This class encourages fiction that, like all good writing, takes emotional risks. This riskiness sets literature apart from the dishonesty of bad books, TV, and movies. Workshop is not confession, but in the privacy of their writing rooms students might begin to tell personal stories that perhaps they have only told about other people.
"Tell everything on yourself," Raymond Carver urged. Virginia Woolf would have agreed: "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Yet we will never assume anything in a story actually happened to the writer. Rigorous storytelling, of course, evolves into fiction, blurring and even obliterating its source material.
We will read published stories as models. Amy Hempel writes of a woman who abandons a close friend dying of cancer, and confronts the aftermath of her choice. Thom Jones explores one soldier’s psychological territory of war, aggression, and epileptic torment, in which “illness” provokes dark illuminations of self and humanity. The good news is, the truth redeems, no matter the damage…
The Writing Life: A Fiction Workshop
Apart from discussing these authors’ books—A Moveable Feast, The Writing Life, Reading Like A Writer, On Becoming a Novelist, and Bird by Bird—we’ll commit to a daily habit of reading and writing.
"The Teacher of Literature" treats a man who constantly tells his friends and family of his own happiness, and discovers that beneath his surface he is quite a different person. In "The Petchenyeg," however, we meet a truly miserable man with a distorted vision who believes any happy person must be pretending.
No question is settled for Chekhov. He is more interested in the myriad ways we deceive ourselves than in any fixed truth. Perhaps for Chekhov truth is simply the careful observation of human beings.
His characters are often haunted by their own failings. But they would sooner drink or change the subject than own up. They blame others, tell lies, inflict subtle cruelties, and fail to love. Although tempted to judge them and find less honest reading, we keep turning pages for, of course, we are reading about ourselves.
In Freestyle Fiction Group, writers are encouraged to develop their own styles. Although many instructors teach narrow schools of writing, your style is your own business. Literature is not a group project but a deeply personal expression of the individual author.
As Nabokov observed, "There is only one school of literature—that of talent." And all that talent requires is daily commitment. Whether you write like Raymond Carver or Virginia Woolf--like J.L. Borges, ZZ Packer, or Louis-Ferdinand Celine--we will guide you toward excellence by focusing on universal literary principles.
We will discuss stories line by line, exploring the essentials of literary craft, including voice, tension, character, description, dialogue, and narrative arc. Since advice is craft-based and more or less objective, writers can immediately put these concepts to work in their fiction.
We have no aesthetic agenda, no favored style. Our one concern is with the enduring principles of storytelling.
Innovative. Although writers learn from great authors, we nevertheless struggle to find new forms of literary expression. As Ezra Pound urged, "Make it new."
Intense, honest, churlish, and a lot of fun. A good writing group might be the last public forum where people can tell the truth without consequence.
Inspiring. Discover why the writing life is always worth the effort.