Writing Question: Outlining

It isn’t easy holding together a story of 100,000 words, the average length of a novel these days. Many writers find they can’t manage without first creating an extensive outline. Other writers use a handful of three-by-five cards as an outline, while a few very successful authors, such as Stephan King, write with no outline at all. We asked Odyssey graduates:

Do you outline? Why or why not? What method of outlining do you use? Continue reading “Writing Question: Outlining”

Getting into Characters’ Heads

Ask readers what makes a good story good and they are likely to say “the characters.” But how does a writer create characters that are engaging, believable, and distinct?  And how does a writer bring such characters to life on the page? We asked Odyssey graduates:

How do you get into your characters’ heads? Do you make all your characters similar to yourself in some ways? Do you use research to better understand different types of people? Continue reading “Getting into Characters’ Heads”

Writing Question: Point of View

A story’s point of view (POV) affects the entire story, from how much information the author can divulge to how a reader empathizes with the protagonist. Choosing a point of view is one of the most fundamental choices an author can make. We asked Odyssey graduates:

Have you tried experimenting with different points of view for your stories? How does the viewpoint change the story itself? How does it change the experience of writing and reading the story?  How do you know which viewpoint is best for a particular story?  Continue reading “Writing Question: Point of View”

Writing Question: Idea Bank?

During the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop, students write six original short stories, making successful idea generation imperative. To get a better idea of the methods used by experienced writers, we asked Odyssey graduates:

Do you keep an “idea bank” for future stories? How does that work? Do you organize your ideas in any way? Do you actually use them? Continue reading “Writing Question: Idea Bank?”

Writing Question: Why did you apply?

The Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop has been called an MFA in six weeks and a stepladder to professional publication. Fifty-three percent of Odyssey graduates go on to get their work published. But what, in particular, drives writers to apply to the program? And how do their expectations for the workshop compare to the reality of attending? We asked Odyssey graduates:

Why did you first apply to Odyssey? How many times did you apply before you were accepted? Did you get everything out of it that you were expecting? How did it differ from your expectations? Continue reading “Writing Question: Why did you apply?”

Writing Question: Setting?

Choosing the right setting can enhance a story, and describing that setting vividly can make the story sing. A strong setting can add to plot, atmosphere and characterization. To get a better idea of how to develop a setting, we asked Odyssey graduates,

How do you visualize your story’s setting? Do you model the setting after an actual place? Do you do research into a particular landscape, time period, or culture? Do you use photos from magazines, your imagination, or something else? Do you draw any elements of your setting or create diagrams or maps? Continue reading “Writing Question: Setting?”

Writing Question: Quitting?

It’s no secret that most people who set out to write a book never finish. But what about those writers who keep working year after year, penning one book and then another, or one short story and then another, with little to show for it? What keeps them going? Odyssey graduates represent every stratum of writing success, from bestselling author to never published. But one thing most have in common is uncommon stick-to-itiveness. We asked them,

Have you ever considered giving up writing? What kept you motivated despite the rejections, the low to non-existent pay for most writers, and the long odds of ever “making it”? Continue reading “Writing Question: Quitting?”

Writing Question: Themes?

For many writers a theme is a nebulous concept, a concept best left to academia where one can write a term paper on the color of autumn leaves appearing on page 397 of a 500-page novel. But for others, a consciously selected theme guides their entire work. To wit, we pose these related questions to Odyssey graduates:

At what point in your writing process do you begin to think about themes? How do you work themes into your stories? Do you feel themes are an important part of your stories? What themes have you used in your writing? Which have resonated particularly well with you and which have not resonated at all? Why? Continue reading “Writing Question: Themes?”

Writing Question: Short story or novel?

It often takes writers several years of serious writing before they get a sense of the relationship between their initial ideas and the final products. Which idea is appropriate for a flash fiction story? Which idea requires a longer story? Which idea should become a novel? Even after years, some writers struggle, taking an idea more appropriate for a short story and writing an entire novel about it, making the reader feel he’s put in a lot of time for a small payoff; or trying to cram a novel idea into a short story and leaving the reader confused and unsatisfied. When you have an idea, what type of piece should it become? Odyssey graduate Carrie Vaughn discussed this topic when she came to the workshop as our writer-in-residence in 2009, and you can find an excerpt from that lecture in Podcast #35. But since this is one of the most difficult and most important skills for a writer to develop, we thought we’d ask other Odyssey graduates to weigh in on the issue.

When you get an idea, how do you know if it’s a short story idea or a novel idea? Continue reading “Writing Question: Short story or novel?”


One of the hardest parts of being a writer is dealing with rejection. Many writers send out their shiny new story, receive one rejection, and put the story into the drawer, forever. Others make it to three or four rejections, and then it’s into the drawer with the story, forever. Very few will make it to eight or nine rejections. Even fewer go beyond. Should the author take the rejection as a sign that the story should never see the light of day? Or should the author continue to believe in his story and persist? Many stories are sold to the eighth magazine, or the twelfth magazine, or the twentieth magazine they’re sent to. That can only happen, though, if the author keeps sending them out. To bring some clarity to this issue, we asked the Odyssey graduates for their advice.

How many times do you submit a story before you give up on it? Continue reading “WRITING QUESTION: WHEN TO GIVE UP ON A STORY”