This workshop will help beginning writers figure out how to start a story, develop dramatic tension, and create compelling characters. We will use a few published stories and exercises to learn these skills and also these: how to move a story forward, make the best use of back story, write dialogue, shape scene, and develop interiority. The workshop will generate material for participants to develop later into stories. There will be a short writing assignment and reading given in workshop on Thursday, due for Friday, and a short exercise on Friday due for Saturday.
Artfulness in a narrative often is more essential to conveying a story’s meaning than the storyline. In other words, the power of a story is in the way one tells it—not just the content. But first, we’ll start with the question of what we’re writing and why we’re writing it: Why this aspect of the story? Why this perspective? Who cares? We’ll look at narrative strategies, asking questions of what makes a story artful, and what is the balance. We also will engage in writing exercises, and culminate the workshop with readings of an original short piece.
This fiction workshop will, of course, attend to the craft tools of plot, character, setting, and etc. but we will also explore the challenges and possibilities of writing outside one’s subject position as well pursuing form and structure beyond the traditional linear story form. We’ll place a keen eye on invention, imagination, and surprise, exploring the difference between tool and gimmick. Recognizing the economy of our time together, we’ll apply our discussion and exercises to the production of short-shorts/flash fiction, recognizing that most of us will go on to apply the workshop concepts to larger projects.
The Thinking Lyric
The “thinking lyric” almost suggests a kind of synesthesia in which lyricism and analysis are fused to form some odd and monstrous poem. The lyric is so commonly associated with the subconscious it may even seem incompatible with reasoning. But Reason is not the only problem-solving game in town. Language has its own logic, of course. And then there’s that emotional logic which often leads us to surprising conclusions. How else might we ‘think’ in lyric terms? In this workshop, we will explore the tensions between order and chaos, control and surrender, as well as that zone where the two coexist.
The Sensual Form
This workshop is intended for writers who are interested in sensual detail (relating to or drawing from the five senses) with the understanding that poetry cannot exist without spirit, soul, shadow, intuition. In a portion of the class we will concentrate on feeling, narrative, memory, witness. The other half of the class is devoted to poetic devices, formal strategies, structure, rhythm, sound. We’ll have the chance to practice a traditional form such as the pantoum and ghazal and we’ll also practice a modernized form such as the contemporary zuihitsu, the pecha kucha, or erasure, all the while moving toward one’s own individualized form(s).
The Essay as Hyrbrid
This class will explore the thrilling capacity of creative nonfiction to cross-pollinate with other genres. Indeed, the subject matters of the contemporary essays range widely across a diverse spectrum: speculations about the natural world, literature, psychology, politics, philosophy, travel and even cooking, to name a few. Formally, the essay may borrow from poetry, as in the lyric essay, from the elements of fiction-writing (the memoir) and even from the edgy formulations of theoretical texts. We will look at examples from within and without the tradition, discuss, imitate, appropriate, play.
Each class will begin with a short lecture on some aspect of craft or a discussion of some issue facing writers of memoir. Questions to be taken up in these lectures/discussions include writing about the living, rounding out the character “I”, moving around in time, the braiding of recurring themes throughout the narrative, the balance of scene and narration, the role of lyricism, the use of dreams, letters, other storytellers, and public events. This workshop will benefit students writing memoir, essays, or literary journalism.
In our three day workshop on screenwriting we will cover professional formatting, the proper use of elements such as scene heading, action, the parenthetical, dialogue and transitions among others. Most importantly we will deal with the particular complexity of the craft itself, the writing of the screenplay. Through a comfortable workshop atmosphere we will deal with narrative and character development, pacing, tone and plot points. We will learn and use index cards, script notes, loglines and treatments and copyright protection. For all those that wish, an advanced copy of an already started screenplay will be accepted and discussed both privately and in class. There will be work, but we’ll have fun.
Poetry has always lived in close proximity to the sacred. Even poetry that is rooted purely in the secular, the everyday, the world of objects and real experience often manages to alert us to other perspectives, presences and realities. Simone Weil has stated, ‘We know by means of our intelligence that what the intelligence does not comprehend is more real than what it does comprehend.’ In this workshop, we will explore the ways that various contemporary poets have used their poems as vehicles for approaching the mysteries that surround and confound us. We’ll look at how poets like Marie Howe, Franz Wright, Mary Szybist, Lucille Clifton, Adélia Prado and others have conjured and re-fashioned a sense of the sacred in their work.
This class will lay out ten strategies — from inception to solid draft — for turning an autobiographical event into a short piece of fiction, in ten steps.
