Odyssey Podcast #128: Nisi Shawl on Dialect & Representation (Part 2)

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #128

Nisi Shawl, the Jeff Pert Memorial Lecturer at Odyssey 2019, lectured on dialect and representation. In this excerpt, the second of two parts, Nisi explains techniques to reveal that a character speaks in dialect without using phoneticization. Word omission and word order (syntax) can show non-standard speech patterns and evoke the feeling of dialect while using standard spellings. Nisi discusses examples from her story “Black Betty.” Word choice is another technique that can reveal a person’s experience, cultural background, and expectations. It can also undercut stereotypes and reveal power differentials between characters. The rhythm of a word, sentence, or passage can also show non-standard speech patterns. Copying a poem or transcribing speech from someone native to the pattern you want to mimic can reveal rhythmic patterns. Cultural references can also help reveal a character’s non-standard speech. Nisi discusses several examples. But she wants writers to remember that difference is not monolithic.

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Nisi Shawl wrote the 2016 Nebula finalist and Tiptree Honor novel Everfair (Tor), an alternate history in which the Congo overthrows King Leopold II’s genocidal regime; and the 2008 Tiptree Award-winning story collection Filter House (Aqueduct). In 2005 she co-wrote Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct), now the standard text on diverse character representation in the imaginative genres, and the basis of her years of online and in-person classes of the same name. She is a founder of the inclusivity-focused Carl Brandon Society and has served on the Clarion West Writers Workshop’s board of directors for twenty years.

Shawl’s dozens of acclaimed stories have appeared in Analog and Asimov’s Magazines and other publications; her “Everfair-adjacent” story “Vulcanization” was selected as one of twenty offered in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017. Two recent collections highlight her writing: A Primer on Nisi Shawl (Dark Moon) and Talk Like a Man (PM Press). In 2019 she edited New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color (Solaris), shortlisted for the New Words Award. Her Middle Grade historical fantasy Speculation is forthcoming from Lee and Low in Spring 2021. Currently she is writing Kinning, an Everfair sequel.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2019 by Nisi Shawl. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

For more Odyssey podcasts, visit: odysseyworkshop.org/podcasts.html

Odyssey Podcast #127: Nisi Shawl on Dialect & Representation (Part 1)

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #127

Nisi Shawl was the Jeff Pert Memorial Guest Lecturer at Odyssey 2019 and spoke about dialect and representation. In this excerpt, the first of two parts, Nisi discusses dialogue, what dialogue can reveal, and the special concerns and challenges that arise when using dialect. Nisi explains that dialogue is idealized and compressed speech. Dialogue can “tell,” as with “as you know, Bob” dialogue, when one character tells another something they both know. This can feel more natural when characters talk at cross purposes or argue. When dialogue “shows,” it can reveal setting, action, and character. Dialogue can reveal a character’s ethnicity, class, country of origin, gender, ability and more. All this can be done without attempting to write in dialect. Nisi leads the class in an exercise to explore these concepts. Then she discusses some concerns surrounding dialect. If you’re only depicting certain speech patterns phonetically, you’re privileging all the rest. You also run the risk that your audience will misunderstand your intent and imbue the passage with qualities you didn’t intend to be present. Nisi relates a problem she had with one of her own stories. Phoneticized dialect may distract readers from your story because they are puzzling out the speech. Many writers recommend limiting this to a word or two or a line at the beginning of a passage. But whole novels written in dialect can be successful.

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Nisi Shawl wrote the 2016 Nebula finalist and Tiptree Honor novel Everfair (Tor), an alternate history in which the Congo overthrows King Leopold II’s genocidal regime; and the 2008 Tiptree Award-winning story collection Filter House (Aqueduct). In 2005 she co-wrote Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct), now the standard text on diverse character representation in the imaginative genres, and the basis of her years of online and in-person classes of the same name. She is a founder of the inclusivity-focused Carl Brandon Society and has served on the Clarion West Writers Workshop’s board of directors for twenty years.

