TMWW Course Descriptions

Advanced Novel

“A novel is really like a symphony,” Katherine Anne Porter once said, “where instrument after instrument has to come in at its own time, and no other.” Whether you’re working on conventional or experimental fiction, your novel is shaped by the instruments you choose: the scenes you select and extend, the voices in which you describe them, and your treatment of narrative time. In this workshop, we will examine your novel excerpt (of no more than 20 double-spaced pages) for both technique and the critical impulses that inspire a long work of fiction. What is your novel accomplishing in its narrative tracks, character arcs, and structural shape? And, just as important, what instruments are you choosing not to “play” that you might try to incorporate in the symphony that is your novel? For any writer who has completed several polished chapters or a first draft of a novel, this workshop will help you evaluate how your approach to the novel is working for you and offer you fresh ideas for development and revision.

Instructor: Fred Leebron, advanced fiction


Beginning Poetry

When asked if any of her poems seem to write themselves, Elizabeth Bishop said, “Oh yes. Once in a while it happens.” This was 30 years after the publication of her first book, however, so how can beginning poets learn to trust their poems to guide them through the writing process? In this course, we’ll explore methods to build your daily writing practice so that you will be more available to receiving “gift” poems, as well as exercises in associative writing, persona, and form that will allow you access to poems you never thought you’d write. We’ll look at the work of established writers as well as workshop your own poems. Participants should bring up to 10 pages of poetry.

Instructor: Emilia Phillips, beginner


Crafting High Quality Genre Fiction

Bring your passion for writing market-pleasing fiction–mysteries, young adult fiction, thrillers, crime novels, family drama, fantasy, or even romance — and turn it into compelling, page-turning, salable prose. You’ll spend time with like-minded writers and experience serious support for the work you feel called to write. We’ll do workshop critiques of up to 25 (double-spaced) pages of your work, read both classic and newer market-tested pieces that will inspire you, do in-class exercises that will sharpen your writing skills, and discuss the current commercial fiction environment. It’s not just about telling stories, it’s about telling stories that enlighten, entertain, and sell.

Instructor: Laura Benedict, all levels


Fashioning a Memoir

This workshop is designed for those trying to “fashion a text” as Annie Dillard says from “fragmentary patches of color and feeling.” We will look for narrative potential in the odds and ends of memory — with an eye on which “fragments” might best serve our stories. In addition, we will consider how both showing and telling contribute to the fashioning of memoir, how “reflection” functions in memoir’s “now” and “then” time frames. Open to all levels, the workshop will offer examples of good storytelling, assignments and/or exercises if needed, a sympathetic audience to read and respond to your work, and individual conferences. Please bring two short pieces of your work in progress (up to 20 pages double-spaced), and a curiosity about how all this is done.

Instructor: Jim McKean, all levels


Plotting and Storytelling

Many fine prose stylists struggle with that most basic engine of storytelling: plot. How, within a story or novel, do we gracefully move from Point A to Point B (and onward, to Points C, D, and beyond)? How do we preserve spontaneity and maintain the excellence of our writing in the face of the mechanical necessities of story? These are common worries even for experienced writers. In this class, we will set about the surprisingly enjoyable and liberating work of infusing our fiction with page-turning, heart-quickening plots.

Instructor: Pinckney Benedict, all levels


Poof, You Have an Agent

In this workshop, we’ll imagine we’re readying your material for submission to high powered, highly opinionated, top New York publishing editors. I’ll do all the things I do with my real clients and take you through the process in real time. First up and most important: Make sure the material is as good as it can be. You’ll see that agents are also editors and we’ll discuss why, in this current cutthroat climate, agents HAVE to be good editors. We’ll work on your material until it’s ready to submit and get it as perfect as we can. Then we’ll look at your work from a marketplace standpoint and we’ll find that perfect pitch that will land you a huge advance so you’ll never have to worry about anything ever again (kidding). An agent’s brain will be available for picking at all times. No questions turned away. We’re imagining you’re my pretend client… I have to answer!

Instructor: Peter Steinberg, all levels


Proximity and Distance: An Advanced Poetry Workshop

Sometimes we need to cut a window into a poem-draft, other times a door. Sometimes a draft needs a new roof, or needs to be open to the sky. Sometimes there are too many windows and we need more walls, more dark. Sometimes the draft needs to be danced around as it burns. Where does a poem-draft need shading, where does it need shining? When ecstasy or excess, when severity, when jitteriness? When all of the above, all at once? Where talky, where image, where metaphor, where fragment, where story, where the plainspoken word? This generative workshop invites advanced poets of any aesthetic persuasion to explore new modes for shaping their drafts, for doing that dance of proximity and distance in order to discover and tap into a draft’s urgencies. You will have your poems read and discussed. You will read poems from across the ages as well as essays on craft. You will be challenged to offer articulate, smart responses to the poetry of others. You will be given optional prompts and you will be encouraged to steal new moves from moving poems. To be considered, please submit no more than six poems and a two hundred word description of what you hope to gain from the workshop to tmoeckel@hollins.edu by May 15th.

Instructor: Thorpe Moeckel, advanced


Rendering Trauma in Narrative

Because traumatic events alter the way the mind remembers them, they are by nature difficult to render in narrative and as material may seem better suited to the lyric poem on the page. In this workshop, we will examine our own stories, whether written as fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, and the stories of others, and explore approaches to rendering traumatic events that respect them as the complex, dangerous subject matter they are — all, of course, in the service of empowering ourselves to better exploit their power in our own work. While this probably isn’t a workshop for the faint of heart, for the courage required to look at painful experiences honestly and objectively is considerable, in the past we’ve had a lot of fun doing just that and likely will again. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Instructor: Dan Mueller, all levels


A Workshop on Character: Likable vs. Unlikable and What Really Matters

In a 2013 piece on the New Yorker website, many authors of distinction came to the defense of Claire Messud’s most recent protagonist in her novel The Woman Upstairs. Messud’s character Norah is not a particularly likable woman, but the novel won readers and fans and was one of the most praised novels of that year. In that same piece Jonathan Franzen had this to say about likability in a narrator: “You’d unfriend a lot of people if you knew them as intimately and unsparingly as a good novel would. But not the ones you actually love.” In this workshop, we’ll talk about one of the basic elements of fiction: character. What is it that makes us cheer a character? How does a writer craft a character that is believable, and what does it mean for a character to be successful but also flawed, sharp, or unlikable? What, essentially is “character” and how does one write it convincingly?

Instructor: Sarah Bowlin


Writing Cinematically

Writing cinematically is a way for your work to come to life and get noticed. Great fiction and nonfiction borrow much from their film counterparts, mainly through the use of strong dramatic scenes, memorable visuals, and powerful dialogue. In this workshop we’ll explore the elements of writing cinematic scenes — how to lay out exposition and avoid useless scenes that flatten the dramatic arc – examine strategies for writing more visual prose, and discuss techniques for crafting dialogue that reveals character, adds dimension, advances plot, and makes your writing come alive. Here’s an opportunity to advance your writing to the point that the reader can see it and hear it. Open to all levels and genres.

Instructor: Khris Baxter, all levels