2012 GenCon – Writers Workshop

As mentioned, I went back to GenCon in August.  It was an adventure, as thrilling and exhausting as the first one I attended back in 2009 and there’s a lot to write about.  My plan is to update a new post every few days to share some of the highlights of the trip.  In addition, at some point I hope to bring you “Attack of Vacation Beard”, and possibly “The 7 most annoying things Vegetarians Hear everyday.”  So much to do, I may need to quit my day job!  (kidding!!!!)

So GenCon….No surprise, I attended a number of writers workshops again.  I really enjoy spending time with the established authors, picking their brains.  I managed to talk myself into one in particular called “Write and Critique” that I’d like to share with you.

This workshop featured a simple and exciting exercise: The panel would give us a scenario, and the writers would have 15 minutes to write anything we wanted.  After 15 minutes, the writers would read their work, and the panel would provide feedback.  Frankly, as tough as this is on the writers to think of an idea quickly and get it on paper (not to mention to write longhand!), I think it’s much more difficult for the panelists to provide a critique based on a single read through.  They did it somehow, and provide great feedback that I think all of the writers could learn from.

The panel was comprised of three, established authors:

Marc Tassin.  http://www.marctassin.com.  Marc is an author and game designer and is pretty much responsible for putting the Writer’s Symposium together at GenCon.

Maxwell Alexander Drake.  http://www.maxwellalexanderdrake.com. Alex is an author best known for his Genesis of Oblivion Saga.

Kelly Swails.  http://www.kellyswails.com.  Kelly is an author, focusing on Young Adult and Science Fiction.  She has several pieces of short work anthologized.

The scenario that we had to write was:

Your protagonist is in the process of making the most important decision of her life.

And here it is – warts and all!

She stood at the corner, traffic barreling through the intersection: rattling pickups, their sides more epoxy than steel, a sleek Porsche sweeping through the yellow at breakneck speed, anonymous sedans, ditto cars, each looking more like the last, bunched up on the red side like greyhounds at the starting gate.

The only car she didn’t see was Mark’s.  The powder blue beetle, a hand-me-down from his older brother when he (the brother) entered the army, was conspicuous by its absence.  Mandy craned her neck, peering through the traffic on the opposite side of the street.  Still nothing.

She felt sudden fear bloom in her belly and she swallowed it down.  He wouldn’t abandon her.  Not here. Not now. They were Mandy and Mark, Glendale’s cutest couple.  They were going to be together forever and he would be there for her.

A horn beeped behind her and she turned, the tremulous, hesitant smile on her face vanishing as an SUV, yellow with fog lamps, roared past her. 

She dug into her purse and pulled out the iPhone her father had given her last Christmas.  He’d had it engraved: “For my Princess.”

Would he still call me that now? She wondered.  Would I still be his princess if he knew? 

She pulled up Mark’s avatar and hit the green send button.  The phone rang once, twice, and suddenly Mark’s voice inviting her to leave a message.

She paused, letting the silence spin for what seemed infinity.  Two rings.  Two rings meant he had screened her, purposefully sent her to his voicemail.   The fear returned, and with it the acid taste of anger.

“Mark, where are you?  This is your problem too.”

She viciously stabbed the end button.



That’s how much I got done in 15 minutes…I was surprised at the direction my mind took me.  Some of the feedback surprised me a little too….here’s what the panel had to say:

Mark Tassin feedback:

  1. He called out “Bunched up like greyhounds” and “she craned her neck” on his notes, but didn’t get a chance to speak to it so I’m not sure whether he viewed as positive or negative.  I’ve decided to think positive.
  2. He’s concerned that I’m “telling us about the vehicles for a while without telling us why we care.”
  3. Finally, he feels that “the scene didn’t feel tied to the story. The setting felt exchangeable with any other, but not in a good way…I kept looking for significance in the driving vehicles – why is this important?  I just didn’t feel a connection between the cars and the scene.”

Alexander Drake feedback:

  1. Felt the backstory about how Mark got the car was extraneous….not sure why this is important.
  2. Adverb usage – has anyone ever NOT viciously stabbed anything?  (Alex hates adverbs….and they’ve always been a weakness of mine.)

Kelly Swails feedback:

  1. Disagreed with Alex’ assessment on the car backstory – felt it was important in describing the characters and provided interesting information.
  2. Liked using the sent to voicemail as describing what Mark is doing vs. a confrontation.

So what do you think?  Why don’t you offer your own critique of the story…don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit!

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