I got home from Boot Camp late last night. I kind of can’t believe it’s over.
It was such an amazing week. I did not a full night’s sleep the entire time I was there, but I would have happily stayed for another week of the same.
On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we workshopped the stories we wrote in that marathon session from Tuesday to Wednesday. Here is the most true thing I can say about Orson Scott Card: he is not shy. If he thinks your story needs evisceration, he will cheerfully provide it. He is as free with his political opinions as with his professional ones. And he even shared episodes from his personal history with us, often things of deep intimacy and significance.
I know some people would find Card’s bluntness offensive. But here is my take on it: Card is overwhelmingly generous in his honesty.
He gave us his true opinions, whether he thought they would please us or not, without (I’m pretty sure) holding anything back. Let’s just take a moment and acknowledge that not everyone would be willing to do that, or even can.
Card’s workshops run very differently from the ones I have been in before. The foundation we were given to work from, as critiquers, was composed of Card’s three Wise Reader questions:
- Huh?â€” For use when you’re confused about what’s happening in the story
- Oh, yeah?â€” For use when you don’t believe the story
- So what?â€” For use when the story fails to hold your attention
For example, my story got a good number of “Oh, yeahs?” because it was I didn’t have time to do any research into the building of cathedrals during 16th century Germany; the details I faked simply weren’t believable enough.
But here’s the question I want to talk about: So What? I think I can say without reservation that if I had uttered those words in any other workshop I’ve been in, I’d have received one or two dirty looks, and possibly an invitation to leave the room. We just don’t tell each other we’re bored with one another’s stories. We dance around it: “I think the scene where he makes the moccasins maybe isn’t quite as strong as the other scenes.” But we don’t say, “Hey, dude? The moccasins? Boooo-rrrrring!” We don’t say anything like it. And that may be the exact problem the author needs to know about.
I mean, this was kind of a revelation to me: you should tell people when they bore you. So, regular writing group? Beware.
Another revelation was that thirteen people could have such different takes on a story. The workshop tables were set up in a big circle. Starting with the person next to the writer, we would each go around and give our comments in an orderly fashion, except for Card, who always went last. Card has a rule that once a comment has been made, it’s been made: we don’t all have to go around and say “I agree about the dialogue.” If you don’t have anything new to say, you simply confess it and we move along.
I assumed that this would be happening a lot. It didn’t. Once or twice, yes, but generally speaking, people had stuff to say. Often another camper would say something I almost thought but didn’t: something that irked me in the story but never quite got processed on the level of conscious thought.
Over the course of three days, I felt like I was able to build up a very germinal picture of the minds of my fellow campers. So often the inner life of another person is completely invisible to you; so much so that you almost forget it’s there. And yet over the week I felt like I was able to understand these people, just a little, from the inside: what they care about, what they notice, who they are when they’re alone with a story. It was a wonderful thing.
The stories were incredible: inventive and surprising and satisfying. If I hadn’t known, I wouldn’t have believed they could have been conceived and written so fast.
People had a lot of nice things to say about my story, and also some really good criticisms. In addition to criticism, Card gave me a history lecture (and I wasn’t the only one who got one, either; Card is the most well-read person I know). I feel like I have some great ideas of what to do with the story… but I also know that it needs a good bit of research.
I have so much more the say about Boot Camp, but this post is plenty long enough. Back soon!