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Structuring the Short Story

Class 1 of 4
Instructor: Wendy Wheeler
Points Covered in Class One
  1. Good writing, I believe, is composed of a dynamic balance of inspiration and craft. Extrapolate this, if you will, to other such pairings: yin/yang, left brain/right brain, macro/micro, ...

  2. This class was created to help new writers firm up their ideas of what constitutes a story, and to disseminate some of the information I've gathered on the attitude of a professional writer. In my many workshops and meetings with editors, these are the two things they say are often missing in beginning writers.

  3. The good news is, I don't believe you must be born a writer to be a good writer. I think you can learn to write well by studying your craft. (And, okay, some people do seem to be wired differently and writing fiction seems easier for them. It's rare, and you're lucky if this describes you.) Further, I think that reading good fiction has already taught you things about pace, rhythm, structure, etc. that you only need to bring to the surface.

  4. I believe creativity is good because it frees us from our egos, lets us experience timelessness, and teaches us about ourselves and our world. Writing for any reason can be a sacred experience, so is worthwhile--this includes fiction, non-fiction, essays, journalizing, poetry. For the purposes of this class, we will concentrate on professional fiction. If you can write a story strong enough that total strangers will pay money to read it, then you have acquired valuable communication skills.

  5. You should take advantage of the critique portion of this class! Finish a story to bring it in, start a new story and bring in the partial, just put something out there! It's the lump- of-clay theory: you can't start shaping and structuring until you have amassed a pile of words about character, setting and conflict. You will probably be amazed at what people like in your story, and surprised and enlightened at where they became confused.

  6. Be sure to format your manuscript professionally, even if it's an incomplete story, and make copies for everyone to read along.

  7. The stories you have read up until now have probably been in print, which means they are, at some level, successful. Reading the unpublished stories of your classmates will teach you something else. You'll see what separates publishable from unpublishable.

  8. Another Big Picture concept I hope to impress on you is the difference in attitude between a newbie writer and a pro. A pro has what I call a "reader consciousness" and knows what you must do to get a stranger to invest minutes/hours/days in reading your work. You cannot confuse, insult, or bore your reader and expect them to hang in there with you. At a more meta level, being aware of what the editors see daily in the hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts can help you learn to avoid being trite.

  9. It's interesting to learn about other people's creative processes, but you mustn't let that information make you feel inept. Learning about your own creative process is the major job of the beginning (and even mature) writer. You may learn that the first three pages of your stories are always background written to get you into the fictional world, and you can eliminate those pages from your final draft. You may learn it takes six drafts to polish your stories. You may learn that writing in First Person doesn't always serve you. It's an adventure, and every effort yields something worthwhile.

  10. Finally, I'm opinionated (studies say most writers are) and my natural way of speaking sometimes confuses people that I am giving you The Only Way. Not so! I welcome questions and opposing opinions and discussion. You should stay open to the information presented and select what works for you that's why I back up much of my lectures with notes for you to read later. There are thousands of theories of writing, and we'll cover just a few of them in this class, so it's up to you to pursue your own literary education!

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