Below is a tentative list of topics and readings for my upcoming Master Class in Popular Fiction at Boston’s Grub Street, which will meet for 10 Mondays at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston from 6:30 to 9:30 starting on September 19.
There’s a lot more here than will be assigned, but these are the things I’m thinking about. I’ll be making final decisions over the next few weeks. Some works will make the final cut. Some won’t. But here’s the lay of land as it exists right now. For the most part, we’ll be reading the first few opening chapters (or scenes, in the case of plays and screenplays) of longer, full-length works.
Having said that though, we’ll be reading two novels in their entirety. One will definitely be Daphne du Maurier‘s classic Rebecca. Then we’ll either read Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it; if you’re squeamish, you can skip the scary parts!) or Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it) or one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it).
1. Writing with Purpose
Ever find yourself reading something written by an author who just doesn’t feel involved or invested in his or her work? We’ll look at writers who really know how to sink their teeth into their material, and find ways to emulate their focus and intent.
A short story by Robert E. Howard (don’t know which one, yet!); Rex Miller, Slob; Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
2.Suspense and Tension
What the hell is suspense? What the hell is tension? We’re told they’re important to maintain. But what are they made of? What are their components? We’ll take a look.
3. What’s NOT Said
Since this is an advanced class, we’ll assume you have some of the basics of dialogue down. What we’re going to look at here is how some writers are really good at communicating dumptrucks full of emotional information by what is not said, through their ability to decide what their characters are holding back or are saying ambiguously.
Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); David Mamet‘s play, Oleanna; John Patrick Shanley’s play and screenplay Doubt; Judith Guest, Ordinary People and Alvin Sargent & Nancy Dowd‘s screenplay for the film, Ordinary People.
4. Satire and Hyperbole
When you take something emotionally real and blow it up, you’re using the same tool that humorists use, even when you’re not writing about something particularly funny. We’ll look at the ways that satire and hyperbole can be used to be funny and tragic.
What?! There’s a freakin’ asteroid heading to downtown Los Angeles, and this author decides to hobble the flow by throwing in a love scene? NO! We’ll look at ways to keep the action and the narrative moving.
6. Using Stanislavsky
Actors have a whole bunch of great tools to get into character’s heads. So… why can’t authors use those tools, too?
7. The Unreal City
To really use an urban setting, even to use it in a work of realism, you have to tap a really unique sense of the unreal. Poets like Baudelaire and TS Eliot figured this out. And so have a few really great prose authors.
8. The Wilderness
When you have characters in the wilderness, the real struggle isn’t always with the external wilderness, but the inner one. We’ll look at ways to tap that struggle.
Robert B. Parker, Wilderness; Michael Chricton, Jurassic Park; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).
9. Come to Your Senses!
We live in a media environment that’s defined by sound and images coming out of screens and speakers. A lot of writers have let their other sense atrophy, so that it feels like they’re just writing screenplays in prose form. We’ll look at ways to use the other senses we have to punch up our storytelling.
10. Negative Space
“Negative space” is a technique filmmakers use to define something important by surrounding it with emptiness, by letting the void around the important thing in a shot give it defining shape. We’ll look at ways to use this concept in writing, to make things that are not there in the prose more important, and meaningful, than the things that are there.
To get more information about enrollment, you can check out the Grub Street page dedicated to the class here. If you want to know about some of my teaching strategies, click here. To find out a bit more about me, click here. If you have any specific questions about the class, e-mail me directly at profmike AT mindspring DOT com