5/04/2011

SF Writing Class

The Imp of the Perverse landed upon my shoulders a while back and demanded I do something I've never done before: teach a science fiction creative writing class. It had occurred to me that with five books in print so far, I was at least partly qualified to take whatever it is I do that persuades publishers to give me ridiculous sums of money and try and stuff that same knowledge into the heads of a bunch of complete strangers.

The pay is terrible, by the way, so transcendentally minuscule that, when I dropped by Strathclyde University for a chat with the woman organizing the Summer Learning Programme, she actually cringed upon describing the level of remuneration concerned, as if expecting me to leap to my feet and heap invective upon her and her shrivelled, miserly soul. She needn't have worried. Having already done my research, I was already entirely aware of the meagre compensation involved.

Which is my roundabout way of informing you that, no, I am not doing this for the money. What exactly I am doing it for is harder to define, although certainly an interview with the Canadian author, Robert J. Sawyer, served as an influence: he describes how teaching classes on sf writing in Toronto helped him better understand just what it is he does when he writes, a statement that brings to mind the old saying that one of the best ways to really understand a subject is to teach it.

Actually, there's another reason. I once took part in an evening creative writing class many years ago which was, quite simply, transcendentally awful (sorry, but it's my word for today: transcendentally). But as the years passed and I slowly evolved into a pro writer, I began to wonder if perhaps, given the opportunity, I couldn't help but do better.

Strathclyde University, in their wisdom, took my class proposals and chopped them in two, so I in fact will be teaching two courses as part of their Summer Learning Programme: Writing SF in late July, and Understanding SF in August. Each class consists of just two two-hour classes, which isn't really a great deal of time at all, so maybe I'll have to learn how to talk really, really fast. But if it goes well for me and for the University, there's the possibility of longer, more in-depth classes in the future.

So what's my Unique Selling Point, as they like to say in marketing seminars? Well, for a start, it's a class on science fiction writing run by an actual working science fiction writer. Beyond that, the aim is to take all the things I've learned while writing that I wish I'd known at the start, and cram them into the heads of people who are themselves only just starting out.

The emphasis, in the writing class, anyway, is on fiction more than it is science, since the rules are the same regardless of what genre you work in. But the science part will most certainly be there, in the form of digressions regarding worldbuilding and creating a sense of verisimilitude. The intention is to incorporate some level of workshopping, but it remains to be seen just how practical this proves to be in a class that only lasts a total of four hours.

The other class, Understanding SF, is a quick guide through the history of the genre. To some extent it's aimed more at those not entirely familiar with the genre, but I'm going to try and demonstrate why the 20th Century might not have taken the shape it did if not for the influence of science fiction.

The SF Writing Workshop lasts two weeks, starting Monday 25th July, from 6 to 8 in the evening. Understanding SF runs from Friday 12 August for two weeks, and takes place between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Both cost £19 each, and you can book these and any other of the Summer Programme classes at www.strath.ac.uk/cllsummer

4 comments:

paulb said...

what a bargain, only wish I lived up in Scotland, good luck with it though, I am sure it will go well.

antihippy said...

Sounds interesting.

What's your approach to your writing workshop?

Will your students need to prep a piece beforehand, or are you going to do a lecture then do an interactive workshop the following week?

gary gibson said...

Antihippy - it's a good question, and one I'm still thinking about. The main drawback is there's only two classes, and each one is only two hours long - that's a total of four hours in which to cover a very, very great amount of detail. At the moment I'm thinking: lecture in the first class, then pick a couple of submitted pieces of fiction (perhaps brought along on the day) and take a look at them in the second class, into which I can mix yet more material. Right now I'm thinking these should be really very short - perhaps no more than five hundred words, certainly less than a thousand. Then we can talk about those in the second class, but also try and squeeze in more material.

There's a lot of ground to cover: right now I have a Scrivener file filled with close on twenty thousand words of notes I've written for this class.

It's also highly likely I'll be taking a look at some classic sf as an example of how to get it right - at the moment I'm thinking Bob Shaw's 'The Light of Other Days', which is currently freely available online here: http://bit.ly/kC56Rg. It's possible I might change my mind on that one, but right now it's more than likely going to be that. It's as near to a perfect piece of short sf fiction as I think you can get.

antihippy said...

Wow, deja vu, I was talking to the pet nerd at work just the other day about that very story.

I already have the Light of Other Days and ... funnily enough ... I also have his book "How to write Science Fiction".

Great story choice.

You're right that it's a very short course and hence my question. Hope it goes well!