Bethany began by describing one of the qualities that sets a fine novel or story collection apart—cumulative effect, or the sense that “the pieces (or stories), when taken together, form something altogether new” whose “meaning and effect … resonate or ripple outward.” It’s an ambitious goal, one a writer must work to achieve. How do we hope to help writers build the kind of novel or story collection that surpasses its apparent possibilities?
Part of the answer is that we focus in our work on emergence. Emergence is a concept from game design that refers to the way, in a well-designed game system, many possibilities arise from a simple set of rules. Emergent systems are compelling because they’re unpredictable and have the potential for complex interactions. No other quality of a game is as important. Yet in terms of potential for emergence, game design has nothing on the world-expanding experience of writing fiction.
Facilitating this effect—of complexity arising out of simplicity—is at the heart of how we guide, critique and advise. Editing, for us, is not direction: we want to support the writer in their own exploration.
We hope our creative guidance will encourage an emergent experience for the writer. This might manifest as a feeling that the novel or story has lifted off, that its characters have developed minds of their own, or that the story is expanding outward in many directions. Or it might strike the writer as a feeling that the story has suddenly become easier to write or reimagine.
In workshops, we strive to support writers by cultivating a spirit of community in the room and by monitoring the delicate balance of honesty and generosity on which good collaboration relies. It’s an easy task—writers are nice people. And of course we’re all moving toward the same goals: achieving creative growth and making fiction that will be wonderful to read.
We’re eager to read what you’ve written.