Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Viable Paradise, day two

Morning group crit was Diane and Terri-Lynne in the hot-seat, led by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald, in the Doyle/Macdonald room.
I'm trying to attach names to faces, so let's start. Diane is thin, with short dark hair, and tends to lean forward, which makes her seem both attentive and eager (this might have been because of the situation, though.) She looks as if she's on the verge of racing off after something that she's sensed before anyone else has. Terri-Lynne also has short dark hair, stocky build, and smiles frequently. She reminds me of Sandy, the cook who was so nice to me (and who ran off an armed robber once!) at Buddy's Steak Ranch, a no-nonsense earth mother.
The others giving crits were Evelyn, my roomie, who's tall and gently rounded, with soft brown hair and an unexpectedly intent manner (any language-geek laurels I have handy must go to her); Lucia, from AW, red hair, English accent and great glittery t-shirts; Erin, tall and sturdy, with long brown hair and an open face; Chris, already met on the trip, long brown hair and pale face, good at fading into backgrounds (I thought I was good, but he's better).
This was quite tough for Diane, I think, because nobody was really happy with the first chapter, though the second was strong, and several people suggested she start with it (myself included). The third chapter has some backstory infodump issues and more crucially a number of generic fantasy aspects. The second chapter (and parts of the first) is a convincing and at times touching examination of a schizophrenic girl's inner turmoil. It turns out that Diane had a schizophrenic relative, and she certainly got it right; I was getting Rose Garden echoes. But the third chapter jump to a fantasy world was totally unexpected. As I said then, if I'd picked it up in a bookshop I'd have thought the book was misbound. I didn't give her my annotated printout, because that was all line-crit stuff and if she's going to be rewriting as much as it seems, she'll be dumping most of the problem stuff anyways.
ETA: turns out her original submission began with an action-packed prologue, which she later cut, because of what everyone says about prologues. Sounds as if she'd do better to call the prologue ch.1, and cut her current ch.1 instead. Debra Doyle pointed out that moving from fantasy to our world is simpler than moving from our world to fantasy, because if you start in our world, you set the reader up for a realistic story. (The children's books that move from our world to fantasy have a prominent means of moving the characters, not a scene-break.)
Terri-Lynne's was easier on everyone, because she's more at ease with the structure than I think Diane is. It's an easy read, though a couple of spots dragged a little, and the fantastic elements are really nicely woven in. The weakest part is the plot element of the game, the thing that will presumably suck the characters into the fantasy world. It's spoken of as an FRP, but it reads like Fox and Goose, or Candyland, or any one of those roll the dice and jump a few spaces games. The role-playing aspect just didn't appear. Partly because I think she skimped on the gaming session, making it an explanation of mechanics instead of a chance for the characters to show themselves in play. She's not a gamer, and that did show, but it's an easy fix. I got props for my summary, which she said she'd like to use for agent queries. Woo! I am so the summary girl!
Back to the commons room, which is a large neutral-coloured room with what looks like indoor-outdoor carpetting. Pillars, and glass-paned doors to the outside. An alcove to the right with tables for coffee and hot water and bottled water. The challenge of getting hot water out of the coffee-maker while it brewed was met and mastered, though I almost stuck my foam cup to the hotplate by holding it too low.
First lecture was Jim Macdonald on plotting, with models of a chess-game and a model(yeah, model demonstrated by a model) of a house to explain art as being done within limits but providing the illusion of reality, which does not have limits. Much of this is covered in the Writing with Uncle Jim thread, so I won't retype it here. Positional chess, putting elements into story because they may be useful later or are just cool--you can always cut in revision. Can't count the rivets on a moving car; to fudge firearms use the word 'modified' because firearms and horses are what the readers will get you on; every piece and pawn thinks the chess game is about them.
At the end we got a story assignment: the editor of the anthology Hats of War has had a 5k story withdrawn, after the cover art and layout was done and the covers printed (so the anthology must be the right size or the spine won't fit. The cover shows the clapboard shingled house in the model, so that has to be included, because the withdrawn story is the one featuring that house. Plus, it has to feature the toy we were each given on arrival. (Mine is a crystal cat lick'n'stick tattoo.) Put 'an interesting person' into an interesting place (in this case the house) at an interesting time. Just that simple.
Jim is a big bear of a man, with a fondness for going barefoot. This makes an interesting conjunction with his leather jacket, sort of a biker guru.
Second lecture was Jim (James Patrick) Kelly on cheap plot tricks and other snippets. The reader's three questions: What is this story about? Is anything happening? Why should I care? The construction trick of Leaving Out the Boring Parts. Damon Knight(?) in a hurry, once wrote only the interesting parts of a story, planning to fill in the necessary transitions later. Found out that none of the boring parts were really necessary.
P pretty protagonist plot
G good goal generation
P plot problems paradigm
He talked about openings that make you want to read more, and read out a selection of openings from our subs. Mine was one, but he read the Brothers Grimm quote, which I can't take credit for, other than good taste in theft. He also talked about transition scenes, walking from one place to another, and how to skip them. Funny, because it's the analogy I use in the ballads class, about transitions in ballads being sudden but followable, and how close they are to cinematic transitions. Then I was beset with misgivings, realising that my story begins with three chapters of walking. It's one long transition scene. Okay, one of the characters is turned into a deer, but otherwise it's walking. In fact, the first 2/3ds of the book are walking back and forth, with occasional breaks for sleep and food.
Jim Kelly is a leprechaun (both stereotype and cliche, yet accurate). Small and spry, with immense energy, he springs about the room, gesturing and talking. He teaches creative writing, and must be a compelling lecturer.
Break for lunch. Muffins and peanut-butter sandwich for me.

