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Sunday, September 10, 2017

A process peek from a writing workshop

I attended a workshop in world-building yesterday, and thought folks might be interested in my second-guessing as to how I came up with the contents of a writing exercise.

The author leading the workshop posited a world where the threat of frequent, serious flooding had been solved in some novel technological way, and what societal problems our chosen solution might pose. She gave us around fifteen minutes to write.

Here's what I wrote (very slightly tweaked for consistency and flow). After, I'll share my thoughts on where it came from.


Jan slammed her Tiny Terry doll into the floor, then kicked it across the floor. The doll bounced off the wall, narrowly missing the baby's playpen. "I'm TIRED of staying inside! I want to go OUT!"

The baby started to wail. Robin scooped him up and carried him over to the wall. "Let's see what's going by! There's an eel -- that long wavy thing. See how it wiggles? And there, that's a scooter! Someone got careless, didn't they, honey?"

Jan, ignored, upped her volume. "I want to ride MY scooter! I want to go OUT!"

Robin clamped down on her urge to out-shriek her child, waiting for a gap between syllables to say at a reasonable volume, "You know it's going to be at least a week before we can go outside, even in our wetsuits. Too many big, pointy objects will be bobbing around. We just have to be patient--"

"I HATE being patient! I hate everything in this house! I hate how it smells! I hate Jake!!" She glared at the baby, who fortunately didn't notice, absorbed in watching the debris being carried past the house. Jan stomped on the floor, managing to produce only a dull thud, and opened her mouth for the coup de grace.

Robin sighed, answering what she knew came next. "But I love you, sweetie." And you can't possibly miss the smell of plants and earth more than I do.

Thwarted, Jan plopped down on the floor in a sullen huddle. The flotsam and jetsam continued to flow past, gliding smoothly over and around the ceiling and walls.


Someone else at the workshop had mentioned the idea of submerged dwellings, so I built on that, not being good at technological invention in less than a minute. I made my house out of resilient, waterproof, transparent material. Then I moved on to the societal problem -- cabin fever -- and ways to describe the setting and show the problem without too much of an infodump.

For the characters, I drew on my own experience as a mother of two, and in particular on the way parents have to put their own desires and emotions to one side in order to cope with those of their children. (Any parent who's afraid of spiders and has children similarly afflicted is likely to know just what I mean.) I also, though I only realized it later, borrowed the overwhelmed feelings of a mother with three young children (and two equally difficult cats) in a Lois McMaster Bujold short story, "Barter."

So there it is, for what it's worth: a glimpse at how one writer produced a short and insignificant bit of writing.

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