I attended a writer's workshop that I've been dying to attend for years, but has never meshed well with my schedule. This year, it still didn't mesh well, being right across lunch, but I decided the Hubs could manage the kids well enough for one meal and that I could put my own meal off for an hour or so, and Just Did It. I'm sure glad I did.
The assignment was: In ten minutes, write the first draft of the first paragraph (100 words, give or take) of a brand new short story. In that 100 words, you need to: establish your setting; introduce your character and give us some hints about who they are; present a problem (not necessarily the main plot problem, but something to create immediacy); and provide a hook so that the reader will want to keep going.
Everyone present was required to participate; there was no passive audience allowed. We all wrote our paragraphs, and then the panel -- all professional writers and editors, except the lead moderator's (adult) daughter, who he introduced as the most critical reader he knew -- listened to us read them aloud and gave us suggestions for improvement.
It sounds harsh, and it was, a bit. I'm glad I didn't attempt this before I'd gotten serious about being published. I might even be glad I didn't attempt this before I'd been published, because while they were continually reminding us that this was a first draft and first drafts always suck, they did not pull a lot of punches. On the other hand, one of them said one of the nicest and coolest things about my little paragraph ever: "There was something in every single sentence I wanted to ding you for, but somehow you made it all work."
In case you're wondering, here's my rough draft, exactly as I wrote it:
Timothy dashed down the street, cursing nonstop under his breath. How many impossible situations could a man find himself in before breakfast, anyway? An angry warlord at the gates, a missing high mage, and now, an amorous dragon! Timothy windmilled his arms and skip-jogged a few steps as he careened around the corner onto High Street, trying to decide which situation warranted top billing at his briefing with the prince... For which he was late.Other helpful comments included the suggestion that editors aren't taking a lot of high fantasy any more, that cursing under your breath while running is not really that feasible, and that if I proceed from this action-packed opener to a boring dialogue meeting with the prince, the reader will feel let down and I'll lose them.
Unfortunately, I have no idea at all where the story goes from there. But I'll stick it into my Ideas folder and maybe something will hatch eventually.
I got almost as much out of listening to the other participants' openers and thinking about what I'd say if I was on the panel, and seeing if my comments matched up at all with the panelists'. It was a fascinating exercise, and I definitely want to do it again next year. I'm only sad that I didn't get to do the Part Two workshop the next day, where you bring in your edited draft and see how much they've all improved.
Though I think my favorite moment came when the woman next to me read her piece, and the panel moderator said that it sounded like a great concept but that he didn't write erotica so he didn't know how useful his advice would be... and the woman got a completely horrified look on her face and insisted that it was not erotica! (How horrible would I be if I threw her idea into my folder and did use it for erotica, somewhere down the line? It really did sound like a great notion; it would be a shame to let it languish unused.)
That evening, I went to a panel on GLBT in speculative fiction, moderated by JM Snyder, Michael O'Brien (aka Mikhail Borg), and Helen Madden (aka Cynical Woman). (Michael showed us his website, but I've forgotten the URL and can't seem to find it, so the link goes to his Twitter. The Twitter profile links to his seldom-used LiveJournal instead of the professional site he'd showed us.)
I'd met JM before, at the Roanoke Pride festival, and she happened to come in a little while before the panel started, so I enjoyed a few minutes chatting with her about things before it all got started. The panel itself was great -- more a moderated discussion than simple Q-and-A.
When that was over, there was another panel, "Not if you were the last person on earth: repopulating after an apocalypse." That was fun, too -- it was, essentially, a group exercise in world-building and trying to take all the factors into account when you're creating a fictional scenario, and there's very little I love about writing more than the world-building, so I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the woman in the audience who would not shut up.
And after that, there was a reading from four erotica authors. The room had cleared out completely after the Repopulating panel, though, and for a while there it looked like it was going to be four authors and me, and we were just talking about random stuff. But finally another person came in, so they read to us, and by the time the second was almost done, the room was completely packed (though some of the audience was drunk and couldn't stop giggling.) But it was still great fun, and I enjoyed chatting with the other audience member for a while -- gave her the copy of the "Sound Mind" freebie I had with me, and my card, and she promised to give it a read and pass it on to friends who might like it.
I left out several free copies of "Sound Mind" and a bunch of flyers and cards for Safe Harbor, and quite a few of them got picked up, so I'm hoping at least a few of those people will drop by and check me out!
I already can't wait for next year!