I'm on their mailing list. Given the general nature of this letter, they'd probably be happy if I forwarded it to as many people as possible. However, I also thought some you might find this of interest, hence my posting it here. I have mixed feelings about the big workshops, but this provides a bit of insight to them. Best wishes, Terry
ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOP NEWSLETTER
Issue #4--December 2005
Welcome to our fourth issue. You're receiving this newsletter either because you've requested it, or you've expressed interest in Odyssey, or you've contacted me regarding your writing. The newsletter is sent out between 1-3 times per year, as time allows. It contains updates on future workshops, writing tips, and publishing information. Any future anthologies that I edit will be announced here, with information on how to submit stories. If you'd like to be removed from this mailing list, or if you change your email address, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
--Jeanne Cavelos, Director
*Active Versus Reactive Characters
*Standard Manuscript Format
This summer's Odyssey workshop will be held from June 12-July 21 on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. The six-week workshop, for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, combines an intensive learning and writing experience with in-depth feedback on students' manuscripts. Prospective students must apply by APRIL 14.
Best-selling author Robert J. Sawyer will be our special writer-in-residence this summer. Rob has won both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and he has eight other Hugo nominations to his credit. In addition, he's won nine Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, Analog magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award for Best Short Story of the Year, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Short Story of the Year. Rob is also one of the most passionate, dedicated, and helpful writing teachers I've ever encountered. Rob has led many fantasy, science fiction, and horror writers to make major improvements in their writing. He will be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students during the entire fifth week.
Our guest lecturers, similarly, excel at both writing and teaching. This summer we'll have award-winning authors Melissa Scott, Jeff VanderMeer, Laurie J. Marks, and Christopher Golden; and award-winning editor and agent Shawna McCarthy.
Odyssey was founded ten years ago to provide up-and-coming genre writers the guidance and feedback necessary to become professionals, and it has quickly become one of the premier genre workshops in the country. Past lecturers have included some of the top authors in the field, such as Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Ben Bova, George R. R. Martin, Patricia McKillip, and Dan Simmons.
Odyssey is the only program of its kind run by an editor. In addition to being a writer, I'm a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where I ran the SF/F/H program and won the World Fantasy Award for my work. I serve as primary instructor at Odyssey, providing in-depth lectures, individual guidance over the six weeks, and critiques on your stories that average about 1,000 words. You will not receive feedback of this depth at other
If you're interested in applying, check out our website, which has just been updated with more information on the 2006 session: http://www.sff.net/odyssey
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
An incredible 46% of Odyssey graduates have gone on to be published (up from 40% a couple years ago). This is the highest success rate of any workshop I know.
Chances are that you're reading the works of Odyssey alumni without even knowing it! In our short ten-year history, Odyssey graduates have published over 215 stories. Their stories appear in the magazines and anthologies that you buy. Their novels are published by the major publishers that you read. Check out our new webpage summarizing the accomplishments of this exciting, talented group: http://www.sff.net/odyssey/reading_alums.html
Please join me in congratulating
--Theodora Goss, class of '00, for her nomination for a World Fantasy Award, for winning the Rhysling Award, and for selling her short story collection,IN THE FOREST OF FORGETTING, to Prime Books, to be published in March 2006
--Carrie Vaughn, class of '98, on the publication of her first novel, KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, by Warner Books, and for hitting the USA TODAY Bestseller List!
--Barbara Campbell, class of '00, for selling her second novel, BLOODSTONE, to DAW Books, to be published in 2006
--Elaine Isaak, class of '97, for selling her second novel, THE EUNUCH'S
HEIR, to Harper Eos, to be published in 2006
--the ten Odyssey graduates who have sold their first stories this year!
Odyssey graduates are building their writing careers with sales that are coming fast and furious. You can find an updated list of graduates'publications at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/gradpubs.html
and read about Carrie's, Barbara's, and Elaine's Odyssey experiences at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/gradexs.html
Many authors overuse words involving looking and eyes. They describe their characters looking, glancing, gazing, staring, studying, seeing, surveying, scanning, peeking, leering, ogling, noticing, watching, blinking, glaring, and just generally eyeballing everything. Characters' eyes flash, burn, linger, darken or brighten, and even change color. Characters' eyes drop to
the floor (ouch!); they roam around the room (eeek!). Or characters may raise the ever-popular eyebrow.
