University of Iowa

Everyone Is Strange: Developing Characters in Fiction & Narrative Nonfiction

Weeklong June 24 to June 29 2018

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. In this weeklong workshop we will examine a variety of successfully realized characters in published fiction and narrative nonfiction, exploring how the authors managed to bring them so richly and intensely and memorably to life. We will place particular emphasis on discovering the uniqueness of a character, whether imagined or drawn directly from life, the individual’s “strangeness,” the distinctiveness that makes a person feel real as well as surprising. Our workshop will include daily writing exercises, some involving excerpts from pieces you have already drafted and some drawing freshly on your memory, observation, and imagination. Through these, you will generate and share new and significantly revised scenes; putting into practice a number of important characterization techniques, strengthening those with which you are already familiar, and experimenting with those you haven’t used before, at least with these particular characters.