As writers, we’re always told to keep our eye on the arc of our story, making sure it rises and rises until we get to the climax and then, whoosh, back down the hill we go toward our stunning, unexpected-yet-right ending. Most of the time, during the writing, it feels like we’re rising and rising and rising and rising and, oh, c’mon, we’re still rising, I’m running out of momentum here, story, and this hill is going to kill both of us, I just want to get to the whoosh! already… Well, what if you did get to maybe not the whoosh but a whoosh, a little bit of downward slope that let you regain your momentum to get up the next stretch? What if instead of one, long arc upward toward the climax, you instead laid in little plateaus where you could catch your breath and muster your strength? And what if these little plateaus let you make the most out of the important moments of your story? Pretty great, right? Well, that’s what we’ll be talking about: taking a page from the best of television (and a number of novels and stories), we’ll look at “episodic” structures that build one main arc out of a bunch of little arcs, discuss what these structures give us as writers, and even how to start building them into your existing work (it’s easier than you might think).
Eric Rampson is a Chicago-based writer who spent almost 20 years studying, performing, and teaching improv comedy before getting his MFA in Fiction from The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. His fiction has been published in Change Seven Magazine, The Matador Review, Typishly, Metonym, The Gateway Review, Leaf~Land Journal, and Broad River Review. His novel-in-stories Always Already and story collection Hazards are currently looking for good homes while he works on his new novel.
Eric will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website.
Storytelling revolves around characters and the things they must overcome—conflict. When novels fail to find a publisher, it's often because they don't have enough conflict. In this session, editor/author Kelly McNees outlines different sources of conflict and how to use them to make your story more scintillating, from first page to last.
Kelly O'Connor McNees began her editorial career at Harper Collins and the University of Michigan Press. She launched Word Bird Editorial Services in 2008, and has helped writers of all stripes—including a CIA agent, a musician, a New York City bartender, a newspaper columnist, a dentist, an organic farmer, an art house cinema owner, and many, many others—improve their writing and pursue their publication goals. Kelly is the author of Undiscovered Country (coming in 2018), The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, In Need of a Good Wife, and The Island of Doves. She is passionate about coaching writers and troubleshooting manuscripts to help them succeed.
Dorothy Allison suggests (in her book Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature) that the best writing happens when one is terrified, and writes through the fear. That's great advice, but the question is *how* does one write through the fear? It's often frightening when you're trying write about subject matter that is in some manner taboo: material that violates social norms, that might upset family members, or that is simply personally difficult to confront.
In the hands-on workshop, we'll explore a variety of taboo topics. We'll look at how brilliant writers have delved into material that was forbidden for their place and time (some of which might seem quite tame by today's standards), and then work through a series of exercises designed to push you into challenging places. At the end of the session, you should have some tools to lead you to stronger, braver work that takes more risks. Maybe it'll challenge your audience too!
Important note: You won't be required to share this work with anyone, though I may ask for volunteers to read bits of what they've written.
Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins),
The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and eleven other titles. Bodies in
Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today
Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. Mohanraj
founded the Hugo-nominated science fiction magazine, Strange Horizons,
and serves as editor-in-chief of Jaggery, a South Asian literary
journal (jaggerylit.com). She received a Breaking Barriers Award from
the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American arts
organizing, won an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and was
Guest of Honor at WisCon. She serves as Director of two literary
organizations, DesiLit (www.desilit.org) and The Speculative
Literature Foundation (www.speclit.org). Mohanraj is Clinical
Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, and lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside
Chicago, with her husband, their two small children, and a sweet dog.
She is currently working on a breast cancer memoir, a science fiction
novel, and a collection of poetry. http://www.maryannemohanraj.com
Publishing Team-Written Fiction: Putting it Together
Workshop #2 of award-winning author and celebrated teacher Jay Rehak's instruction on episodic story telling, reviews and sews the OCWW team-written project together and discusses the joys & implications of shared publication.
This session will be of interest to anyone wanting to learn about pulling the pieces of a team-written novel together, and the process of self-publishing this type of project. Everyone on the team is expected to attend.
Jay Rehak has been a writing teacher for 32 years; he is the author of 27 produced short plays and has co-written 13 novels with his students and friends. Honored as the 2014 Chicago Public Schools Tech Innovator of the year, Jay has spoken at numerous educational conferences around the country; his TedX Northwestern talk, “How to Teach Empathy through Collaborative Writing” is available on YouTube. In 2013, Mr. Rehak created and co-authored the award winning 30 Days to Empathy, the world’s first high school class sourced novel. Subsequently, Jay collaborated with his students, writing and publishing Someone Else’s Shoes, The Absolutely Awesome Adventures of Internet Ed, and The Long, Strange Trip of Augie Stone. Additionally, his non-fiction work, How to Write a Class-Sourced Novel has been used by teachers around the world to create their own collaborative novels. He is currently working on Sideline Ink, the second book of his middle grade novel series, which helps promote financial and social emotional literacy. All of Jay’s works are available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/jaycrehak. Jay is married to award winning children’s singer, Susan Salidor and he has three children, Hope, Hannah and Ali. Additional biographical information can be found at www.sidelineinkpublishing.com.
Writers read. It's a platitude: we all know this. But how do you look at a text you admire for its craft elements? From grammar and syntax to sense and clarity, voice, mood, and tone to character and metaphor—as well as narrative strategies it can be helpful to understand how to analyze a literary text for these elements to use in turn in your own writing. Drawing from the French tradition of explication de texte (textual analysis), this talk will show you how to read for writing craft, as well as demonstrate exercises for drafting and revision based on this close reading technique.