It is the most fundamental thing that we do, an activity that is utterly essential to our survival: eating. Because of that—and also in spite of it—food holds meanings far beyond our appetites. The startling first taste of a dish that is new to us. The comforting smells of the family kitchen, and the bittersweet flavor of a parting meal. The snap of the pod as we crack it for its peas; the burn of the chiles on our fingers and tongue. In this intensive workshop, we will examine the sensory experience of food as a writer’s vehicle for expressing the emotional (and intellectual and sociopolitical) core of our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to the world. We will look at brief excerpts from writers such as M.F.K. Fisher, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Emile Zola for inspiration. Using the lens of food, we will immerse ourselves in exercises to unlock, sharpen, and shake up the descriptive and evocational power of our writing in general. If participants wish, attention will be given, too, to the career of food writing and strategies for getting work seen and published.
Owning your Words — performance and presentation tips and techniques for writers. In “the culture of the self,” writers increasingly are called upon to represent our work and to market it — live! What’s the introvert to do? Simple techniques on how to read your work aloud, make your characters alive and have your audience lining up to buy your book.
There is truth, there is fiction and there is Documentary. This intensive seminar examines how documentarians craft a reality where fact and imagination share the same heartbeat. There are as many types of documentary (non-fiction film) as there are stories, but the skills that writers bring to making these films are specific: an eye for detail, an appreciation of precise language and the judicious use of evocative imagery. Documentary filmmakers are writers before, during and after production; this session will explore how they structure their stories and the constant choices that they face, in the process.
This intensive will focus on developing confidential sources, the financial concerns of using a confidential source and the legal obligations of the reporter and news organizations, bloggers, and commentators to the confidential source.
Session I. Friday, 6/24, 1:45 – 2:45 pm
Paragraphing – As poets sing their stanzas and philosophers wield their syllogisms, prose writers luxuriate in paragraphs. A unit that features cadence and sense, ethos and drama, the paragraph is arguably our greatest challenge and greatest pleasure. This one-hour class will look at some paragraphs of note, analyze their achievements, note the variety of their surprises and produce some surprising paragraphs of our own.
Screenwriting – 1:45 – 2:45 pm, Friday, 6/23 Non-fiction Television is one of the hottest sectors of the tv landscape; and one of the most imaginative. The demand for content is relentless; so is the demand for clever writers. There are hundreds of cable and internet channels, all of them searching for writers. In this craft session, we will take a close look at the multiple genres inside the non-fiction television world, including science television, cooking television, reality tv and history television. Among the topics this session will examine are the one-hour 5 act structure, hosted and narrated formats, writing styles, and strategies for pitching ideas and work. This course embraces the idea that the real world is an endless source of entertainment.
Square, Plumb, Level, True: The Ethics of Memoir – Certain ethical questions are inherent in the memoirist’s work. Beyond questions of legality and liability are questions of honesty, fairness, loyalty, compassion, and judgment. As Blake put it in his Proverbs of Hell: “A truth that’s told with bad intent / Beats all the lies you can invent.”
How closely must memoirists embrace and uphold the known facts of a situation? How do the necessary compromises with literary form affect the truth of the account? Can there be an account that is not also an accounting? What is the responsibility of the memoirist to the people portrayed in the memoir? What is the responsibility of the memoirist to his or her envisioned readers? Why not simply use the material of one’s own life to write a novel? A short talk will explore the writer’s responsibility and how several memoirists have answered these questions in their work. A discussion will follow.
Session II. Friday, 6/24, 3:00 – 4:15 pm
Poetry of the Ocean – The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the surface of the Earth, and yet we know less about its depths than we do about Mars. It is, on the one hand, an expansive and mysterious realm. It is also an intensely plundered and beleaguered resource. How do we write a poetry of the ocean? How do we engage with something so vast, and vastly symbolic, and yet so vulnerable? In this workshop, we will take a collagist approach, bringing waves of language and imagery gleaned from personal experience as well as historical, mythological, and scientific materials, poets who have gone before, and current events to our writing to honor, and represent, some of the ocean’s multifarious meanings and complex messages. We will shape our collagist works through use of the ocean-like elements of craft: rhythm, rhyme, repetition, creating sea shanties, if you will, for the contemporary world—ones that bear witness to, and perhaps seek to repair, humans’ troubled relationship to seas. Myriad source materials will be provided, though workshop participants are encouraged, if they’d like, to bring primary and secondary source materials to class to share for us all to “play” with.
How to Lose at Family Feud and Live to Tell About It – Most writers have ambitions of originality and fresh imagination, and yet, quite often we write “the top five answers on the board.” That is, we first imagine what most other people would imagine. This craft session for prose writers will embrace the metaphor of “losing at Family Feud,” as we discuss several examples of published writing that do just that. A brief writing exercise will give us a tool to take beyond the session and apply to our various writing projects.
