Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

What I Learned at Clarion

(As suggested by Jim Kelly.)

It doesn’t matter how cool and awesome your ideas are if you can’t present them in a clear and comprehensible fashion.

Being clever for the sake of being clever isn’t a good idea if the clever bits interfere with the story you’re trying to tell.

Trying to think about “plot” and “character” (and even setting!) in isolation isn’t much good. They rely on complex interactions and are inextricably entwined, and you can’t change one without affecting the other(s). For example, once you really know a character, and understand what they’d do in a given situation, the working-out of the plot largely takes care of itself.

One man’s brilliance is another man’s bullcrap. That is: what one reader finds sweet another might find saccharine; what one finds wonderfully transgressive another might find merely disgusting; what one finds charming another might find twee. Even a technically accomplished story won’t please everyone.

Try to write about stuff that matters to you, and embrace your weirdness, your idiosyncracies, and your obsessions. That’s where your individual voice comes from.

(I could have written a list with a lot more “Don’t drink that much tequila,” and “During watergun fights, avoid hiding in patches of poison ivy,” and “Fred means you no harm — probably,” but I figured I’d focus on the writing stuff.)

The Clarion Writers workshops http://clarion.ucsd.edu/ and
http://www.clarionwest.org/ are now taking applications. So maybe go to one and learn some stuff. I sure did.

4 Responses to “What I Learned at Clarion”

  1. Jim Kelly Says:

    Hye Tim, thanks for playing. I really like these, especially the comment about writing about what matters to you amd the whole weirdness thing. I tell my students that the only way to know when you’ve finished a piece is if you can answer the question, “Why are you the only writer in the known universe who could have written this story?”

  2. Ferrett Steinmetz Says:

    The official Clarion blog would like to compile all of these posts into one place, and wants to know if it’s cool with you to repost it. If it’s cool, please let me know (I’m doing the legwork for them)! We’ll link back to it, but repost the full content. If you don’t want it there, obviously, this is also cool.

    Also, if you know of anyone who did a “Five things” post that I’ve missed, I’d appreciate it if you could shoot me a mail. I’m trying to round ’em all up.

  3. admin Says:

    Sure, that’s fine!

  4. JRVogt Says:

    “Embrace your weirdness”

    I try, but it shuffles away and glares at me every time I go in for a hug.

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