“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
Beyond First, Second, and Third: Mastering Point of View
Though commonly presented as little more than a convenient way to classify works of fiction—i.e. is the story being told by one of its characters, or not?—point of view is a complex and nuanced component of the writer’s craft, one that profoundly affects every aspect of narration. When a piece of writing isn’t working, an adjustment to the point of view is often the best fix. In this workshop we’ll look closely at how point of view functions in several examples drawn from established and recent works, and we’ll review up to 25 double-spaced pages of your own writing to consider strategies for managing it effectively.
Instructor: Martin Seay, all levels
Deadly Serious: Writing Crime, Mystery, and Suspense Fiction
Have you completed a crime, suspense, or mystery novel or story? Or does the idea of writing one intrigue you? In this workshop we’ll look at the elements of great traditional and contemporary suspense novels: stories that have wide appeal, and can be challenging, fun reads. We’ll workshop a story you’ve written especially for the class or a story or novel section you’re excited about developing. You’ll learn techniques for developing engaging plots, vibrant characters, and dialogue that keep the story moving. Writers at all levels welcome.
Instructor: Laura Benedict, all levels
First and Last(ing) Impressions: A Poetry Workshop
“Since when,” he asked,
“Are the first line and last line of any poem
Where the poem begins and ends?”
—Seamus Heaney, “The Fragment”
First and last(ing) impressions may not be everything, as the familiar sayings claim, but they are certainly critical in poetry. The first and final lines of our poems influence how our readers engage (or choose to disengage) with them; the beginning is the enkindling spark that causes readers to desire a relationship with a poem, and the ending what inspires them to deepen that relationship by returning to it again and again. In this generative workshop, we will write new poems with a focus on the mechanics of beginnings and endings—on what makes a poem’s beginning alluring and its ending powerful—and in particular on crafting compelling first lines and final lines that manage to be provocative and/or evocative without “trying too hard” to impress. We will read a diversity of poets who adopt different but equally effective approaches to beginnings and endings, as well as do writing exercises that challenge us to grow and improve our own techniques, and leave the course with better strategies for both drafting and revising our work.
Instructor: Sara Johnson, all levels
Forming the Journey: A Workshop in Organizing Your Poetry Manuscript
Organizing a collection of poems is a thrilling and daunting pleasure. The design possibilities are endless. From page to page, the energies that emerge from different choices in poem-order are well worth our and our readers’ attention. What are the main themes? What will be the collection’s opening poem? What poem will be the finisher? What poem is the collection’s pivot, the middle? What poems might need to be cut? Will we section the collection? In the manuscript organization process we often discover new opportunities for revision. Other times, new themes materialize. In this workshop we will combine the reading of your manuscript with the reading of essays on designing and ordering collections. We will also pay close attention to how various authors have arranged their chapbook and full-length collections, including a look at the differences between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’ orderings of Plath’s Ariel.
Participants are encouraged to submit up to 15 individual poems or up to 20 pages of poetry, with a title; however, we will also welcome poets who don’t yet have so many poems but are sincerely interested in reading and considering how manuscripts are ordered.
Instructor: Thorpe Moeckel, advanced
How to Write for Readers
Writers of fiction and memoir are right to be passionate about their work and its inherent value, but successfully connecting with readers (including agents and editors) very often requires considering the reader – and the inherent value of the reader – as well as the merits of the work. In this workshop, we will examine a portion of your novel or memoir (approximately 20 double-spaced pages) with an eye toward understanding how most readers will perceive this literary offering and how you can best revise your material to connect meaningfully with a reading audience. John Updike once said that his ideal reader was a boy somewhere “to the east of Kansas” who discovered Updike’s books by accident in a school library. Who is your ideal reader? This workshop will help you identify him and/or her and, through edits large and small, adjust the material that matters to you in ways that will matter to the booklovers you want to reach.
Instructor: Barbara Jones, advanced fiction and memoir
Past Time and Writing Memoir
As a memoir writer, Sven Birkerts says he needs to give readers the sense of his world as he saw it in the past and the vantage point of now to suggest “these events made a different kind of sense over time.” Emphasizing this strategy of two time-frames, our class will focus on the story-rich potential of personal history and then on how we might “fashion a text,” as Annie Dillard says, from a point of view that allows us to employ our powers of reflection, research, and storytelling. We will look on such elements as voice, significant detail, character development, and form and language. Open to all levels, the workshop will offer examples, reading assignments, short exercises if needed, and finally, a sympathetic audience for your writing. Time as a “double vantage point” is a powerful technique for the memoir writer (Birkerts again). Our workshop will employ this tool to help us fashion lively, though-provoking narratives on the page. Please bring your memories and one or two short examples (5-10 pages each) of your work in progress.
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
A Writers’ Retreat
In this multi-genre workshop we’ll embody the practice of writing daily. During meeting times we will discuss matters of craft derived from reading a wide variety of published stories, poems, and essays; read aloud to one another from our own newly written work and respond to it as a community of writers intent on helping one another find a larger audience; write from prompts; approach publishing as a part of the creative process; and address any and all concerns related to the writing life, from writer’s block to sources of inspiration to submission strategies that yield positive results. While conventional creative writing workshops privilege the critique, the quality of them hinging upon the amount of time and thought outside of meeting times writers put into reading and responding to each other’s manuscripts, in this workshop we’ll honor the act of writing by putting the time, space, and camaraderie to use in the drafting of new stories, poems, and essays that we’ll share with one another. This workshop is open to writers of all skill levels and degrees of experience.
Instructor: Dan Mueller, all genres and levels
Writing For and Working With an Agent
A frank workshop that not only evaluates your novel, memoir, or narrative nonfiction (focusing on premise, voice, character, and momentum) but also works on making your book as marketable as possible. Participants will workshop their own and the group’s work, and then participate in several nuts-and-bolts exercises designed to immediately improve their craft – with an eye toward publication.
Instructor: Jeff Kleinman, advanced