With stories turned in, it was time to start the workshop portion of the week. Ours was a good group—all but one of us turned in our stories on time (and the latter had computer problems as an excuse). Evidently most years there are a sizable number of people that don't finish on time and struggle to keep writing in whatever free time they can come by.
And let me tell you, there is no free time. I heaved a sigh of relief when my story was finished, but the respite was short lived. I still had to read a story from each of the sixteen other people. (And besides writing faster than previous Boot Camps, OSC pointed out that we also wrote longer, meaning we had considerably more pages to get through in not enough time. Things were supposed to be done by 3:00 on Saturday, but we didn't finish until 6:00, and that was after hurrying things along towards the end.) We read over meals, we read late into the night, and we read when we woke up in the morning until it was time to start workshopping.
The way the workshop worked was this: We all sat around a group of tables and, going around the circle, each person gave their thoughts on the story—where things were unclear or unbelievable, where we found ourselves losing interest, and any suggestions to fix those problems. There was no repeating what someone else had said, but it was rare that someone didn't have something new to add, even when they were the last to speak.
I was a bit wary of this format at first. I don't mind jumping in and giving my thoughts, but as someone who hates public speaking this felt too much like giving a mini-presentation on every story. I always got tense as my turn approached, making sure I had organized all the comments I wanted to make and then constantly revising them as other people made similar points. Ultimately, though, it worked out very well: since everyone only had one chance to speak, it avoided long, drawn out discussions (which was important since we were already spending about an hour per story) and it guaranteed that no one (i.e. me) got drowned out by the more vocal people.
And then, after all the Boot Campers had had their say, OSC would give his thoughts. And after listening to him read and respond to seventeen stories, I'm left with only one conclusion.
OSC is a storytelling genius.
He cuts to the heart of a story with the ease of a magician performing for a crowd. Only there is no legerdemain here; when he delves into even the most abstruse story, he sees not only the story the author actually told, but the story the author wanted to tell, and sometimes he draws out of it a story even more fantastic, one that the author had never thought to imagine. Yet he's not inventing whole-cloth; he's picking up on little details, on untold motivations and snatches of backstory, and combining them in a way that makes a beautiful sort of sense once it's pointed out to you.
It's odd that, when faced with this sort of creative prowess, one's only reaction is to sit back and laugh. It's not at the humor of the thing—though OSC did come up with some funny ideas—but with a childish sort of glee: there is
magic in the world, and we are its practitioners. Or we can be, with practice.
My story came up for critique late Friday night. I came away with copious notes and ideas that don't need to be reproduced here, but I will mention the highlight, which was (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here) when OSC said that he would not have been surprised to come across this story in a published magazine. (Witness my ego get uncomfortably inflated!) He then went on to explain why he
wouldn't publish it in his
magazine...but really that was the good part—I came away with a lot of constructive feedback and great ideas for improvement.
And in order to keep my ego properly in check, the next morning he proceeded to buy a different Boot Camper's story straight out of her crit. But it was a great story and she every bit deserved it.