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[Process, Writing]

[writing|process] Talking about doing it, and a return of the “hand of cards” theory

Yesterday I guest taught at Travis Heermann‘s literature of science fiction class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. That was a lot of fun. I gave a very short lecture about alternate history, then we did a bit over an hour of open q-and-a. Though I do wonder when the college kids got so young?

This was a literature class, not a creative writing class, but there were a fair number of craft questions. About a third of the students are aspiring writers, so that makes sense. This got me thinking once more about the “hand of cards” theory, which I have previously discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] and elsewhere.

Basically, the “hand of cards” is the idea that all writers start out with a more or less random assortment strengths and talents. ([info]matociquala calls this “the box it came in”.) Much like a poker deal, this could be a weak hand, a mixed hand, or, rarely, a strong hand. As we work to improve our skills and achieve publication, we upgrade our low cards one at a time, switching focus as we go along.

What I’ve never quite done is pinned down what those cards might be. The suits, as it were. I’m pretty sure we’ve had this discussion before, but I can’t find it right now, so here I throw out some ideas, and ask you guys to comment or contribute your own.

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Prose style
  • Narrative voice
  • Auctorial authority
  • Dialog
  • Sensory detail
  • Gender/ethnic/orientation authenticity (specifically meaning: not your own default settings)
  • Action sequences
  • Emotional resonance
  • Thematic depth
  • Control of language (or possibly precision)

Some of these obviously overlap. I’m not wedded to any of them, though a number are fairly obvious. What have I missed? What have I got wrong? What would you add to the list?

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