Shawl’s dozens of acclaimed stories have appeared in Analog and Asimov’s Magazines and other publications; her “Everfair-adjacent” story “Vulcanization” was selected as one of twenty offered in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017. Two recent collections highlight her writing: A Primer on Nisi Shawl (Dark Moon) and Talk Like a Man (PM Press). In 2019 she edited New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color (Solaris), shortlisted for the New Words Award. Her Middle Grade historical fantasy Speculation is forthcoming from Lee and Low in Spring 2021. Currently she is writing Kinning, an Everfair sequel.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2019 by Nisi Shawl. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

For more Odyssey podcasts, visit: odysseyworkshop.org/podcasts.html

Special Announcement: Final Odyssey Online Course Deadline +New Podcasts

OdboatThank you to all those who have registered for the winter online writing classes with Jeanne Cavelos and Barbara Ashford!

There is still time to register for “Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot,” taught by David B. Coe, author of The Thieftaker Chronicles (writing as D.B. Jackson), the LonTobyn Chronicle, a trilogy that was awarded the William L. Crawford Award for best new fantasy series, the Winds of the Forelands series, and the Blood of the Southlands trilogy.

Odyssey Online helps you to learn new techniques and build your skills, and provides in-depth feedback to guide you.  If you’re ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them, you’d be welcome to apply.

Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot

Course Meets:  January 21 – February 18, 2016
Instructor:  David B. Coe
Application Deadline:  December 26, 2015
Level:  Beginner/Intermediate

Of all the many tools writers have at their disposal, perhaps none is more powerful, or more overlooked, than point of view. Often thought of simply as the perspective through which a story is told, it is actually far, far more.  It is the mechanism by which we guide our readers through the plot points, narrative arcs, and emotions of our fiction. It is the place where all of our storytelling elements–character, plot, setting, prose–come together. And point of view can also provide solutions to some of the most common problems encountered by aspiring writers and professionals alike. Award-winning author David B. Coe, highly praised mentor and teacher of fiction writing, will show how weaknesses in point of view can undermine an entire story.

We will begin our discussion of point of view by looking at the many factors that go into choosing the correct point of view character or characters for our stories, as well as the proper voice for those characters. We will then move to the study of how point of view influences not only character arc, but also our establishment of plotting, setting, and pacing. We’ll explore the challenges in writing from the point of view of non-human characters and characters from alien cultures. Finally we will conclude the course with an exploration of the ways in which POV can be used to address a host of common problems writers encounter in their work.


Resources abound at the Odyssey Workshop home! Visit the Odyssey Podcasts page for downloadable lectures on a whole variety of writing-related topics. Recent podcasts include:

  • “Making It Real” by E.C. Ambrose (#87 and #88), who discusses the importance of worldbuilding, setting, details, and POV.
  • “Productivity for Writers” by Alex Hughes (#85 and #86).  Alex Hughes shares how to prioritize writing and strategies for focusing on getting words on the page.  Alex will also be leading our first live webinar in February 2016. See the details and register here!
  • “Characterization” by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (#83 and #84). Guest lecturers at the 2014 Summer Workshop, Ellen and Delia talked about writing characters with your own heart and insight, and creating in depth, complex characters.

Special Announcement: Odyssey Podcasts #76 (Alex Jablokov) and #75 (Holly Black)

Jablokov Black podcastEvery month or two, the Odyssey Writing Workshop releases new podcasts created from excerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Each one is ten to fifteen minutes long.

Our two newest podcasts feature authors and guest lecturers Alexander Jablokov (Brain Thief), from the 2014 summer workshop, and Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles), from the 2013 summer workshop.  Alexander discusses how a character functions within a plot, and the many conventions authors use to present believable characters, while Holly explains how to create a magic system.