My first one-one-one was with Debra Doyle. I brought cookies, the sugar cookies with cardomon. (Always bribe the judges) And my copy of the Madhouse Manor Pleyn Brown Wrapper songbook. She likes my story (woo!) though she gave the caveat that she loves this sort of thing and she may be so close to my perfect target audience that she will miss problems due to bias. No problem with the language, loved the physical details and the upstairs/downstairs interplay of the staff; we shared a brief gripe about pre-industrial fantasy settings without servants and attendants, and where nobles and powerful people were able to get privacy easily, or able to be seen and met with at a moment's notice. She suggested that I need more dialogue and interplay between Myl and Tyl before he's turned into a deer, to clarify their relationship, and that he might be made much younger than her, like 8 or 9 years old, so that his somewhat feckless behaviour is more excusable, and her mothering of him is intensified. Which I think would work really well, and would also make the beating and bruises crueller, because he's 'only a child'. He does need to be old enough to remember something of their life before Midame, though. Maybe 9 years old, that would leave him 3 when they arrive, depending on birthdays. Also what brings Myl back out of the willow knot? If Alard is endangered and she comes to warn him as well as nurture her baby and brother, it makes her commitment to him more of a factor in her finally abandoning her safest nest of all.

This was jellyfish night, it being clear. The beach is an easy walk away, and there are streetlights. The instructors and staff led the way, with students in untidy clumps trailing after. We reached a wooden bridge (untarmacked) with heaps of large stones flanking the banks beside it. The water rushed under it with a tidal sort of hurry.
Some people said they'd seen the glimmers, but it was hard to tell (for those who hadn't previously seen them) from moon reflections on the ripples. The kids were the first to clamber down the rocks, and I followed, giving in to my fondness for rock-clambering (which has been hampered by having to be careful of my stupid shoulder) and we found that under the bridge, shaded from the lights of passing cars, was the best spot.
The jellyfish are small, green-tinged lights, flickering on when they're disturbed, like fireflies under water, no larger. Many had gathered or been swept into the quiet bits between the rocks and the pilings, and lit up like tiny Christmas lights if you swished your hand in the quiet water. The kids found many stranded on the land after tide-change, and hopped up and down to shake the ground and light them up. After a while I climbed back up to let others use my prime spot by the piling, and ended up babysitting a plush bat brought by one of the kids (small, long blonde hair, determined). Her dad asked why she'd brought the bat, but it seemed obvious to me that it was because it was night, and bats go out at night.

And I only have one ms. to read tonight, Laura's, because I'm the other one on deck. I am too tired for trepidation. How are other people getting these things done? Do they not need to sleep? I have done nothing with my story assignment.

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