Last month, I had the privilege of serving at the Speculative Fiction: Southeast 2015 conference. This was a general market con with a heavy emphasis on writing workshops. The conference headliner was Orson Scott Card. Just a little exciting.
You could probably hear my squeeing no matter how far you are from Florida.
On day one, I taught the same Unventing Languages workshop I gave at Realm Makers 2014. Then I attended a worldbuilding panel on which Card was one of the speakers. I neglected to take any decent notes, but the one thing I remember was something that Card also states in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. That when you work to hard to incorporate mythic archetypes, your stories will fall flat. If you just focus on telling the story, the mythic underpinnings will be present without being obvious.
Inevitably, archetypal themes will show up again and again. But they only work if you are not aware of them; the moment you consciously treat them as formulas, they lose the power to stir the blood of any but the most naive readers.—Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
We’ve all heard about archetypes and monomyth and how effective they are at engaging readers. I suspect that what Card is getting at is that you can’t let the formulas dictate the story.
On day two, I was moderating a panel about editing when Card kicked off his three-hour workshop. So I missed the first hour and a bit of his talk. Since I came in late, I was way in the back, which is why my photos are so crappy.
When I arrived, Card was discussing one of my favorite subjects—viewpoint. He didn’t use my preferred term, deep point of view, but what he advocated was just that—getting into the character’s head and eliminating the narrator.
Why limit yourself to a screenwriter’s tools? Do the thing a movie can’t do—get inside the viewpoint character.—Orson Scott Card
He noted that too often amateur writers try to create “suspense” by concealing information from the reader. This is rarely as effective as writers think it will be.
Suspense does not come from not knowing what’s going on—only confusion.—Orson Scott Card
When you’re deeply embedded in the character’s viewpoint—regardless of whether you’re writing in first or third person—information received by the character must not be hidden from the reader. If you need to control the order of information—what we need to know and when—then control the order in which the character receives it.
Even though this was Orson Scott Card, I found myself in the familiar position many of us have when we’ve been working the conference circuit for years. We’ve heard a lot of this before. I mean, Card didn’t really teach anything I haven’t heard before. Nevertheless, he’s an engaging speaker and if you have an opportunity to hear him teach, take it.
Here are a few more of Card’s bons mots:
The paper does not contain the story. The story does not exist until it’s in the reader’s head.
Twister is the best movie ever because the dialogue is alive every second.
In science fiction, you can’t mess around with literary stuff. You have to actually be clear.
Writer’s block is a sign that you don’t believe in and care about what you’ve written or are about to write.
When your subconscious says, “Stop!” you should listen.