Other available podcasts include:

  • Carrie Vaughn: Goal-setting for writers (#38)
  • Lori Perkins: Agents, what they do, and what to look for in an agent (#37)
  • Sheila Williams: Qualities of short story openings (#74)
  • Nancy Holder: Short fiction and novel contracts; advances and royalties (#72 & #73)
  • Lane Robins: Outlining techniques (#64)
  • Craig Shaw Gardner: Writing humor in science fiction and fantasy (#18)
  • Melissa Scott: Worldbuilding techniques (#5 & #21)

These podcasts and many more are available for free on the OdboatcleanedupOdyssey Podcast page at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/podcasts.html.  Here you may browse and download podcasts, or subscribe to podcasts so you automatically receive them upon release.

Odyssey Podcasts can also be found in the iTunes store (for free): https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/odyssey-sf-f-writing-workshop/id213992784?mt=2.

Podcast #44: Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne Gilman was the writer-in-residence at Odyssey 2010. During her week at Odyssey, Laura Anne lectured on a variety of topics, participated in critique sessions, and worked individually with writers. In this podcast, Laura Anne discusses how to approach revisions. Before one can revise, one first needs to get a draft of the story written. Often, writers can get hung up on creating the perfect sentence and lose focus on the story. In a first draft, each sentence doesn’t need to be perfect; it’s more important to get the heart of the story on the page. Of course, that doesn’t give one the right be a sloppy writer. Improving the sentences will come in revision, along with other improvements. Laura Anne discusses common problems writers need to address in revision, drawing on her experiences as both editor and writer. She also provides tips on how a writer can tell when something isn’t good enough. And she explains how revising a work can help you with future works.

Laura Anne GilmanLaura Anne Gilman was an editorial assistant at the Berkley Publishing Group in 1994 when she took the first plunge into murky writing waters and submitted her first story to a professional market. An almost immediate sale to Amazing Stories followed. She didn’t make another fiction sale for more than a year, which taught her humility and patience. And the fine art of perseverance. Continue reading “Podcast #44: Laura Anne Gilman”

Podcast #43: David G. Hartwell

Podcast #43 is now available for download here.

Award-winning editor David G. Hartwell was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010, where he spoke on a variety of subjects authors need to know to survive and thrive in the publishing world. In this podcast, David discusses story titles and pseudonyms. A good title can make a story stand out, not only to editors but to readers, as they scan down the contents page of a magazine or anthology. A good title may relate to the themes of the story. It can even suggest to the reader how to read the story, or suggest to the author how to revise the story to make it stronger and more unified. A bad title confuses or turns off the reader. For example, a title that makes sense only after the reader has finished the story is generally not a good idea. A title with unfamiliar words is weak and may turn off readers, bookstores, and book distributors. David also discusses pseudonyms. He explains the different reasons you may want to use a pseudonym, as well as some of the questions you should ask yourself before making that decision.

David G. HartwellDavid G. Hartwell is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy. Continue reading “Podcast #43: David G. Hartwell”

Podcast #42: Gregory Frost

Podcast #42 is now available for download here.

As a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010, Gregory Frost spoke about “Character, Viewpoint, and the Critical Voice of the Story: Why It Matters How You Tell It.” In this podcast, the second of two parts, Gregory continues his discussion of the properties, limitations, and challenges of each viewpoint, covering second person and first person. He describes different ways to use first person, such as the interior monologue, the dramatic monologue, the epistle, the diary, and the memoir. Gregory stresses the importance of considering the question, “Who is listening?” when a first-person narrator tells his story. He also provides a series of questions for an author to ask himself when choosing a point of view. Gregory explains the difference between viewpoint and voice. Voice is critical to establishing character and can create an image of the character more powerful than any physical description. He also describes the unique nature of voice and points out that voice can be a powerful source of originality in fiction. You can find part 1 of Gregory’s lecture excerpt in Podcast #41.

Gregory Frost Continue reading “Podcast #42: Gregory Frost”