Note One: Writing Tips from Our Teachers
From Louise Nayer (Drawing Readers Into Your World: A Memoir Intensive, 2 sessions beginning April 25)
Unless you sprint through life with a tape recorder strapped to your body 24/7, dialogue is created by the author through memory. How do you write believable dialogue? Differentiate your mother’s voice: “I feel ill” from your father’s: “I feel like crap.” Keep it short. Dialogue doesn’t have to be grammatically correct but does need to capture the quirkiness of the speaker. Use action along with dialogue—tearing up a napkin on your lap to show nervousness. Dialogue makes a scene come alive and reveals something more about a character. Look through old letters of people who have passed away to help “channel” their voices. Listen and take notes for people now in your life. Practice by writing down snippets of conversations while sipping your cappuccino. Dialogue moves the story along, revealing what each character wants. But often, as in life, you have to read between the lines.
Note Two: Our Latest Favorite Book on Writing
From Jenny Bitner (Pushing the Boundaries: Experiments in Writing, 6 sessions starting April 14; The Detective and the Alien: Using Genre Explorations to Strengthen Your Fiction, 6 sessions beginning April 16; Creating a Writing Habit in 21 Days: A Bootcamp for Your Muse, 2 sessions starting April 26)
From Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron
“Everything we do is goal directed, and our biggest goal is figuring out everyone else’s agenda, the better to achieve our own.”
“A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go.”
Starting with the premise that storytelling is a natural part of how we made sense of the world for our survival, this clearly written book helps the writer to construct a story that is more compelling to the reader’s innate desire for story. If we can understand the way our brains work and what we are looking for in stories, then we can write stories that satisfy the reader. I like Cron’s emphasis on big-picture issues like theme, finding the point of the story and zeroing in on the protagonist’s goal. As I read the book, I was working on a memoir, and I felt like I had stepped back a few feet and got some distance on my own writing. To me, that is the mark of a good writing book: it gives you a fresh perspective on your work and gets you to put down the book and start writing again.
Note Three: What We’re Reading Now
From Ethan Watters (Getting Published in Magazines: A Nonfiction Intensive, 5 sessions starting April 16)
Every time I read an Erik Larson book, I’m certain that I’ll devote the rest of my writing career to historical non-fiction. He’s just a master at telling a gripping, ripping yarn. Like many great writers, he creates the illusion of effortlessness – the feeling that the damn think just wrote itself. His latest work, Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, is no exception. In it, Larson switches back and forth between two narratives: that of the Lusitania’s voyage and that of the U-boat that would put her at the bottom of the Irish Sea. The characterization of the two captains is engrossing, but Larson runs into trouble making the various Lusitania passengers we’re introduced to distinct enough to track and care about. If you’re new to Larson, I’d recommend Devil in the White City or (my personal favorite) In the Garden of the Beasts. Making a piece of writing feel effortless is, of course, exceptionally difficult and Larson’s work is worth studying in depth to see how he’s cut together narratives and timelines to keep the momentum steaming forward.
Note Four: Spring Classes & Workshops