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James Gunn’s online workshop -

...is back!

Are you a  dedicated soul with the desire to learn structure and the craft of the SF short story?  This workshop is an impressive class run by a Grand Master of the genre, and highly recommended...check it out!

We’re looking for 6 to 8 dedicated, aspiring writers who would love the opportunity to attend an 8-week, online/email writer’s workshop given by Professor James Gunn. Here is an excerpt from my communication with Prof. Gunn:

Theme: The Science Fiction Short Story
Tuition: $200.00 / person
Attendees: 6 to 8
Start Time: When Prof. Gunn receives the remuneration from the last of the group.
Timing: The assignments last four weeks and then I give students four weeks to complete their story; I'll try to attach a description to this.
Frequency: I'm not sure how this differs from timing, but students are expected to complete an assignment each week and comment on other students' work for the first four weeks and then critique the stories during the final four weeks.
Reference Material: I recommend my Scarecrow Press book THE SCIENCE OF SCIENCE-FICTION WRITING, which also contains the syllabus for the on-line workshop.

And one of the most important requirements --
Dedication! Can you push through the the completion of a story in 8 weeks?  Particularly when writing major scenes each week for the first 4 weeks? 

Please post if interested.  This workshop is done solely by email, which runs hot and heavy, (on par with the learning) and  I totally recommend it.  It the class I took some years ago, and now, it's back!  And, if more than the 6-8 people would like to attend this (1st come, 1st served sorta thing here), Professor Gunn may - as he had when I took the course - be willing to run another session at a later time period.
Please feel free to link to this.  I only have a small group on my mutual friend list, and the widest coverage for this would come from everyone spreading the word.  

Also, I will need everyone interested in taking the class to email me at wcouvillier@gmail.com with a good email address.  I will email you directly with the information as to where to send payment, which will serve as the official enrollment upon its receipt as well as compile the email list for Professor Gunn to set everyone up on the University's listserv.

Interested Potential Participants for this session (more than 8 will be wait list/following session):

