Dr. Scott Dalrymple, President of Columbia College, spoke enthusiastically during his presentation at CCMWG's September meeting about creating mood in fiction.
Although presiding over a college is his profession, writing, especially short fantasy/science fiction pieces, is his passion.
His talk was casual, but his remarks were practical, thoughtful, and, at times -- deep.
Here are some notes/quotes I jotted down:
* The slush pile does get read, usually by an intern or an assistant. That's how his first short story got discovered.
* Having a good plot, especially in short stories, is not as important as having a good command of the language.
* If a story gets rejected, hold on to it for a while and revise and resubmit either that piece or a new piece to the same publication. (Editors move on -- or the same one might forget he/she read your story before.)
* He compared novelists and short story writers to carpenters.
- Novelists are like framing carpenters with big elaborate structures (plots).
- Short story writers are like finish carpenters (not to be confused with carpenters from Finland) who work on the smaller details (mood, language).
* He prefers to write shorter works -- but he enjoys reading novels.
* Editing is his favorite phase of the writing process.
* You've got to write something before you can edit.
* The "sound" of writing is crucial -- the cadence and rhythm (musicality, syllables, stresses).
* The rule of three is powerful (like the Holy Trinity). Dickens used it.
* Adjectives and adverbs are overused.
* The "reluctant hero" in modern fiction is annoying.
* Experiment writing in different persons; second person is tricky and some readers don't like it.
* Pick the one word that works; it can be an off-kilter word. (He prefers darker, bordering on horror).
* Think of a stranger way to say it.
* "Not all good ideas turn out to be true."
* Great poets stun him (in a good way).
* In his opinion, Gene Wolfe is the greatest living writer and the "master of the casual revelation."
* Flash fiction pieces can convey a mood, and writing them is a good way to learn the craft.
* Huck Finn is the great American novel.
* "Endings are hard to write." (Dickens reportedly changed his for Great Expectations.)
* One of his advisors in college commented that "Real life doesn't have an ending -- it's unsatisfying."
* If others weren't there, what would we be?
How's that for heady stuff?
Although I typically don't read fantasy or science fiction, I'm going to check out Gene Wolfe, and I might even try writing something in second person.