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.
“The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”—Gaston Bachelard
Whether fiction or memoir or something in between, many powerful works of literature are structured in a fractured, fragmented, nonlinear style. In this course, we will experiment with forms, styles, approaches to time and structure, point of view, and character, to tell (and retell) a story. Through in-class writing prompts, we will construct a series of short pieces all linked around a larger theme or subject.
This workshop assumes that you have been developing your novel for a while. You may have a draft or an outline completed. Either way, you should have a few chapters that you are ready to revise, and an overview of the story. The goal of the week is to develop an understanding of particular revision strategies, and to practice, with feedback. We won’t be reworking plot, though you will inevitably get fresh perspective on it. Rather, you will focus closely on portions of your manuscript, with an eye to enriching the story, the character, and the prose.
Agency is the word for a character’s central role in pushing a story forward. Often a first draft traps us in a story with characters who are victims, who are passive, or who just can’t figure out what to do next. But responsibility for one’s own fate is a big part of making a character memorable. How do you assess your protagonist’s agency, especially if your character is in trouble? You build character struggle that comes from obstacles between what is desired and what seems possible. You upset the equilibrium and put good things at risk.
If you are writing, want to write, or have drafted a novel, you are thinking of All Those Pages. But the secret to a novel that flies is a novel you can talk about, a novel that can be compressed to the gem it is. Learn how to capture the essence of a story in a few clear declarative sentences. That’s your way into the writing, and it’s definitely your way into telling someone they really should read it. Then write a summary that is your play-book, the novel’s spine. Come with what you know in a page, and leave with what you need—to write, to revise, and to sell a novel.
Writing can be a solitary and frustrating endeavor. It’s one reason many writers enroll in M.F.A. creative writing programs: to be part of a vibrant literary scene. Of course, not everyone can drop everything to pursue a multi-year M.F.A. With that in mind, this workshop is designed to give you a concentrated version of the close reading and community you might find in a creative writing graduate program. We’ll engage in intense, extended discussions of each writer’s story (or novel chapter), offering thorough and thoughtful feedback as a way of challenging each other and ourselves.
Writing can be a solitary and frustrating endeavor. It’s one reason many writers enroll in M.F.A. creative writing programs: to be part of a vibrant literary scene. Of course, not everyone can drop everything to pursue a multi-year M.F.A. This workshop is designed to give you a concentrated version of the close reading and community you might find in a creative writing graduate program. Over the weekend, we’ll engage in intense, extended discussions of each writer’s story (or novel chapter), offering thorough and thoughtful feedback as a way of challenging each other and ourselves.
You’ve been working on this thing for . . . how long? Months? Years? It’s supposed to look like a novel, but now that you’ve got it in front of you, it looks more like a six-legged cow or a bus with wings. You’ve begun to wonder what, exactly, a “novel” is. Maybe you’re not writing one. You might be writing a cycle-of-stories-as-novel, or a faux memoir, or a “modular” novel with some unifying structural element. In this class, we’ll look at ways of structuring novel-length narratives to create a variety of fully-engaging, satisfying works.
There is a movement happening in literary fiction that embraces the weird, the surreal, and the unexpected. It’s becoming more common in annuals such as The Best American Short Stories in the form of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction and horror) as well as magical realism, neo-noir, and other writing that isn’t primarily (or only) realistic. In this class, we will study examples of the new weird.