Here's the syllabus for the course, from his manual:
A writers workshop operates in many different ways, depend­ing upon the talents and preferences of the workshop leader (or teacher) and the experience of the writers involved.  I started my beginning class in fiction writing with the fundamentals of idea, character, setting, and dialogue, and, most of all, the development of these in the form of scenes--the crafts that are special to the creation of fiction.  After that the class moved on to the writing and critiquing of stories.  More advanced classes started with the writing and critiquing of complete stories.  I have always felt that story writers ought to have stories to tell, and if they don't have stories they should go away and live a little and observe a lot until they do have stories that must be told.
When I was asked to develop an on-line course in science-fiction writing, I constructed a syllabus based on a four-week series of readings and writing assignments, with critiques, and then four weeks more for the completion of a science-fiction story and its critique by the other workshop participants.  What follows is that syllabus, with assignments and readings from The Science of Science Fiction Writing .  Individual writers can follow it to construct a story, or workshop leaders (or teachers) can use it with a group.  The most important part of the work­shop, however, is the establishing of standards and the elevating of aspirations.  Critiquing by other writers is essential until standards get internalized--and sometimes critiquing helps even then.
Writers Workshop in Science Fiction
Week One
Ideas!  Science fiction is a literature of ideas (as well as the literature of change and the literature of the human species, and a lot of other literatures), and an SF story ought to have an original idea, a concept that hasn't been used up, a novel insight into the workings of the universe or the human condition under change.  Unlike many readers, who like the comfort of the familiar, SF readers demand something different.  Although complete originality is unattainable, a new twist on an old idea, or a new way of expressing an old concept, or a new way of tell­ing an old story often will work.
Everyone will be expected to evaluate (when the stories themselves are posted during the second four weeks, we'll call these critiques) the story ideas, as they will the later assignments.  The instructor will evaluate last so that other evaluations will not be influenced and can be compared to the instructor's so that this, too, can be a learning experience.  Story ideas should be evaluated for originality and workability.  That is, do they embody characteristics that can be developed into a satisfying narrative, and, if the story is written, will it be different enough from other SF stories that an editor might consider it for publication?  Can you suggest improvements?
Ernest Hemingway once said that writing a novel was getting into the ring with Mr. Tolstoy.  For SF writers, writing an SF story is getting into the ring with Mr. Heinlein--and Mr. Asimov and Mr. Clarke and all the other great SF authors.  That's the competition.
Readings: Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?; The Origins of Science Fiction; The Anatomy of a Short Story.
Assignment: Outline an idea for a short story in a paragraph, describing the concept and suggesting the dramatic development.
Tip: H. L. Gold once said that if you can't put the idea for a story in a sentence you won't be able to turn it into a good story.
Week Two
Characters.  Fiction is "interesting people in difficulties."  Who are the people in the difficulty (the situation) you conceived in the first assignment?  One way to decide who you need as characters in your story is to ask yourself who would hurt the most in this situation.  A character must be moved to action by the situation, and unless someone is hurt (in pain, pushed to the wall), he or she isn't going to act, or isn't going to act definitively.  Make characters "interest­ing" by inspecting their lives in detail--avoid "typical house­wives" or "ordinary college freshmen."  Everyone is special if you look at them intently, particularly if they are suffering (let your characters suffer--most authors are too soft-hearted and want to save their characters pain).
In your evaluation of these scenes, ask first if the scene works dramatically and is a complete dramatic unit.   Then, are the character(s) interesting, understandable, and well presented?  How can the scene and the characterization be improved?
Reading: Heroes, Heroines, Villains: The Characters in Science Fiction; The Issue Is Character; Scene--the Smallest Dramatic Unit
Assignment: Write a scene of 750-1000 words, which will serve as a dramatic unit of your story, in which you present character(s)
Tip: A scene must do many things at the same time: advance the story (move the character toward epiphany), characterize, dramatize, and involve the reader. 
Week Three
Setting.  A story can be narrated--that is, it can be communicated to the reader through someone's impressions of events and comments upon it and the circumstances that led up to them.   That usually occurs through the use of a first-person narrator or an omniscient narrator, or sometimes through a limited third-person narrator.  The other method of presentation is by dramatization--that is, the story is allowed to unfold in front of the reader's eyes, like a play.  The difference between a story and a play, however, is that in a story the setting can't be viewed; it must be described.  The arts of description are many and the kind of description used will differ according to the kind of story.  One method, that improves other aspects of the story, is to render a sense of place through the perceptions of one of the characters--that is, transformed by the character's response, conditioned as it is by the situation and his or her emotional state.
In evaluating scenes for this assignment, consider how the scene itself works as a dramatic unit, then whether the place where events happen has been made real.  How could both be improved?
Reading: A Local Habitation and a Name; Toward a Definition of Science Fiction
Assignment: Write a scene for your story emphasizing a sense of place, and appealing to at least three senses
Tip: Flaubert was the master of description; as Carolyn Gordon pointed out, he discovered the principle that nothing exists in fiction until it happens somewhere, and he achieved reality by appealing, in each setting, to at least three senses.
Week Four
Dialogue.  One of the principles of story writing that runs contrary to intuition and to reading experience is that dialogue is a trap for the unwary.  Dialogue is so easy to write (and so easy to read) that the author thinks the story is moving forward when, as a matter of fact, the story is stalled in inconsequentia (particularly if dialogue is used as a way of providing back­ground, often called exposition).  People should talk, in fic­tion, only when they have something that must be said, and what they say should be necessary to the story and should advance the plot.  Stories move best when characters are acting, not talking, and authors are advised to see how much dialogue they can do without (as is the case with everything else in a story; if it isn't essential, leave it out).  Nevertheless, a story often is judged by the strength of its dialogue, and writers must learn how to handle it skillfully.
As before, evaluate the scene as a scene and then whether the dialogue is effective, believable, necessary, and in character.  Can you suggest improvements?
Reading: Speaking Well in Print; Why People Read Fiction
Assignment: Write a scene for your story in which characters have to confront each other with dialogue; make sure that what they have to say is essential and dramatic.
Tip: The written word has several times the impact (some authori­ties say "seven times") of the spoken word, so the wise author includes only one-seventh of what he or she hears--dialect, verbal mannerisms, vulgarities....
Week Five through Eight
Story.  Write your story.  You have a head start with the idea you have developed and the three scenes--amounting, perhaps, to more than half your story--you already have written.   You will want to revise your scenes, however, and add those necessary to complete the narrative, supplying characterization and setting to those scenes in which these aspects of the scene were not stressed, and inspecting, adding, deleting, or revising dialogue.  Good stories are not written; they are rewritten.  Pay particular attention to the opening sentence and the opening paragraph; get the story started characteristically (in the midst of the protagonist's response to the situation is a good place) and get it ended definitively (with the protagonist's resolution of the situation or his or her inability to cope, even though he or she now knows what is required).  As soon as the story is finished, deliver it to the Workshop.  The Workshop wants your best work, not what you know is flawed; at the same time, you must be will­ing to let loose of a manuscript when revision no longer helps.  The second four weeks is an opportunity to critique each other's complete short stories and have your own critiqued.  This is the moment for which everyone has been working, the moment of truth.  As in my face-to-face workshops, I will offer my comments last.
Reading: How to Be a Good Critiquer and Still Remain Friends; Suspense in Fiction; Getting the Words Right; Why a Formula Is Not a Formula
Assignment: Complete and post your story; read the stories of everyone else and comment on them.
Tip: Good stories are the result of good ideas effectively dramatized.  They also are the result of good judgment about what to include and what to omit.  Hemingway once said that a story is like an iceberg--90% of it is below the water; it isn't what you put in a story that matters; it is what you know and leave out. “


This is it - and I can recommend it, been through it a couple times.  It is geared to the beginning and intermediate writer, but also can be cool as a refresher for someone already hit-n-miss selling.  Give it a shot, and send over those emails!



Sep. 9th, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
Emailed :D