Jennifer Solheim is a writer, freelance editor, literary translator, and teacher. She has a PhD in French from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is the author of The Performance of Listening in Postcolonial Francophone Culture (2018, Liverpool University Press) and a Contributing Editor at Fiction Writers Review. Her short stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellevue Literary Review, Confrontation, The Pinch, and Poets & Writers, among others. More about her work www.jennifersolheim.com.
Jennifer will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website.
By revisiting our stories, we re-enter our imaginations to discover more about our characters’ inner lives. When we open ourselves to this process, we become the writers we need to be to write the stories we need to write, to bring our characters to life on the page so that they may live in the hearts of our readers.
Sharon Darrow will talk about emotional resonance, why it is necessary, what we need to achieve it, what obstacles we might encounter, and some practical technical steps to achieve it in revision. This session will include writing exercises, sharing our results, discussion and Sharon will take questions at the end of the session.(Appropriate content for writers of all genres)
Sharon Darrow was a member of the faculty of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Vermont College of Fine Arts, from 1997 to 2018. She also taught at Columbia College Chicago in the English department from 1996 to 2003. She is the author of Picture Books (Old Thunder and Miss Raney, art by Kathryn Brown; Yafi’s Family, co-author Linda Pettit, art by Jan Spivey Gilchrist; Through the Tempests Dark and Wild: A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein, art by Angela Barrett) and Young Adult novels (The Painters of Lexieville and TRASH). Her poetry for young people has been included in Home to Me: Poems Across America, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and her poems, short stories, interviews, and personal essays for adults have appeared in literary journals Rhino, Folio, Whetstone, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), Columbia Poetry Review, Great River Review, Other Voices, The Writer’s Chronicle, and in the anthology, In the Middle of the Middle West, edited by Becky Bradway. Her most recent book for adults is Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life.
The Darrow Lecture Series, named in her honor, is held annually in Montpelier, Vermont, with lectures delivered by distinguished authors who are graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
In this session, we'll discuss how to use dialogue effectively in both adult and young adult novels. We'll talk about how to make characters' voices distinct, how to make dialogue do more than one thing at once, and how to avoid common dialogue-related issues. We'll read some sample dialogue and discuss it together, and we can also talk about your own writing.
Michelle Falkoff is the author of PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD, PUSHING PERFECT, and QUESTIONS I WANT TO ASK YOU. Her fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVA, DoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
Andrea Hall Emily Clark Victorson Anna Michels
Albert Whitman and Company Allium Press Sourcebooks
Three of Chicago's premier book editors share their thoughts about today's market for fiction and non-fiction, and insights into the editorial review process of queries and manuscript submissions. Panelists include Emily Victorson, editor and publisher of Allium Press, a cutting-edge small press publisher of adult fiction; Andrea Hall, an associate editor at Albert Whitman & Company who specializes in children's picture books; and Anna Michels, Senior Editor at Sourcebooks acquiring adult fiction and nonfiction.
Andrea Hall is an Associate Editor at Albert Whitman & Company where she focuses primarily on picture books. She is particularly drawn to stories that have layers of meaning and diversity. Some of the titles she’s acquired include Far Apart, Close in Heart, Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code, and Finding Christmas. Andrea started her publishing career at Pearson Education and is a former ARA of the Central and Southern Ohio Chapter of SCBWI.
Emily Clark Victorson is the publisher/editor of Allium Press of Chicago. After receiving degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Michigan she moved to the Chicago area. Prior to starting Allium Press she worked as a librarian, historian, and book designer for such organizations as the Newberry Library, the Chicago History Museum, and History Works, Inc.
Anna Michels is a Senior Editor at Sourcebooks, acquiring adult fiction and nonfiction. Anna is looking for a wide variety of books under the mystery/suspense/thriller umbrella, including psychological suspense, cozy mysteries, and contemporary crime fiction in the vein of Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis; book club fiction that hits the sweet spot between commercial and literary; and memoir by writers who connect the events of their lives to readers through incredible storytelling, as well as a wide variety of prescriptive and narrative nonfiction on both historical and contemporary topics.
You can’t tell a great story without great scenes, but this basic unit of storytelling often gets glossed over. What clever tricks can you use to juice your scenes with more impact and emotion? In the first half, Matt will work through his Scene Work checklist, then in the second half, he’ll move on to Theme. What’s the difference between theme and moral? How can you use ironic dilemmas to magnify the meaning of your story? Matt will bring lots of examples and some new videos.
Matt will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines for details.
Matthew Bird has an MFA from Columbia University, but a lot of the advice he hands out now is the opposite of what he was taught there. He is the author of the bestselling writing guide “The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers”, published in 2016 by Writer’s Digest Press. He lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife and two adorable children. Matt can be reached on his website: www.secretsofstory.com
All great literary thrillers have a few things in common: a streamlined plot, unrelenting tension, and complex characters. In this class, award-winning author Abby Geni will share her insights about how to write a page-turner, covering everything from plot architecture to unreliable narrators to red herrings. We will focus on infusing your work with tension through pacing, point of view, dialogue, description, characterization, and even setting. The literary thriller has something to teach writers working in any genre. We will talk about how to create a powerful inciting incident, how to deepen and strengthen your plot, and how to arrive at a satisfying ending.
Abby Geni is the Chicago-based author of The Wildlands (September 2018), The Lightkeepers, winner of the 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction and the Chicago Review of Books Awards for Best Fiction, and The Last Animal, an Indies Introduce Debut Writers Selection and finalist for the Orion Book Award. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Iowa Fellowship. Her website is www.abbygeni.com
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