I seized an opportunity recently, and I’m glad I did.
I chose to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning (which is just as difficult for me as it is for Neil Gaiman) and schlep all the way into town, to enclose myself in a room with strangers for several hours, while the first decent sun in months shone brilliantly outside without me.
Why? Because it was a workshop about writing fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. And that’s what I do. Or at least, it’s what I’ve started to do, and very much the direction this Denouement gig is taking me.
The workshop was presented by Lisa Hannett, who is particularly deft with short stories of a speculative ilk, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I throw in some words like dark, imaginative and bent to describe them. Lisa is fabulous enough to have gone along to Clarion South (pause for a moment of envy) back when Clarion South was still a thing. Of late she been picking up handfuls of shiny awards and nominations for other shiny awards, and she also happens to reside in our fair city.
Besides all of that (and once my Saturday morning cappuccino had kicked in), Lisa gives a cracking workshop.
The first session covered ways to stimulate story ideas and develop plots. Lisa emphasised the need to focus on the “single element” in a short story. You may catch glimpses of the larger imagined reality, but the job of the short is to explore a single idea with depth, in a readily digestible chunk. There’s an elegance needed to include what needs to be there and omit what belongs to the larger picture, offstage. The art of the strong beginning was demonstrated, along with succinctness of description and avoiding the dreaded info-dump.
Lisa came armed with stimulating exercises and thoughtful handouts. Throughout, she referred to esteemed writers (Sean Williams got a mention), and backed up all of her points with examples of excellent writing within the genre. Finally, she issued a challenge – to submit a draft for workshopping by a small group in the second session, along with a critique by Lisa herself.
I went away filled with enthusiasm and ideas, which must be the best recommendation possible, right? Not only did I add to my knowledge base, but the convergence of creativity and cleverness in the room stimulated my own imaginative energies.
I even had an epiphany.
This was one of those workshops that will stay with me and continue to inform my thinking and writing for a while yet. Definitely worth peeling my eyelids open early on the weekend for.