Jessica Morrell: To paraphrase Stephen King, reading is your job. Or a big part of your job. If you breeze through stories without thought or analysis, you’re missing both the joys of insider knowledge and the lessons you’ll always need. Reading inspires and is a cheap, private pleasure. And because writers never stop learning.
Learning from the Greats
A Master Writing Craft Class taught by Jessica Morrell
To succeed as a writer you need to write a lot and read from a writer’s perspective. Without this level of analysis writers simply don’t have all the tools at their disposal. In this workshop, we’ll work together to uncover the secrets of great authors, reveal the intricacies of craft, and trace authors’ influences and habits. We’ll further analyze how great authors reflect their time period and find fresh ways to manipulate language.
Texts to be discussed:
Silver Water, Amy Bloom http://producer.csi.edu/cdraney/2011/175/etexts/Bloom_Silver-Water.pdf
Amy Bloom has been a fresh, urgent voice in American fiction since her first collection of short stories; Come to Me was published in 1998. Bloom is also a novelist, but her short stories are particularly insightful in their brevity and often track marginalized people and uncomfortable issues like sexual identity and mental illness. A former psychotherapist, she brings keen insights into her characters, imbuing them with tiny, yet penetrating brushstrokes that nail their struggles and psyches. Writers can learn her art of compression, her authentic character voices, featuring flawed but fascinating characters.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
An American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a Southern family and small-town embroiled in a racially-charged scandal and trial. Readers can learn so much from the story—a searing history lesson, how to teach your kids valuable life lessons, how outsiders and kids see society. Through analysis, writers can learn how to capture a child’s sensibility, how to teach morality without being preachy or gooey, and how to stage a surprise ending. Other techniques we’ll study: the role of the narrator POV, writing a compelling static character, and how coming-of-age meets character arc with young characters.
For Something to Do, Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard was a wildly popular writer who wrote more than 40 novels, dozens of short stories, movie adaptations, and a popular TV series including, Justified. Stephen King called him, “The great American writer,” and The New York Times called him, “The greatest crime writer of his time, perhaps ever.” He’s known for tightrope tension, crackling, realistic dialogue, and memorable, bad ass characters up to their ears in serious trouble. But a closer look reveals other techniques worthy of emulating: how to depict pathos in a character, how honor and morality can found in unexpected places, how subtext works in a dialogue scene, how to stage twists, and how conflict is layered and always simmering.
Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
Besides her many novels, some now turned into televisions series, Atwood is a prolific short story writer. In this story, a woman meets an old friend 50 years after their high school days, she plots his murder. Or will she go through with it? We’re going to analyze this story for its delicious use of details, suspense, and subtext, along with her deft inclusion of backstory, and an overall tone of disquiet. We’ll discuss how Atwood pulls us in from the first sentence: “From the onset, Verna never intended to murder anyone. What she had in mind was a vacation, pure and simple.”