Interview With Odyssey Writing Workshops Instructor, Scott H. Andrews

Thursday, October 27, 2022

If you are contemplating taking a writing class in 2023, you may want to consider Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers. Starting in January 4 of next year, this four-week course instructor Scott H. Andrews will delve into different techniques to convey character emotions realistically and powerfully on the page. He'll share strategies for developing situations and stories with strong potential for emotional resonance, and offer methods to execute those approaches to make your readers actually feel those emotions.

About the Instructor, Scott H. Andrews

Scott H. Andrews lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, twelve guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the nine-time Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award-winning online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Scott is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop; his literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales.

Scott has taught writing at the Odyssey Workshop, Writefest, and online for Odyssey Online Classes, Clarion West, and Cat Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, and beer on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest. He is an eight-time finalist and 2019 winner of the World Fantasy Award, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.

Today we're talking with him about this course and his experience as an instructor. Don't hesitate to enroll now! You have until November 21 to apply.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Thank you Scott for taking the time to chat with us today! The class you are teaching with Odyssey is about characters' emotions and making them real for readers. Why is this so important to focus on as a writer?

Scott: Making character emotions real for readers is for me the single most important thing that fiction needs to do, because character emotion is what makes readers care.  

Readers read for lots of different reasons--intellectual engagement, like to learn something or to solve a puzzle; escapism or wish fulfillment; suspense or thrill--and different types of stories engage in those ways and give a satisfying read.  But what makes readers really care about a story, and invest themselves so deeply that they'll read a book over and over or read every book an author publishes, is character and being emotionally engaged by it.  There's a reason why Stephen King's horror novels and George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy are read by millions more readers than most horror or epic fantasy--their characters make the reader feel.

WOW: Absolutely! If we don't connect with the characters, we won't connect with the story at all. What pitfalls do you usually see writers stumble over when displaying character emotions?

Scott: Two common pitfalls I see when a story isn't evoking emotion from the characters are the prose being too sparse or opaque about the emotion and the prose presenting the emotion but not making the reader feel it.  I often see writers trying to be subtle or seeming afraid that being clear will read like dumbing it down, but in my experience, readers need a lot more indication and clarity about emotion than most writers think they do.  In the Emotional Truth class, I tell writers to add in more than you think you need, because that's actually how much the reader needs.  Err on the side of too much rather than too little.  And I see prose that displays emotion, being clear about what emotion is intended, but which doesn't complete the process and make the reader feel the emotion along with the character.  The reader needs not only to understand what the emotion is but also to feel it themself.  

WOW: Yes! I completely agree - the reader must also feel that emotion. Somehow the advice, "show, don't tell," seems significant with emotions. How do you capture showing a feeling rather than telling it in writing?

Scott: "Show Don't Tell" for me is bad advice. :)  Especially about portraying character emotion.  Perhaps because many writers seem to take Show Don't Tell to extremes or to use it all the time rather than only when it's the best approach.  I see lots of writing that attempts to portray character emotion from a purely external perspective, which reads to me like watching the character from afar or like the prose is trying to depict a movie.  It gives description and actions and dialog but no internals, as though aiming to Show and never Tell, but that approach ends up reading distant and cold because it's not accessing the character's internals, which is the place where emotions originate and live.  The great advantage prose fiction has over TV and movies is that the narrative can go inside a character's head, in many different ways.  Showing, and being visual and external, is a tool like any other--it has its uses but it's not the best approach for everything, and it has big drawbacks when applied to portraying and evoking character emotion.

WOW: So true! Probably the most over-used advice in the writing world actually. Why do you love teaching with Odyssey Writing Workshop?

Scott: The Odyssey Writing Workshop, and the Odyssey Online Classes, always draw applicants that are interested in approaches to writing and driven to break down or redesign their approaches in order to improve their writing.  My class is intense, with unusual material and exercises that push writers to dig down to a new level in their writing.  I love teaching students who are so engaged in this narrow topic and so excited to put work into it.

WOW: That's awesome! What do students gain from courses like yours and others?

Scott: Single-topic advanced classes like Emotional Truth and the other Odyssey Online Classes go into deeper detail on that topic than a general class or workshop can, and they pare away other elements of writing so that students can focus on learning and writing that specific topic.  In Emotional Truth, we do writing exercises and new writing, so that students can put the ideas and techniques into practice, and the students critique each other's work, so they can learn from reading how other students are applying the same techniques.  It's a different type of writing class, but for writers who have experience but are looking to level-up their writing to a professional level, it can be exactly what their writing needs.

WOW: That is so true! Sometimes it's the specific stuff that needs the most help. What do you hope students will leave your class with?

Scott: I hope students leave the Emotional Truth class with a series of tools and mindset approaches they can use for portraying character emotion, in different situations--like tools for different types of point-of-view or stories with different tone or voice--and with an understanding that portraying character emotion is a unique challenge in fiction writing, different from elements like dialog or description.  Learning how to command it can require reinventing your process and your mindset, and the class lays out ways for writers to do that.

WOW: How powerful that is! Why is it so valuable for writers to take courses in a specific area that they may be struggling with in their writing?

Scott: General workshops or critique groups, in my twenty years of experience with them, can help writers develop in general and can be great help with individual stories, but I think that leveling-up in a specific area of writing requires specific study and work on that skill.  Portraying character emotion is such a crucial skill in fiction writing, to make readers care and keep reading, that to me it's an ideal topic for a narrow-focus class that goes deep into its topic.

WOW: It really is. How do you know, as a writer, if your character's emotions are falling flat?

Scott: Some tip-offs in my experience are that beta readers find a story solid but it's not leaping off the page for them.  The characters are interesting, but they're not captivating.  The story feels like just a story; readers read it and enjoy it fine, but it doesn't stick with them; they don't wonder what happened to the character after that story or wish they could read more or find themself still thinking about the story days later.  Other tip-offs can be a scene that is clearly intended to have emotional resonance, like a funeral or a declaration of love, but it reads flat; the prose seems merely words on a page, and the characters seem like they aren't feeling anything or like the things they're feeling are plain and dull.  Often, writers can't see that for themselves, in their own work, because rendering emotion is such a complex thing to pull off and it's difficult to read your own words the way a reader does.  Another tip-off can be if your writing is getting lots of high-level rejections, like if your stories are being passed up by first readers to the editors of a magazine, but it isn't selling.  In my experience, that can mean that the writer's work is solid or fine but isn't leaping off the page and making readers care.

WOW: What amazing insight. What advice do you have for writers uncertain if it's worth investing in themselves through a class?

Scott: Honestly, if you're not certain an intensive class is right for you or for your writing where it is now, then it might not be.  It's a big commitment, not just in money but time and work.  But if you think an intensive class with a narrow focus that will go deeper than any generalist class is what your writing needs, and you're ready to put in the time and work, a class like Emotional Truth can revolutionize your writing. 
WOW: Thank you so much for talking with us today! 

Remember, don't hesitate to enroll in the Emotional Truth course now. Or check out some of the other online courses coming up this January with Odyssey Writing Workshop.


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