At Bantam Doubleday Dell, I once edited a book in which the author described characters looking in almost every paragraph. The author gave his male character a line of dialogue, then said, "He looked at her." Then the female character said a line of dialogue, and "her eyes narrowed on him." Then the male character spoke, and "he looked away." The female character said nothing, only "stared at him." This went on for 600 pages.
While that is an extreme example, overuse of looking/eye words is a problem for many writers today. They visualize their stories as movies. In movies, looks exchanged between two actors can be very revealing. Their expressions reveal nuances of the characters and their relationships quite skillfully.Unfortunately, looks exchanged between two characters in a book are not revealing. An author may write, "He looked at her," and see those expressions in his head, fascinating and filled with nuance. But the reader doesn't see this. The reader just sees one character looking at the other.
These terms also carry other problems. If an author describes eyes as burning or flashing, these are clichés and don't reflect reality. In reality, eyes remain relatively unchanged, except for pupil size. It's the skin and face around the eyes that control a person's expression.
Eyes that are "filled with conviction" or "shadowed with longing" are weak shortcuts telling us what the character is feeling. It would almost always be better to show us what the character is feeling.
So search your manuscripts and see how many eyeballs are roaming your pages. Come up with other ways of revealing the thoughts or emotions of the characters besides describing their eyes. Small actions or gestures can be extremely revealing and powerful. Most authors could strengthen their work by cutting at least 50% of these looking/eye words. Sometimes a description of a gaze or a glance can be amazingly significant. But if your characters are gazing in every paragraph, then it won't mean much.
ACTIVE VERSUS REACTIVE CHARACTERS
One problem many developing writers have is that readers don't like their main characters and don't care what happens to them. If you can get readers to become emotionally invested in your protagonist, then they'll follow you almost anywhere.
Readers tend to like characters who are struggling to achieve a goal. This simple principle can be invaluable in creating sympathetic protagonists. Characters working toward a goal are active characters. Characters who aren't working toward a goal are reactive. Reactive characters are much weaker than active characters, and we tend not to like them. Unfortunately,
many writers end up unknowingly creating reactive protagonists.
Here's a scene with one active character and one reactive character:
Joe: "What do you want to do tonight?"
Jane: "I don't know."
Joe: "Let's go see Lord of the Rings."
Jane: "I already saw it."
Joe: "Well, let's go bowling then."
Jane: "I hate bowling."
Joe: "We could rent a video and stay home."
Jane: "We did that last night."
Joe is the active character, Jane reactive. Joe is working toward a goal(finding something pleasant for them to do together). Jane is just reacting to what Joe says, and is seemingly not interested in achieving that goal or any other. We relate to Joe, because at least he's trying. We dislike Jane, because she's not trying.
Some people certainly are reactive, and it's fine to have reactive
characters in your story. Just be aware that's what you're doing, and don't expect your readers to like these characters.
STANDARD MANUSCRIPT FORMAT
I've seen it all: manuscripts sprinkled with silver fairy glitter,
manuscripts handwritten in purple magic market, manuscripts with the
"bloody" scenes printed on red paper. While you may not do any of those things, are you presenting your work in a proper, professional form? Agents and editors except writers to submit their work in standard manuscript format. The quality of your presentation reflects your professionalism as a writer. If the manuscript is formatted according to standard publishing practice and printed out in clear, dark print, editors and agents will take this as a sign that you know what you're doing. They will begin reading
your work with the belief that it may possibly be good. If the manuscript is not formatted correctly, editors and agents will assume you are an amateur. They'll begin reading with the belief that your manuscript probably isn't worth their time, and they'll be looking for a reason to reject it as quickly as possible.
I've put together a description of standard manuscript format that's easy to follow. Are you doing it properly? http://www.sff.net/odyssey/cfaq.html
I was very excited to receive this email from Odyssey Newsletter subscriber Krys Lavalle:
>I just wanted to write to you and say thank you. Because of your
newsletter, I heard about Medallion Press when they were first starting up a year and a half ago. Well, last Saturday Medallion emailed me, saying that they were accepting my Young Adult fantasy and offering me a contract. Today the contract arrived in the mail; I have just been off the wall! I had to let you know, and again, thank you so much for including me on your mailing list. I am so happy to have sold my first novel.<
The news about Medallion was in issue #2. Kris's novel, FADING SCARS, willbe published in Spring 2007. You can find out more at her site, www.geocities.com/vigokosaru
I hope this newsletter has provided some useful information. If I've left out something you'd like included in a future issue, let me know.