Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night,  workshops,  Writing in Public

Some New Workshop Ideas

New Workshop Ideas

After meetings this afternoon, Kris and I headed over to the valley to do some shopping, have dinner and see a movie. On the way back we got talking about ideas for new workshops. See topic of the night below on a few of them.


The Day

WMG Publishing meeting at 2 p.m. and then around 4 p.m. Kris and I headed for the valley. We live on the Oregon Coast, so at times we go into the Wallamette Valley to just get away.

So we did some shopping, had diner and saw a movie.

Got home around 12 p.m. and I did a little e-mail, watched some news, had a snack, and got to my writing computer around 1:30 a.m.

I did 1,250 words by 2:30 a.m., took a break.

Did another 1,200 words by 3:30 a.m. when I decided I was too tired to keep going.

So 2,450 words today and a fun afternoon and evening in the valley.


July Workshop Schedule

All July workshops have room. All are limited to five writers max.

All details at

Class #1… July 5th … Author Voice
Class #2… July 5th … How to Write Thrillers
Class #3… July 5th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #4… July 5th … Plotting With Depth
Class #5… July 5th … Character Development
Class #6… July 6th … Depth in Writing
Class #7… July 6th … Advanced Character and Dialog
Class #8… July 6th … Cliffhangers
Class #9… July 6th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #10… July 6th … Teams in Fiction

Classic Workshops and Lectures are also available at any time.


Topic of the Night: Some New Workshop Ideas 

We saw a movie tonight called Money Monster. Now it was a damn fine movie, and we both liked it. On the hour-long drive home, Kris asked me what I thought of the movie and I said “It was right on the rails, just perfect.”

She agreed. Great characters and a plot on the rails makes for a very, very satisfying movie.

And then Kris said, “That would make a good workshop. Teach people how to write on the rails and make the story work.”

So that was workshop idea one. Let me explain.

Every genre has reader or viewer expectations. If you, the writer, understand those expectations, you can really, really please your readers or viewers by telling an original story yet keeping it inside of viewer expectation. That’s what Kris and I call “On the rails.”

On the rails means reader expectations are met. And in every genre there are a bunch of reader expectations that if you follow, you sell more copies and get readers telling others about your book. Doesn’t mean the book isn’t original, not at all. It means that in your original story you gave readers what they wanted.

Reader expectations for me are so ingrained now, I don’t even much think about them and never as I write.

With Money Monster, that movie delivered exactly what I wanted when I went to see it. Great characters, a light message, a plot that wasn’t deep but still kept you on the edge of your seat at times because you cared about the characters.

The second workshop idea came when Kris and I were discussing that I sometimes can’t get off the Analog couch. The Analog couch term came about in one workshop when all the scientists who wrote science fiction in the workshop sat on the same couch every day and wouldn’t let a science detail go by without question.

With time travel, I am firmly on the Analog couch. I love time travel, have written so many forms of time travel, it scares me. And even though time travel is not yet science, I try to keep the ramifications of traveling in time in place in my stories.

You know the loop in Groundhog’s Day Movie? Well, I am serializing my first novel that came out a decade before that movie and that novel has a time loop in it like that. I have yet to find a place in science fiction where a time loop was used as a prison before I wrote that book in 1987, but I am sure it was done somewhere. So since my first novel, I’ve been writing time travel and studying it.

And yet, I know there is a place in stories for someone to go up and touch a stone and some magic takes the person back into time. Or have a character duck into that special closet as Stephen King did with a recent book to get the character back in time.

Kris is going to teach a coast workshop this fall (which is full) on Alternate Worlds, Time Travel, and Historical Fiction. So we thought it would be fun if I did a workshop on how to write time travel stories and novels, from ducking through a closet to multiple timeline problems of physics. A time travel workshop I teach will be nothing at all like what Kris is going to teach. Nothing.

There are a lot of tricks and ways to look at time travel that will keep your readers happy as you build great characters in the process.

The third workshop we talked about me teaching is mystery. We have a classic SF workshop and a thriller workshop. So we both thought it might be time to help some people understand how mystery can be part of any kind of novel, from young adult to science fiction or in one of the many sub genres of the mystery genre.

I have written a lot of mystery stories and novels over the years and I would have a blast teaching a mystery workshop.

And me having fine is honestly the reason I am mentioning these possible new workshops. I’ve been keeping myself focused and interested in workshops by starting new workshops this year. And retiring or putting into classic structure some of the older ones.

I want to keep learning. I learn when I teach and create these workshops. They cause Kris and I to have wonderful discussions about craft and business when we put them together.

So I need some feedback. I do not have any of these on a schedule, so no worry about signing up for any of them. In fact, some or all of them might not happen. Just let me know if any of them interest you.

