Yak essay, but I’m wondering if there couldn’t be a way to construct some bare-bones exercises to teach beginners some of the basics of improving it.

A starting point, I think, would be to actually have dialog as opposed to implying it. So I might preamble with:

Though there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong ways to do anything in fiction-writing, it’s sometimes useful to pretend this isn’t the case. This is because some techniques generally work better than others; some strategies should be employed sparingly, rather than as a matter of habit.

With that in mind, let’s attach the label “Less Effective” to this:

Hans & Greta debated knocking on Mrs. Witch’s front door.

And this one we’ll call “More effective.”

“Should we knock?” Hans asked when they reached Mrs. Witch’s door.
Greta shook her head. “If we warn her, she’ll call the police for sure.”

Part one of the exercise would then be to supply three more less Effective sentences:

Pinnochio lied about breaking curfew, but of course his nose grew and Papa grounded him for a month.

Snow White tried to refuse the apple politely.

Mr. Straw Pig indicated he would very much prefer not to allow Wolf past his threshold, unless of course he had a warrant.

Part two would be for the writer to find and edit some examples from their own work, and part three would be analysis: did this improve your writing? How?

What do you think? Potentially useful?

Book Trailer and Giveaway: @lvoisin’s The Watcher

I had the good fortune to get to read Lisa Voisin’s first novel, The Watcher, in my capacity as a writing teacher, and I was so pleased when I heard she’d sold it to Inkspell Press. Now there’s a book trailer–so have a look!

The Watcher is a YA paranormal romance. Here’s a snippet of the description from the author’s site:

Millennia ago, he fell from heaven for her. Can he face her without falling again?

Fascinated with ancient civilizations, seventeen-year-old Mia Crawford dreams of becoming an archaeologist. She also dreams of wings–soft and silent like snow–and somebody trying to steal them.


Finally, you may wish to note that Lisa has a giveaway going on her blog right now.

Found raptors and Writing the Fantastic

My year is off to a good start, photographically speaking–I went out on the first of January and look what I shot!

Birds 2013

I also wanted to let you all know that my upcoming course at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, “Writing the Fantastic” (WTF, as I like to call it) has filled. There is a waiting list and you can get on it here.

Novel Writing III begins October 3rd

Starting in a couple weeks, I will once again be teaching Novel Writing 3, which is an all-genres class that follows up on, naturally, N1 & N2. The syllabus is here: the gist is you write fifty pages and provide workshop feedback to your classmates on their novels-in-progress as you go.

Novel 3 has a somewhat lighter workshop load than N2–in the latter class, we’re putting the books under a microscope to see that they’re well begun. In this one, the workshop looks at things that are more a matter of nuance than necessity. (This is an oversimplification, but the upshot is fewer workshop weeks and more focus on your own book.)

Can you take this course if you haven’t had N1 and N2? The answer is a qualified yes. If you are fifty or more pages into a novel, and want a little structure in which to work on the next fifty–in many cases, the middle of your book–it might be for you. Check out the syllabus and talk to me. That said, The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is also running N1 and N2 this quarter, with Dan Fante and Leslie Lehr, respectively: you can jump into that stream at the beginning. Or take the NanoWrimo course.

Finally, here’s a heads-up: I will be teaching Writing the Fantastic, my intermediate SF/F/H course, in January. This one is offered rarely and fills fast, so if you’ve been waiting do mark your calendars.