The Imaginary Poet: Persona, Selfhood, Ventriloquism in Poetry – Spider-Man, Gretel, Adam and Eve. Persona poems are poems written in the voice of a character other than the author. We can view thes constructed identities as masks, acts of ventriloquism, pageantry, or possibly an alternative route to uncover a speaker’s identity on thepage. In discussing persona, we will encounter subjects such as gender, history, culture, age, nationality, and/or sexuality. By studying persona, we are led to the important discussion of “finding” one’s own voice. Would we know it if we heard it? Is it something that can be developed? Or is voice innate, a cadence that lives within? On a technical level, we’ll examine diction, sound, rhythm, song as tools to uncover voice with clarity and precision.
Session III. Saturday, 6/25, 11:15 – 12:30 pm
Finding Truth Outside the Borders – In France, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction nearly is nonexistent. The fictional world (and its narrative conventions) mixes with the autobiographical or “real” world in a search for a larger truth—one not necessarily hemmed in by manmade borders. This is exemplified by the works of 2014 Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano, as well as award winners from Gwenaelle Aubry to Delphine De Vigan. But given our cultural expectations, this can raise many questions. In this craft session, we will discuss such questions. What is truth? What are the ethics? What are the boundaries? This will follow with an exercise.
Genre Fiction – Plot versus character. Suspense versus depth. The controversy over the definition and relative merits of category genre fiction (like horror, romance, and mystery) won’t be solved by this craft session or any other. Instead, we’ll explore how the “sensationalist” tools and techniques of plot-heavy fiction can be used to subtle, complex and quality effect—whether you’re writing a science fiction potboiler or a quiet character study, or something in between. We’ll discuss and brainstorm such techniques as withholding, misdirection, suspense, surprise, bending and breaking tropes, and more.
Ut Pictura Poesis: Poets in the Art Studio – According to the Latin phrase made famous by Horace, “as is painting, so is poetry.” If the artist holds her thumb at arm’s length to help her gauge proportions of the object she wants to depict, how does the poet measure spatial relations? The poet stares and absorbs or even closes her eyes, but what if she wants to take a more active approach to rendering the physical world? Understanding that where we sit in relation to an object has as much impact on its depiction as the words we choose to describe it, we will use a series of Cartesian graphs to map some conventional relationships between poet and object so we can better pursue the unconventional.
Writing and Publishing – Padma Venkatraman and Rachel May will discuss the process, peaks, and valleys of writing professionally. Developing and completing book-length manuscripts, finding publishers–the elements of that difficult and elusive career of writing. Ample time will be given to attendees to ask questions about the career of writing.
KINDERBLOCK 66: Return to Buchenwald is the story of four men who, as young boys, were imprisoned by the Nazis in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp and who, sixty-five years later, return to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of their liberation. The film tells the story of the effort undertaken by the camp’s Communist-led underground to protect and save Jewish children who were arriving in Buchenwald toward the end of the Holocaust. Kinderblock 66 also tells the story of Antonin Kalina, the head of the block who was personally responsible for saving 904 boys in Buchenwald.
Session V. Saturday, 6/25, 3:35 – 4:35 pm
The synopsis: structure, structure, structure. Or, the Synoptic Gospel – A winning synopsis (also called a chapter outline or summary) conveys your mastery of the material while providing an entertaining argument for its mode of exposition in book form. We’ll discuss strategies for devising a succinct and lively prose summary that provides a blueprint for the final work. Topics include how to telescope structure, proportions, pacing, momentum; progressing from the general to the particular; division into parts, sections, chapters; use of sources, annotation, appendices; calibrating tone and style.
Storytelling: Writing Out Loud– Writing is a solitary activity. Storytelling is not. What is the relationship between the two? Join Valerie Tutson in an interactive workshop that will explore how the mining of our memories, and sharing them out loud together may inspire us to find stories we may want to write on paper–or not. We’ll take a look at personal stories, as well as traditional stories we may have heard “once upon a time…”
Session VI. Saturday, 6/25, 4:45 – 5:45 pm
Edgar Allen Poe created the first fictional detective in the character of C. Auguste Dupin, as the central character of some of his short stories. Poe anticipated every important development to follow in the genre, from the idea of a lesser side-kick to the detective as narrator to the concept of a hardboiled detective to the prototype of the secret service story. We will discuss all these genres of crime fiction and help you take the mystery out of mystery writing. And, most important we will have great fun doing it.