Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blogging from Taos Toolbox - a Master Writing Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy

For two weeks I am in Taos, New Mexico at an advanced writer's workshop called Taos Toolbox held by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. So far, it has been quite the learning experience. There are things I've known on the periphery but never fully understood the importance of until discussion and explanation crystallize their importance here.

The setting is beautiful, high up in the mountains. There can be some issues with altitude. More than a week in and I still get a little more winded than I should going up a flight of stairs, but not as bad as the first day. We've seen squirrels and chipmunks, mule deer and some of went on a horseback ride even higher in the mountains. Some people have gone to the gorge, others to Taos Pueblo. Sounds like a lot of fun, and it is. But mostly we've been working.

My purpose in coming to the Toolbox is to improve my plotting skills. I want to write novels, but I'm never sure how to sustain tension and interest over the course of 100,000 words. This is almost funny because usually, when I sit down to write a short story it ends up a novelette. Writing long comes easy. But spinning threads and adding layers and texture, which requires world building in addition to plotting isn't just about writing long. You have to do a lot of things to keep you reader in suspense, wanting to turn the page. That's one of the many things I'm learning here.

I will tell you, there is nothing better than sitting around with a group of smart, like-minded people who are kind enough to lend their energy and time to help you hammer out your plot. In Hollywood it's called 'plot breaking'. I call it, 'thank you all so much for helping me figure this monster out'. Mine especially, since it's a science fiction mystery, has a lot of different threads, with different color post-its. I needed tags for not only the plot and sub-plot, but for clues, red herrings and the crazy neighbor. Yes, even though there's murder, it's a lighthearted tale.

Don't misunderstand, the workshop covers character and world building, as well as many other things. It's just that plot was my bugaboo, and thus, my focus.

The other great thing about workshops like this are the wonderful, creative people you meet. It's a room full of support and friendship where you can geek out to your heart's content and no one is going to look at you strange; heck, they'll join in. These are people I will be calling on in the future when I'm looking for help and support and I expect and hope they'll do the same. These are people I'll always hope to see at cons, or have dinner with if we're in the same town. These people are awesome.

We have three more days, and while there are things I'm missing from home, I'm going to miss these people, and the whole learning experience, when I leave. If/when you're ready, check out the Taos Toolbox. It's a workshop you'll never forget.


  1. The workshop sounds amazing, and the scenery is just gorgeous. Have to say I'm a little jealous. :) Have fun!

  2. This sounds wonderful. I'm quite jealous of the setting, but learning the ins and outs of plotting--that would be fun.


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