#1… Workshop 1… Reader Expectations (Writing on the Rails)

#2… Workshop 2… Time Travel workshop. (How to write it.)

#3… Workshop 3… Mystery. (How to write it and use it in all genres.)

#4… All of the above interests me.

#5… None of the above interests me.

Or if you have another idea for a workshop that interests you, write me.

Feel free to leave your comments in the comments section, or write me privately. Both ways are fine.

Thanks for the help and remember, just because you say you are interested does not commit you to taking the workshop. This is just an interest poll. Some or all of these workshops might never happen.


The Writing of The Taft Ranch: A Thunder Mountain Novel

Day 1… 1,050 words.   Total words so far… 1,050 words.
Day 2… 3,300 words.   Total words so far… 4,350 words.
Day 3… 5,250 words.   Total words so far… 9,600 words.
Day 4… 5,350 words.   Total words so far… 14,950 words.
Day 5… 4,350 words.   Total words so far… 19,300 words.
Day 6… 4,250 words.   Total words so far… 23,550 words.
Day 7… 4,800 words.   Total words so far… 28,350 words.
Day 8… 2,450 words.   Total words so far… 30,800 words.


Totals For Year 3, Month 11, Day 22

Writing in Public blog streak… Day 1,008

— Daily Fiction: 2,450 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 56,050 words  

— Nonfiction: 00 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 00 words 

— Blog Posts: 1,100 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 13,9800 words

— E-mail: 7 e-mails. Approx. 300 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 352 e-mails. Approx. 23,900 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 2 Covers


You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more as time goes on. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

If you would like to leave a tip just hit (Goes to WMG Publishing account, but I’ll get it just fine.)


  • Julie

    I’d also go for the mystery one! The expectations one sounds very similar to the genre workshop.

    • dwsmith

      It will be very different, Julie. The genre structure, now a classic workshop, talks about how to identify genre and the elements that make a genre distinct. This workshop will be about how to write a story on the rails of a genre, but make it original. I doubt the two classes will overlap much at all.

  • Marsha

    #4 – All of the Above. Mystery first. Rails second.

    Do retired workshops automatically go into the Classics? I’d hate to have one I’m planning to take disappear before I can get to it.

    • dwsmith

      Nope, some of the workshops just don’t fit the classic format. For example, we retired for good the Covers and the Interior design workshops. And Strengths workshop, and things like that.

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, I would have an interest in all 3, especially the Mystery Workshop. Who better to teach that than you? The Cold Poker Gang books are simply awesome and when I read them I constantly say to myself, “What a great TV series this would make!”

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Mark. I also think the Cold Poker Gang would make a great series. Anyone know a producer doing mysteries? (grin) Retired detectives solving cold cases in Las Vegas. Easy tag line, great team set up for mystery, a spot for some older great actors and some younger team members. Yup. Thanks, Mark for the votes.

  • Matthew

    #1 & #3 Is what I want, plus something to do with History and maybe Alternative History. I tend to want to write historical stories sometimes but feel intimidated by it because of the dreaded R word.

  • Loretta Sutton

    Definitely the Rails workshop. And I know someone who would be interested in the mystery workshop.

  • Mike Southern

    I think they all sound interesting, but particularly Reader Expectations and Mystery. The most disappointing novels I read are the ones that don’t ‘fill in the blanks’ that I expect,; they leave me feeling a bit cheated. And I am particularly fond of the late Robert Parker’s Spenser novels, but — pardon the pun — structuring a PI novel mystifies me.

    • dwsmith

      Mike, that would be part of the mystery workshop. PI novels, especially how Parker did them, are a solid core of mystery.

  • Mark

    #4 for sure, especially the time travel one. I have a short story that is a spin-off of Groundhog Day, so that one pinged my interest. I also wanted to add a HUGE thanks for putting the Originality Workshop out for everyone. That one struck a chord with me.

  • Rob Vagle

    I would love to get your eye on doing time travel! Although might be in the minority here. Time travel is my favorite subgenre.

    The Rails might also be an interest.

  • Cora

    #4 ALL! with Mystery first, and then time travel, and then readers (as right now, I write for myself and my SIL, who laughs at the same things I do).

    • dwsmith

      Yup, this fall we will be doing some more business workshops, Jeremy. If you have an area you are interested in, just let me know. Thanks!

  • Jennette Marie Powell

    Reader Expectations sounds interesting, though I’d want to know more to be sure it would help me – I can’t seem to write anything that fits into a single genre (and am not sure I want to), and this sounds like it’s more geared toward tailoring a work to fit into a genre.

    But the Business workshop was fantastic – what I’d really like would be a follow-up to that, maybe Advanced Business.

