Brian's teaching has been recognized with the Loft Literary Center/Madeline Island School of the Arts Excellence in Teaching Fellowship (based exclusively on student evaluations).
Single Session Classes (2-3 Hours each, unless otherwise noted)
Readers love variety, especially at the sentence level. In this fast-paced session for absolute beginners and pros in need of a refresher, we'll explore periodic sentences, fragments, parataxis, parallelism, anaphora, epiphora, assonance, juxtaposition, ambiguity, and more. We'll play with figurative language, and minimalist and maximalist styles. We'll make the abstract concrete through sensory imagery. Come prepared to imitate, generate, and captivate.
Fiction Basics: Five Parts of Story
This session is for writers who need help with structuring and building momentum in their stories. We'll examine the five parts of traditional short story: exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action, and conclusion. Come prepared for exercises on each of the five parts of traditional story form.
Fiction Basics: Point of View (POV)
POV is not simply a question of 1st person (I) or 3rd person (she): you'll need to consider reliability, objectivity, distance, and audience. We'll review the different types of POVs and exercises will let you experiment with different forms to learn which one is the best POV for your story.
Fiction Basics: Characters & Characterization
We'll create characters based on people you know, your passion, your interest, your curiosity, and your imagination. We'll look at direct and indirect methods of characterization. Exercises will help you get to know your characters better and will identify significant details to make your characters come alive on the page.
Fiction Basics: Setting
The well-rendered setting can create harmony or conflict, characterize, symbolize, play to or against readers' expectations, as well as make the familiar unfamiliar or the unfamiliar familiar. We'll review strategies for creating and presenting compelling settings and practice these strategies with writing exercises.
Fiction Basics: Scene, Summary, Flashback, and Narrative Time
Does an event demand a moment-by-moment scene? Should it be summarized? How can we transition between scene and summary and move our characters backward and forward in time? We'll experiment with methods to weave together scene and summary, integrate flashbacks, and move through time.
Fiction Basics: Revision Lab
Bring your printed manuscript, and yellow, pink, and green highlighters for this hands-on revision lab. You'll practice revision methods focused on scene/summary, arrangement of events, abstract/concrete language, sensory imagery, and significant details. If you don't bring your manuscript, you won't have much to do at this hands-on session!
Writing the Working Class
Kit de Waal wrote "Working-class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged and dispossessed – these are narratives rich in barbed humour, their technique and vernacular reflecting the depth and texture of working-class life, the joy and sorrow, the solidarity and the differences, the everyday wisdom and poetry of the woman at the bus-stop, the waiter, the hairdresser." We'll examine some poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from working class writers to inspire our own work, along with exercises to generate new material about the working class life.
The "Unworkshop" for the Unagented and Unpublished Writer (4 hours)
No agent? No publisher? You're in very good company! Most writers aren't represented and even more have not sold their work to a publishing house. The Unworkshop is facilitated by an Un-Alumnus who couldn't get an agent but sold his novels to major New York houses anyway. Not a craft workshop, the Unworkshop is designed for motivated "Uns" who take the business of publishing almost as seriously as they do the art of writing. For this hands-on, experiential session, you are invited to submit a one-page query letter – substituting "J.Doe" for your real name – prior to the Unworkshop (the query can be for an agent, publishing house or magazine). Participants will pick only one query letter – not your own – that you find intriguing, marketable and potentially profitable. Be prepared to share why you think the query you picked warrants further consideration. From this first-hand experience of mining the "slushpile" we'll move into a discussion of marketing your work to publishers and agents.
Weekend Immersion Class (2 consecutive days, 5 hours per day)
Fiction Writing Crash Course
Is your dream to write a bestselling novel? Short story collection? There's no formulas, secrets, or "insiders' tips" that'll guarantee you will: it's up to the marketplace, not the writer, editor, publicist, or agent. No trendy "How to Write a Bestseller" seminar featuring New York agents and editors will make you a bestselling author.
Best to begin at the beginning by learning how to write well-crafted fiction. In this crash course for absolute beginners and experienced writers in need of a refresher, we'll work with the building blocks of compelling fiction, including plot, characterization, point of view, narrative time, and setting. We'll review concrete strategies for self-editing and revising your work. Writers of all genres and at all levels are welcome.
Week-Long Immersion Class (5 consecutive days, 5 hours per day)
Novel Writing Boot Camp
It's time to dedicate one solid week to working on that idea you have for a novel. We'll take it step-by-step by 1) mapping out our novels from inciting incidents to resolutions, 2) drafting scene cards to summarize the patterns of change (e.g., changes in power, awareness, relationships), and 3) learning about structure, characterization, narrative time, setting, and point of view through lecture, exercises, and prompts. Ninety-minutes of every day will be dedicated to working on your novel - no lecture, no exercises, no discussion - just time to generate raw material for your book. Your internal critic will have to wait out in the hall as you make your dream of drafting a novel a reality.
Emotional Range in Storytelling
A frequent criticism of literary fiction is that it is often humorless, with a narrow emotional range that begins with ennui and ends in despair. If you're weary of the drama of the broken tea cup and want to write and read stories with a broad emotional range, this class is for you. If readers laugh with your characters, they are more likely to cry when tragedy strikes. We'll read stories that ably mix comedy with heartbreak, and absurdity with terror, as we work towards convincingly mixing humor and heartache in our own stories. Strategies we will play with include irony (dramatic, verbal, and situational), absurdity, exaggeration/understatement, incongruity, surprise, and wordplay, among others.
The format for this workshop is descriptive review—we'll read up to 20 pages of each other's work-in-progress with a view towards identifying what is at stake, describing what we understand to be true about the characters based upon our reading, and letting the author know what we found most engaging (and why), as well as where we were confused or felt the writing drifted off course. Writers may also choose to submit their own workshop questions for readers to consider. Writers of all genres are welcome. In addition, there will be brief lectures each week (along with writing exercises) on craft issues that emerge during workshops.
U.S. Multi-Cultural Literature
"Ethnic" Americans have long been viewed as minorities, defined by what they are not: white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Yet "ethnic" Americans constitute the majority of U.S. citizens, encompassing all races and religions, from the Inuit of Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska, to the Haitian American community of Florida. In this course, we will primarily examine selected literature of five demographic groups: Americans of African, Asian, Irish, Mexican, and Native descent (and combinations thereof). At first glance these groups may appear to have little in common: Native Americans are the continent's indigenous people, Asians and Irish immigrated to the United States, Africans were abducted and then enslaved in North America (while others immigrated), and many Mexicans found themselves in the U.S. after the Mexican-American war. We will examine the ways that writers and orators from these seemingly disparate groups have articulated resistance, community, identity, assimilation, and citizenship. We will situate their work in social, political, and historical contexts to better understand their strategies.