Over the weekend I attended David Farland’s Live Workshop. This was his Master Class Workshop. In this short post I’ll cover what to expect from the workshop, some of my own personal reflections, and where I want to take my own writing.
The workshop actually begins a few weeks prior to the meeting with a number of writing assignments. Dave encouraged us to get three done, but we were given access to well over ten different exercises to choose from. Our assignments were accompanied with videos featuring Farland explaining the concept, giving a few examples, and then detailing what he expected. Word documents were linked with the videos with the same materials and a few more examples. I worked through more than three assignments. They were a lot of fun.
The assignments covered a number of topics; many I was familiar with, but a few took the familiar and twisted or expanded these old ideas in ways that they were made fresh, new tools for the writer’s toolbox. If you’re familiar with the idea of deliberate practice, you’ll recognize many of these exercises are set up to help you begin a regular practice of common fiction writing techniques. As an example, we took the old concept of writing a “hook” and wrote story sections with an emphasis on an emotional hook, a setting hook, a treatment hook, or a character hook. This was also the first time I had heard of the idea of mixing many of these hooks together into a single scene to deliver hook, after hook, after hook. A number of the exercises were like this. They take the familiar and expand or explore them in new ways. Big thumbs up for this part of the workshop. I feel I have a number of new tools to explore and play with for future stories.
Farland spent a large chunk of time during the workshop going over story and story structure. Specifically, the inciting incident, the try-fail cycle, and the story resolution. I have studied this so extensively, that there wasn’t much new here for me. However, if you haven’t spent years studying every plotting theory that comes along, you’ll probably learn quite a lot in a short period of time from this informal lecture.
Dave also focused a lot of time on the business side of things. We discussed the future of publishing, working with an agent, pitching a book, and what type of concepts help carry a series. I think if you have a novel and you’re looking for representation or a publisher, this was a valuable discussion. With over sixty novels, hundreds of short stories, screenplays, and video game contributions, Farland has a wealth of information. I am slowly working on a novel. It’s my side-side project. So this wasn’t especially useful for me, but I did have my own personal take-away (in regards to my future plans) that I’ll discuss at the end of this post.
The next largest part of the workshop was taken up reading and critiquing exercise submissions. I think this was somewhat helpful, from the perspective that we could ask Dave why he made specific editing recommendations or probed the story deeply in certain spots. I think my notes from the various exchanges will add to the toolbox.
In addition to the class time, Dave joined us for dinner Friday night where we had a chance to ask questions about the industry, about a writing career, and about judging the Writers of the Future Contest.
There are a few things I wished I had better understood going into the workshop. I wish I had been given access to the exercises earlier. I wish I had known we would be exchanging them, mainly because I would have focused more on delivering something almost publishable for each exercise. I wish I had written down more story structure questions, because this is an area David has mastered. I wish I had arranged some one-on-one time to discuss some of my career goals.
Was the workshop worth the time and money? For me, absolutely. If you are a professional novelist with an agent and publisher, I think it would be a waste of your time. If you’re an absolute beginner, I think you could learn a lot, but much of it will be overwhelming and a waste of your time. I think this is the ideal workshop for the semi-pro ready to break into a novelist’s career.
What this workshop did for me: I have a number of deliberate practice tools to use for the next year to improve my craft. I’ve seen them applied and I grok their value.
I understand far better what Dave is looking for in a Writers of the Future Story. With this understanding came a great revelation. What I love to write, the thing that really fires me up about speculative fiction, the thing that I’m actually good at, is what’s really at the heart of what Dave wants in a story. It’s the speculative concept. This is one of my great strengths, and I should really, really push that to its limits.
To that end, I’ve decided to return to writing more. Quite a lot more of a very specific sub-genre and story length. I think I have a feel now for how to keep my story short–like 4K short. I don’t believe now I need as much plot work in the shorter works, especially after discussing short fiction plot with a number of other authors. Basically, I’m not going to stress out if the story doesn’t do “all of the things”. I expect the short story to really explore the hard fantasy concept in relation to one or more characters and achieve a satisfying conclusion. I won’t let myself stress out over the fact that the story doesn’t leave you emotionally shattered in the end. I think that’s a dumb target to aim for. My new goals are the following: did the story transport the reader to a new time and place, and did the reader remain engrossed scene after scene, and did the journey of the story offer something unique and surprising? I have all the tools and the knowledge to deliver on those story promises. Now I just need to practice.
So I’m returning to the goal of writing a short story a week! Now that I have a number of tools to help me revise and evaluate my work, I think my return to writing a short story a week will be more fruitful than my last attempt. But I have to be clear, I think my last attempt helped me, quite a lot. My writing improved during that time, I just lacked focus and hadn’t read enough Anton Chekhov to really understand the nature of short fiction. I was writing tiny screenplays, with all of the expected turns and character arcs crammed into something that normally ended up longer than 20k. Those are not short stories. They’re very small, very rushed novels.
The Workshop was well worth the time and effort for me. I believe I got something out of it unique to me and my writing goals, and it also helped me to make a few decisions. I’m excited to apply those decisions and to see where they take me.