    On another note, I was reading Writing into the Dark last night, and there, you describe a story that’s predictable to the point of being boring as one that’s “on the rails.” 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Jennette, yup, a writer makes it all predictable without interesting characters to follow and the story gets really boring. That is also on the rails, but in a bad way, and that’s why the workshop. To make sure that your stories fill reader expectations without being so predictable as to be boring.

    • dwsmith

      Also, Jennette, the idea of doing an advanced business sort of scares me because it would be so far past most writer’s place in business knowledge, I doubt anyone would sign up. But it sure would be fun for me. Doubt that one will happen. (grin) But we are going to do more business workshops on different topics. If you have a focused interest, feel free to write me and let me know. Thanks!

  • Mike

    Number 4 – they all interest me (and so do the existing ones). If I had to order them:

    Definitely #1Reader Expectations (Writing on the Rails)
    #3 Mystery
    #2 Time Travel

  • Linda Jordan

    I’d love to take all of the above. Which is always the case. I can only afford a couple of workshops per year, but I really would be taking workshops nearly all the time if there was money available. Love to learn and your workshops are fabulous! And it’s fun to alternate between the craft and business workshops.

  • Gretchen Rix

    I’d say READER EXPECTATIONS would interest me. I don’t think I’ll ever get into time travel. I’m already writing mysteries. I’ll keep that one in mind..

  • Rachel

    #4 all of the above. Especially mystery, because I’ve recently found a gaping hole in my story skills when it comes to mystery. However, I’m not in a place financially where I could attend a workshop in person. Could/would you make some of these straight into classic workshops now? I don’t know what kind of sense that would make for you & Kris.

    I’ve caught myself thinking aha, you’ve put a lot of description/backstory/snappy dialog into this character – he’s going to be interesting later on – hero/villain/surprise last minute rescue. Is that part of what you mean by reader expectations? With further adjustments by genre?

    • dwsmith


      The classic structure doesn’t really allow for full workshops with the feedback. And honestly, not really worth my time, and Kris and my time to figure it all out and then record it all for just a classic structure. But if one workshop idea does come up that makes it only logical for classic and too big for lectures, we will do it if it interests us. But so far haven’t seen that idea that hits that spot. Thanks for the vote. Appreciated.

  • Sean Monaghan

    Reader Expectations certainly. Probably mystery too at some point.

    Still I have others in mind – plotting with depth, teams, author voice… not taking any right now because I have to put a new roof on my house. While that money would cover about 30 workshops, I think I’ll take the watertight house in the short term. Once that bill’s paid, I’ll be diving in again. A life roll of the minor kind.

  • D J Mills

    If someone just handed me the money I would take “Rails” and “Mystery” as soon as they were available, however, sadly, there is no money available for study for the rest of this year. Next year may be different. 🙂

  • Kristi N.

    (perks up) Reader Expectations? As in story management? Count me in! I seriously need something that would strengthen that part of my skills. Please, yes!

  • Stefon Mears

    Definitely interested in Reader Expectations and Mystery (especially since I had to miss Kris’ last Mystery class). Time Travel sounds like fun, but after Kris gets through shredding my mind this fall, I may not want another time travel class anytime soon…

    I have an idea for another one though — you talk periodically about using romance structure in other genres. Maybe a romance class (says the guy who had to miss the recent one)? Or about structure?

    • dwsmith

      Romance structure in other genres is a fun topic, but got a hunch that would be a lecture. I’ll talk with Kris about that one. Thanks!

  • Amber

    Mystery and Writing on the Rails both interest me a lot.

    Particularly as the Time of the Great Forgetting has got me. Ah the shame.

  • Mary Jo Rabe

    Winding down the day job is a little more time-consuming than I hoped, so I can’t take any workshop before November. However, reader expectations and time travel would be at the top of my list. Thank you so much for continuing to offer these valuable online workshops!

  • Kate Pavelle

    I’m on two mind about Rails. My penurious side is excited, because keeping readers happy means more shoe shopping. My stubborn side is sulking, because being ‘on the rails’ sounds a lot like having to outline so a book fits into genre specifications. So, if you’d include techniques that would allow us to keep writing into the dark, I’d be *really* interested. If not, I think I’d be better off taking the new commercial copy workshop to refine by blurbs and make sure the reader knows what s/he is getting into. (I’ve been drinking your CoolAid for too long to start writing to market now 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Oh, heavens, I would never teach anyone how to outline. Sometimes Kris and I use character sketches and a form of outlining to teach a principle, but I think outlining is death to decent creative writing. Period. The thing to remember is that you let your creative voice be aware, learn techniques, then you set it free to do what it wants. This workshop will be an awareness workshop more than anything. Outlining is like telling a horse in a tight stall to run free. Horse can’t.