Fiction Workshops

Read to Write Books: A Course in Fiction Craft

NINE ELEMENTS OF FICTION CRAFT

by Christine Walker

For writers who read, readers who write & book lovers who want to read like a writer

For information about this online course (coming soon in January 2018) and other workshops, email chris@christinewalker.net

We are all experts and all learners. Let’s go deeper into fiction and have a good time while we…

• Enhance writing skills and literary enjoyment through close reading and exploration of masterful books

• Make our own literary and craft discoveries

• Investigate and learn writing techniques and methods to further our own project goals

• Enjoy a creative, low-risk online or workshop environment

Writing is a solitary act with a communal spirit among writers and readers. To become accomplished, writers benefit by studying authors who’ve honed the craft techniques and nuances of fine fiction. In this course, we’ll examine masterful writing, incubate the lessons, and use expanded knowledge to read more closely and write more skillfully.

In my two-year MFA program, the promise was fulfilled: “Read one hundred books. Write one.” In this course, a shorter but relevant book list will step participants through crucial concerns of long-form writing.

Writers wanting to move their projects to the next level—whether to draft, revise, cohere, or polish—will be shown tools and methods to do so. The course will help bring fullness to works in progress—novels, story collections, narrative nonfiction, memoir. Writers will be inspired by writers, books, and fellow book lovers.

Course structure

What makes fine fiction? How or why did that author do that? We delve in with authors who enrich our writing and reading journeys. Participants may decide to focus on books or parts of books and learn to notate their own discoveries for future reference in their writing projects. I demonstrate visual, hands-on techniques and tools that I use when writing and suggest optional hands-on activities for participants wanting to further enhance their writing craft and literature appreciation.

Each session combines craft discussion, reference to relevant book passages, and use of visuals as writing tools. The course structure prompts participants to fuel their writing practice, as suits their project goals and craft concerns.

Each session offers suggested followup activities, as well as writing “sparks” for writing explorations post-session.

The workshop sessions cover craft concerns of the Nine Elements based on reading selections.

Please prepare by reading as much as you wish to from the book list.

Element 1. Gatekeepers & Story Seeds

Examine first and last sentences that successfully set up, complete, and resonate within the story. What do those first words promise? In what ways do last words glance back or look beyond? How do words and images germinate a story?

Hands-on followup suggestions:

• Put a first sentence on parade and identify what instrument of story delivery each word plays. Use a sentence from your own writing or from a favorite book. Write each word or short phrase on an index card. Discover the role those words play in the sentence and in setting up the story.

• Writing Spark: Use the first sentence from Out of Africa as a template to spark your own writing. I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.  Template: “I had a what, where, extra description.” Try a matter-of-fact, first-person, past-tense statement that leads from habitat to larger geographical area to vicinity that has meaning for the story. Try several sentences in similar sequence and see what your distanced views suggest. Choose whichever one of yours is most provocative for you and write from there.

Element 2. Voice, Style & POV

Listen to and learn from your narrator or narrators. Who tells the story and how? What does distinctive voice have to do with style?

Hands-on follow-up suggestion: 1. Write a passage two or more ways using different points of view and/or voice. 2. Bring passages from books with contrasting points of view and voice.

Element 3. Character

Care about your characters. How do writers make invented people come alive on the page? How much do you need to know about a character as a reader or as a writer?

Hands-on homework suggestion : 1. Create character scrapbooks and other prompts to inform character development for your writing. 2. Write a descriptive paragraph featuring a character—yours or from your reading. Ground your writing in the body and senses and invite the reader to feel that character’s emotions and think his or her thoughts.

Element 4. Place

Ground the story. How do writers establish a felt sense of inhabited place? Can you picture where your characters live? Does place serve as character?

Hands-on homework suggestion: 1. From  your own writing or from your reading, map a story’s environment and/or architecture. 2. Write a passage describing a place. Give it an animated quality, as if it were a character.

Element 5. Tension

Entice readers to turn the page. What is tension? How does it relate to plot? How, when and where do masterful writers weave it in and make it pay off for readers?

Hands-on homework suggestion: Graph tension and plot points in a novel or your manuscript. Note psychological underpinnings.

Element 6. Time & Consciousness 

Expand and compress time, pick up or slow down the pace. How does a book that engages readers for only several hours give them the experience of time, whether the story spans a day or decades?

Hands-on homework suggestion: 1. Track the baton relay of time and consciousness in a book or passages you’ve read. 2. Write a passage in which you carefully guide the reader’s sense of time, whether to  speed up, slow down, or bridge years.

Element 7. Love & Other Emotions

Get second-hand emotions to first base. What’s love got to do with it? Explore the purposes and limits of the popular writer’s maxim: “Show, don’t tell.”

Hands-on homework suggestion: 1. Create a graphic storyboard of a love scene or emotional passage. 2. Write a passage showing strong emotion between two characters: lovers, friends, relatives, or people otherwise connected.

Element 8. Image & the Senses

Make the fabulous real and the real felt. How do writers paint vivid impressions with words to enliven narrative and awaken readers’ senses?

Hands-on homework suggestion: 1. Find or create images that encapsulate aspects of a story. 2. Write a passage incorporating all of the senses that make sense for your context.

Element 9. Theme & Gestalt

Draw it all together. How does an author integrate big ideas and intentions into his or her story without overpowering it?

