As challenging as the completion of a draft is, the work of significant revision that follows can be equally daunting. This is not a matter of light housekeeping—dusting, polishing, tidying up. Very rarely that’s all a draft needs; normally something bigger needs to happen before a substantial piece of writing achieves its full potential. Walls might need to be knocked down and rebuilt, new powerlines connected, skylights opened up. This is deep revision, exuberant work that demands courage and honesty and is most effectively accomplished with a deliberate strategy.
Characterization—creating believable and interesting people on the page—is an absolutely essential part of successful fiction writing, and it is equally important to narrative nonfiction forms such as memoir or literary journalism. It is also one of the most complex elements of craft, with many different means of achieving it and quite a few ways in which it can fall short.
Just about every writer who travels thinks about using the experience of foreignness in a story or essay or poem, and plenty others feel compelled to at least blog about it. Travel provides us with intense, complex experiences, unfamiliar settings, interesting characters, and the heightened self-awareness that comes from dislocation. But the results are sometimes disappointing, failing to capture the distinctive emotion and vividness of being on that particular street, dealing with that particular conflict at that particular time, much less developing into a coherent piece of writing.
Having trouble getting yourself to the writing desk? Or once there, finding yourself unfocused, thwarted, or unable to achieve consistent output? These are common occurrences for writers, and we often mistakenly think the difficulty lies in the product of our writing and not the process.
We all have stories inside of us. Stories to tell, to share. In fact, one might argue that we are stories —creating our lives, day to day, every day. One of today’s most exciting writing forms—the personal memoir— is swiftly becoming the narrative option and publishing entry for many writers willing to embark on journeys of self. Yet for a memoir to speak with any resonance or relevance, the writer must achieve a fragile balance between the self and others, between content and form.
While some writers might aspire to create “timeless” work, you never hear of anyone trying to make their writing “placeless.” Why is that? Without place, are one’s characters and ideas rootless and liable to tip over? What role does setting play beyond mere backdrop or window dressing to ground one’s stories, essays, or memoir? Is place-based writing regional, or communal? Over this intensive weekend, we’ll carefully look at how the rendering of place works to help establish narrative voice, credibility, and point of view.
In an effort to answer the cardinal question of memoir—who cares?—this workshop/seminar zeroes in on what’s most compelling about our life stories. What about you is potentially interesting to others? What’s that inciting incident, organizing principle, heat-seeking moment, that could drive your memoir?
A novelist has it easy—her characters, sprung from her imagination, don’t talk back when they’re not happy about the way they’re depicted on the page. But what if your character is your ex-husband, your twin brother, your mother? Are familial loyalty and literary integrity necessarily at odds? How can we most effectively navigate this touchy terrain, to maintain our real-life relationships without compromising the stories we need to tell?
“The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”—Gaston Bachelard