#amwriting,  The Business End of a Pen

“Writing Enchanting Prose” Workshop – Lessons Learned From David Farland

Group picture of David Farland's Phoenix 2017 class, where he taught "Writing Enchanting Prose".
David Farland’s Phoenix 2017 class.

If you’ve never heard of fantasy author David Farland or taken one of his workshops, you may want to start Googling now.  Or I’ll save you the trouble: visit My Story Doctor and sign up for one of his classes or workshops — particularly his “Writing Enchanting Prose” workshop, a 5-day intensive that he conducts live with a class of ~10 students. At the very least, sign up for his #WritingTips newsletter.

It’s been 20 years since I last workshopped in a formal environment. While I loved earning my degree at UCSD’s literature and writing department and their courses were fantastic, Farland’s class was hands-down the best for practical application.  The fact that we wrote daily for our exercises and critiques helped us get over that weary internal drumbeat of, “But I don’t feel the muse today” or “I’m waiting to be inspired.” Nope, that excuse won’t fly.

Shut up, sit down, and write; that’s pretty much THE biggest lesson we practiced for the week. And it worked.

I attended the  workshop that he hosted in Phoenix in February 2017.  We wrote and wrote and wrote, in class for our daily exercises and in the evenings in our hotel and AirBnB rooms for our nightly homework assignments. I came up with new material for my current works in progress even when I thought my creative well had run dry for the day. I came up with new material for new stories I wasn’t even looking to write. I may not keep all of the material, but the ideas …

… the ideas kept coming because I kept writing.

As for the rest, a brief (much too brief) review of all of the nifty tools I’ve added to my writer’s tool belt, thanks to Dave:

  • Day 1: Dave talks a lot of about writing to the KAV cycle (kinetic, audio, visual) and how this is the key to “writing enchanting prose” (the essence of this workshop). He taught us how and why this works, and how to look for our blind spots (every writer has them). For me, I’d always known that audio was a blind spot of mine. I’m not an aural learner (in fact, I have a hard time absorbing information if it’s delivered verbally), and I have a hard time physically hearing, period. So it didn’t surprise me I found a lack of audio appeals in one of my current WIPs (which, ironically, featured music as a central motif.)
  • Day 2: Hooks, hooks, and more hooks. We reviewed 8 different type of hooks, and how to use them to continue stringing readers along through your story. I learned that I tend to rely too much on a “treatment” type of hook, and wasn’t using enough different types of hooks in my WIP. Time to mix it up.
  • Day 3: Similes and metaphors. This may seem like a simple concept — after all, we learned about similes and metaphors in junior high English classes. But here, we learned how to sprinkle them in among the KAVs and hooks to keep the reader enchanted. We also talked a bit about resonance, and how to use it effectively.
  • Day 4: We worked on writing a synopsis. We all struggled — not because we didn’t know how to write one, but we didn’t know how to write a concise one that communicated themes and story arc without throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix. Dave helped us sort out what to add, what to take out. Then we launched into how to write dialogue that not only differentiates characters, but describes the mood and conflict with subtext. Tough stuff! The folks in the class were getting a bit punchy by now, so some of us lost an hour (or more) that evening watching YouTube videos of people performing accents. (i.e., The Accent Challenge.)
  • Day 5: Bittersweet last day. We worked on writing escalating conflict, using the tools we’d been practicing all week. Dave wrapped up with a general Q&A.

As we sat through that last day of class, none of us wanted the week to end, even though we were dog-tired from working for hours the past 5 days. We had never felt so exhilarated and motivated to continue working in our craft, and I know I have made some good friends in my fellow classmates that I’ll continue working with long after this workshop.

Besides “Writing Enchanting Prose”, Dave also offers a variety of online workshops that are less intensive. He has a few more live workshops scheduled for this year, and while they’re not all named and formatted the same, the basic goal is the same: to get you in the habit of daily writing and daily improvement of your craft.

Cover of "Million Dollar Outlines"For me, the workshop answered personal questions of why I was struggling with certain obstacles, and helped me break through them. I came home with a signed copy of Dave’s “Million Dollar Outlines“, a million more things added on my to-do list, and the resigned but determined resolution to entirely revise/rewrite the WIP I’d been readying to pitch to agents and editors. So, my timeline for pitch-readiness has been set back, but it will be a MUCH better manuscript — and for that, I’m thankful.

(Side note: In case you were wondering, this is not a paid endorsement for the workshop and I don’t get paid for referring people to Dave or anything like that. I genuinely, truly believe this was an awesome week of time and money well spent, and I am grateful for all of the new lessons I learned.)

For any aspiring writer hesitating at dropping a butt-load of money on yet another workshop, let me just tell you: this one’s worth it. Go, listen to what Dave has to tell you, learn the tools, and apply them to your craft. And there is no bigger lesson to learn than this: if you don’t keep working, the work won’t improve, and if it doesn’t improve, it won’t go far.

Get going, get working, and get to where your dreams are dying to take you.

C.H. Hung grew up among the musty book stacks of public libraries, where she found a lifelong love for good stories and lost 20/20 vision for good. Her stories have appeared in Analog SF&F, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and khōréō magazines, as well as anthologies edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, among others. She was a third-place winner of the Baen Fantasy Adventure Award in 2023.