Hands-on homework suggestion: Continue a deep engagement in literature.

Suggested book list

Read on one book, several, or portions of a book for each element. The nine sessions cover these topics & reading selections:

1. Gatekeepers & Story Seeds

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen; The Quiet American, Graham Greene; Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee; The Awakening, Kate Chopin; Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner; Selected Stories, Alice Munro

2. Voice, Style & POV

“Richard Parker, can you believe what happened to us? Tell me it’s a bad dream. Tell me it’s not real.”

Life of Pi, Yann Martel; Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes; Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad; Vanity Fair, William Thackeray; Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan; The Middleman and Other Stories, Baharati Murkherjee; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Bell Canto, Ann Patchett

3. Character

“Cosimo climbed up to the fork of a big branch where he could settle comfortably and sat himself own there, his legs dangling, his arms crossed with hands tucked under his elbows, his head buried in his shoulders, his tricorne hat tilted over his forehead.”

Our Ancestors:Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino; The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien; Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Richard Yates; How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto; The Country Life, Rachel Cusk; To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

4. Place

“For the Lighthouse has become almost invisible, had melted away into a blue haze, and the effort of looking at it and the effort of thinking of him landing there, which both seemed to be one and the same effort, had stretched her body and mind to the utmost.”

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson; Of the Farm & Pigeon Feathers, John Updike; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Dubliners, James Joyce.

5. Tension

“He has never been seen in the company of a girl on the factory premises, nor anywhere in the immediate neighborhood. Nothing like that on your own doorstep is the rule he has.”

Felicia’s Journey, William Trevor; The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

6. Time & Consciousness

“Though sometimes in my brain I go back to that afternoon, to relive it, sail up there again toward the acoustic panels, the basketball hoops, and the old oak clock, the careful harmonies set loose from our voices so pure and exact and light we wondered later, packing up to leave, how high and fast and far they had gone.”

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Lorrie Moore; Lie Down in Darkness, William Styron; Larry’s Party, Carol Shields; A Country Life, Rachel Cusk; Mrs. Dalloway andTo the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; Bel Canto, Ann Patchett; Tinkers, Paul Harding

7. Love & Other Emotions

“This sound seemed to enter him, pierce him down his length so that his whole body opened up and he was able to step out of himself and kiss her freely.”

Atonement, Ian McEwan; Jasmine, Baharati Mukherjee; Selected Stories, Alice Munro; A Passage to India, E.M Forster; Bell Canto, Ann Patchett; The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

8. Image & the Senses

“I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind?”

Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M Coetzee; A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor; Life of Pi, Yann Martel; Invisible Cities and Our Ancestors: Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino; Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

9. Theme & Gestalt

“One is constantly wondering what sort of lives other people lead, and how they take things.”

Middlemarch, George Eliot; Passage to India, E.M. Forster; Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton; Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M Coetzee; The Human Stain, Philip Roth; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Comments from participants in past Read to Write Books workshop

“If you love to read, now, you’ll love to read even more after understanding the framing and foundation of a great novel.” Kat Depuydt

“A great opportunity to have smartly led discussions about the craft techniques used in both classic and contemporary fiction.” Bailey Malone

“It has been a fun, motivating, and very worthwhile experience. What a joy it was to join with others–who either love to write or were and are avid readers–and hear the many different viewpoints. That alone was incredibly refreshing.” Kelly Shaw

“[Christine], herself a writer and painter, guided us through a very well-prepared and enjoyable experience of taking a focused look at the craft of writing. I enjoyed the selection of books and found the other participants stimulating and enjoyed their company.” Ann Levin

“If you are looking to buttress and expand the elements of craft in writing fiction, this class presents each element in a very integrated way. In the event that you are a good writer and would like to improve your understanding of the elements of the actual craft of writing, this is a great course. Christine has modeled it on her MFA in Creative Writing and it packs that kind of intellectual punch.” Lee Stein

“A mini MFA course!” Marlene Cullen

“Chris is an insightful, engaging teacher with great taste in literature.” Mary Luddy


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2 responses to “Fiction Workshops

  1. Maury Cooper

    Dear Chris,
    Your course description make me realize you are targeting writers who have work in progress.
    I do not fit that category, as I am not writing anything more than morning pages from The Artist’s Way. In the past, I wrote non-fiction.
    Would your 9-month course be appropriate for me since I do not have a burning need to write, but want to improve my appreciation of fiction writing?
    Maury

    • Hi Maury,

      If you want to improve your appreciation of fiction writing, the 9-month course is a good fit, whether you’re fanning flames of desire to write or not. Some people take the 9-month course not intending to write and then get so inspired that they surprise themselves by writing wonderfully. Others have begun the course thinking they’d write more but found they read more. Others were writing when then began, stepped it up during the course, and also read more. The course is designed for you to get as much out of it as you wish and as your schedule allows. I believe strongly in the foundation the course provides for writers at any level. I’ll be giving suggested homework, including writing prompts, every month, but you don’t have to do it unless you want to. I’ve read many of these books several times now, and they continue revealing deeper levels of mastery to me. The reading may be enough for you. Then again, you might spark a burning desire to write!

      The 2-month course First Person: Memoir & Narrative Nonfiction is especially designed for writers who have work in progress or the intention of gathering work, such as journaling, essays, and reflections into a cohesive longer form. I had requests for that kind of class. Your morning pages could provide you content, if you have want to develop that material.

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