Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #132

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.

Continue reading “Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes”

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

Interview: Guest lecturer Brendan DuBois

Brendan DuBoisGuest lecturer Brendan DuBois is an award-winning mystery, suspense and science-fiction author. Mr. DuBois is a former newspaper reporter and a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife Mona, their hell-raising cat Bailey, and one happy English Springer Spaniel named Spencer.

He is at work on his seventeenth novel, and his latest Lewis Cole novel, Fatal Harbor, was published in May 2014. Last year, he published his science fiction trilogy, The Empire of the North, made up of The Noble Warrior, The Noble Prisoner, and The Noble Prince. His recent thriller, Twilight, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. DuBois has been published in ten countries by such publishers as St. Martin’s Press; Little, Brown; Time Warner UK; Houghton Mifflin; Pegasus Books, and many more.

His most widely published suspense-thriller, Resurrection Day, has received world-wide acclaim. It takes place in October 1972, ten years after the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted into a full-scale atomic war, destroying the Soviet Union and decimating the United States. Called “one of the most inventive novels of alternative history since Robert Harris’ Fatherland,” Resurrection Day is a chilling tale of what might have been. At the 58th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Resurrection Day received the Sidewise Award for Best Alternative History Novel.

His short fiction has been awarded the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and the Berry Award for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year, has been nominated three times for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and has been nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year.

He is also a one-time Jeopardy! game show champion.


You write mainly mysteries, including your popular Lewis Cole mysteries, and suspense. What drew you to write in those genres? You also write science fiction. Does writing SF appeal to you in the same way as writing mysteries and thrillers? Continue reading “Interview: Guest lecturer Brendan DuBois”

Interview: Author Patricia Bray

patricia-bray-author-photo-2Author Patricia Bray will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She has written a dozen novels, including Devlin’s Luck, which won the 2003 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the field of science fiction or fantasy.  A multi-genre author whose career spans both epic fantasy and Regency romance, her books have been translated into Russian, German, Portuguese and Hebrew.  She’s also spent time on the editorial side of the business, as the co-editor of After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar (DAW, March 2011) and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (DAW, March 2012).

Patricia lives in a New England college town, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as a Systems Analyst, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard.  Visit her website and blog at http://www.patriciabray.com.


You are a multi-genre author: how do you find the writing techniques for epic fantasy and Regency romance compare? Continue reading “Interview: Author Patricia Bray”

Interview: Holly Black

Holly BlackAuthor Holly Black will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop.  She is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children.  Her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster and received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Two other books share the same universe: Valiant (2005), and Ironside, the sequel to Tithe.  Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Young Readers and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Holly collaborated with Caldecott award-winning artist Tony DiTerlizzi to create the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field GuideThe Seeing Stone, Lucinda’s Secret, The Ironwood Tree and The Wrath of Mulgarath, the last of which climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. These were followed by the lavishly illustrated Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You, The Notebook for Fantastical Observations, and Care and Feeding of Sprites. To date, the books have been translated into 32 languages. The Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles series also includes The Nixie’s Song, A Giant Problem and The Wyrm King.

The Spiderwick Chronicles were adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures in conjunction with Nickelodeon Films. Released in February 2008, the film stars Freddie Highmore and Sarah Bolger, with Mark Waters as the director.spiderwickfg

Holly frequently contributes to anthologies, and has co-edited three of them: Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci, 2009), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier, 2010), and Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner, 2011). Her first collection of short fiction, Poison Eaters and Other Stories, came out in 2010 from Small Beer Press. She has just finished the third book in her Eisner-nominated graphic novel series, The Good Neighbors, and is working on Red Glove, the second novel in The Curse Workers series; White Cat, the first in the series, came out in May 2010.

Holly lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.  For more about Holly Black, visit her website at http://www.blackholly.com/ or her blog at http://blackholly.livejournal.com.


Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

Continue reading “Interview: Holly Black”

Interview: Sheila Williams

Sheila WilliamsSheila Williams will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the two-time Hugo-Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. She started at Asimov’s in June  1982 and served as the executive editor of Analog from 1998 until 2004. She is also the co-founder of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing  (formerly the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing). In addition, she coordinates the websites for Asimov’s(www.asimovs.com).

Sheila is the editor or co-editor of twenty-five anthologies. The most recent are Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’s 30th Anniversary Anthology (Tachyon Publications, 2007), which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was on the 2007 Locus Recommended Reading list, and the 2010 Enter A Future: Fantastic Tales from Asimov’s Science Fiction, which is exclusively available for Amazon’s Kindle.

Sheila received her bachelor’s degree from Elmira College in Elmira, New York, and her master’s from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. During her junior year she studied at the London School of Economics. She lives in New York City with her husband, David Bruce, and her two daughters.


What is the most common mistake that writers make in their manuscript submissions to you? Most editors develop pet peeves as they encounter manuscripts that continually violate submission guidelines or make some other irritating mistake. Which one bothers you the most? Continue reading “Interview: Sheila Williams”