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Creating New Stories (with Orson Scott Card)

When I was 16 or 17, my parents bought me an amazing birthday present: I got a plane ticket, and admission into a writers’ workshop in Utah taught by Orson Scott Card.

For me, that was nearly half my life ago! Crazy. Anyway, my dad went with me over the summer and stayed at a nearby hotel in Salt Lake City while I was in the workshop. I remember being one of the youngest people there, but the class had a wide variety of ages. The workshop took place in a large meeting room with rows of white plastic tables–it may have been a classroom, I can’t remember.

Orson Scott Card has been one of my favorite authors since I first read Ender’s Game. I’d seen his face on the back cover of my books, but seeing him in person brought him to life for me. He had short-cropped gray hair and a trimmed goatee flecked with white. Rimless glasses rested on his nose. Throughout the course he stayed very energetic and animated, though I did get the impression that he felt a bit ill at ease in front of the “class.” He reminded me of an English teacher I had in high school.

We started with the basics of creating new stories, since the point of the workshop was for all of us to write a fresh story and have others critique it. Card stood at the front of the class and said he was going to demonstrate just how easy it was to create new ideas for a story by creating a crowdsourced outline with our class. Let me see if I can remember how this went.

Basically, Card asked for suggestions from us for characters, then for motivations for those characters, and then for ways in which we could stop the character from getting what they want. These are the basics of story: people with needs to be satisfied, and the ways in which they are prevented from doing so.

As long as these basic ingredients are there for a story, you will have a character with goals to achieve and setbacks to work against. Even if this is just a turtle stuck in a ditch, slowly working step by step toward freedom, nearly cresting the edge–when suddenly a mighty crack splits the air and a thunderstorm unleashes a torrent of rain that causes the turtle to slide back into the muddy ditch.

It’s not the most interesting story, but it’s got the basic movements of a character –> fulfilling needs –> while encountering setbacks.

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