This winter, Odyssey Online is once again offering the course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford. The following essay, in which author and Odyssey Online graduate Kodiak Julian talks about her experience with the class, was originally published here on September 9, 2018.
The application deadline for this winter’s Odyssey Online courses is December 7, 2020.
Kodiak Julian is a graduate of Reed College and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Together with Jamaica Zoglman, she cohosts the weekly podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor, which explores the pursuit of beauty, mystery and the sublime in everyday life. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she teaches truly magnificent high school students. Her work appears in Lightspeed, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Grimoire Magazine, the Writers of the Future anthology, and in the Witches, Stitches, and Bitches anthology. She is frequently mesmerized by watching chickens.
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ODYSSEY ONLINE OFFERS LIVE, INTENSIVE CLASSES WITH IN-DEPTH FEEDBACK
The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust has announced its Winter 2021 online classes: One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford; Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers, taught by award-winning editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews; and Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, taught by New York Times bestselling author Patricia C. Wrede.
In Winter 2018, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford taught the Odyssey Online course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, and she’ll be teaching the class again this winter. In this excerpt from the first class, Barbara talks about techniques writers can use to evaluate the effectiveness of their scenes. Scenes are made out of moments. Moments can be bittersweet, funny, shocking—the best ones grab our attention because they feature characters we care about, involve indelible imagery or worldbuilding, and show dramatic conflict that keeps us reading. All writers use the same ingredients for scenes, but writing is not about following a recipe but about mixing the ingredients as appropriate for the story and scene. We need to be aware of the effect we’re striving to create and the impact we want to have on readers. A dramatic scene requires conflict. The conflict in a scene needs to relate to the conflicts in the story as a whole. When analyzing the effectiveness of scenes, don’t just look for conflict, but whether that conflict pushes the plot forward and whether it impacts future events. Look at whether the POV character has a clear scene objective. If the scene is about several things rather than a single objective, it becomes unfocused. The short-term scene objective has to relate to the character’s long-term goal, the super-objective. The scene needs to put obstacles between the protagonist and the super-objective. Having a clear scene objective raises anticipation and makes the reader want to know how the situation will be resolved. The scene must have something at stake for the POV character. More than anything, a scene must change the situation for the POV character in a dramatic way. If the POV character is in the same emotional place at the beginning of the scene and the end, you should ask yourself if the scene is necessary. You can skip over unimportant scenes or roll scenes together. The best scenes do more than just change the situation; they show how the POV character is changed as a result of the action.
J.A. Schimmel is a 2018 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, as well as several of the Odyssey Online Classes. When the world is not on fire, she divides her time between Illinois and Michigan while writing speculative fiction and slowly racking up rejections.
Holly Black was a guest lecturer at the 2019 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from her question-and-answer session, Holly answers questions about writing young adult and middle grade fiction. One student points out that some people think fantastic creatures must be a certain way. How do you deal with those expectations? Holly says that when writing in a tradition, you’re adding to a conversation. Bring your own perspective into the conversation based on who you are. Another student asks how you get into a teen’s head and see things through their eyes? Holly suggests writers try to remember being a teen. Think of what you did, how you felt. The error writers tend to make is to write about teens or children who are very concerned with the adults in their lives when they should be thinking about themselves and their peers. When asked the difference between middle grade and young adult, Holly explains that the readers are very different. You need a protagonist of the appropriate age. Middle grade stories are generally about family and friendship. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are examples. Young adult stories are usually about self-definition, friendship, and love, as the protagonist ventures outside of childhood into independence. YA should not involve an adult character looking back at her teen years. Middle grade and young adult fiction usually have a single viewpoint character; it is rare to have more.
Freelance editor, fiction author, and wood artisan Adria Laycraft earned honours in Journalism in 1992 and has always worked with words and visual art. She co-edited the Urban Green Man anthology in 2013, which was nominated for an Aurora Award, and launched her debut novel Jumpship Hope in 2019. Look for her short stories in various magazines and anthologies, both online and in print. Adria is a grateful member of Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) and a proud survivor of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Learn more at adrialaycraft.com, or follow her YouTube channels Carving the Cottonwood and Girl Gone Ground.
You attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2006. What made you decide to attend?
A big-name author told me I was ready, that it would do me good if I was up for the commitment. I had only ever heard of Clarion at that point. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it took. I actually did my own personal Odyssey the winter before, following the syllabus I found online, just to test myself and my discipline. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Adria Laycraft”
Alec Hutson is a 2003 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He lives in Shanghai and is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy The Raveling. The first novel in the trilogy, The Crimson Queen, was named one of Booknest’s Top 100 Fantasy Books of Our Century.
You attended Odyssey in 2003. Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?
Corry L. Lee is a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is a science fiction and fantasy author, Ph.D. physicist, award-winning science teacher, data geek, and mom. Her debut novel, Weave the Lightning (Solaris, April 2020), “infuses magical resistance with a Russian flair” (Lightspeed Magazine). In Ph.D. research at Harvard, Corry shed light on the universe fractions of a second after the Big Bang. At a major tech company, she connected science to technology, improving the customer experience through online experimentation. A transplant to Seattle, Washington from sunny Colorado, she is learning to embrace rainy days. Learn more at corrylee.com or on Twitter @CorryLLee.
You attended Odyssey in 2009. Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?
Before Odyssey, I snuck writing into the cracks of my life. I was working on my Ph.D., and so tended to write in odd hours and weekends…whenever I could escape problem sets and research. It wasn’t so much a schedule as the thing I did to decompress. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Corry L. Lee”
Author and Odyssey graduate E.C. Ambrose will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She writes knowledge-inspired adventure fiction including The Dark Apostle series about medieval surgery, The Singer’s Legacy fantasy series (as Elaine Isaak), and the Bone Guard international thrillers (as E. Chris Ambrose). Her latest releases are Bone Guard Two: The Nazi Skull, and The King of Next Week (Guardbridge). In the process of researching her books, Elaine learned how to hunt with a falcon, clear a building of possible assailants, and pull traction on a broken limb. Her short stories have appeared in Fireside, Warrior Women, and Fantasy for the Throne, among many others, and she has edited several volumes of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction. A graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Elaine has returned there to teach, as well as at conventions and writer’s groups across the country. She has judged writing competitions from New Hampshire Literary Idol to the World Fantasy Award.
Elaine dropped out of art school to found her own business. A former professional costumer and soft sculpture creator, Elaine now works as a part-time adventure guide. In addition to writing, Elaine creates wearable art employing weaving, dyeing, and felting into her unique garments. To learn about all of her writing, check out RocinanteBooks.com.
As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?
The most important thing about your first works are to FINISH THEM. We tend to obsess about where to start, how to start, how to handle this or that thing, or (heaven forbid!) which publisher or agent to send this book to when it turns out to be brilliant, because of course it will be. Or we fret that it just won’t ever be good enough and polish the same three chapters over and over every time we feel we have leveled up as a writer. But here’s the deal. You can’t level up until/unless you finish things. The only way to really learn how to write a story arc is to complete one. Then another. Then another, then get feedback on them and write another one. Then study some of your favorite stories with your newly jaundiced writer’s eyes, then write another. Finish things. The first ones won’t be great things, most likely, but they will teach you how to middle and how to end. Learning how to middle and how to end will help you understand where and how to begin. Focus less on polishing and revising and more on delivering words of story on the page. Bonus: when you finish a thing, it feels really good! Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose”
New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin created the Miskatonic Scholarship to support to a promising new writer of Lovecraftian cosmic horror attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop. As a boy, Martin came across his first story by H. P. Lovecraft. He says, “I had never read a story that scared me more . . . so of course I sought out more Lovecraft wherever I could find it.” Martin’s love of weird fiction grew, and he found that “No werewolf, no vampire, no thing going bump in the night could give me chills to equal those provided by the cosmic horrors that Lovecraft evoked.”