Details, readings for my “Master Class in Popular Fiction” at Boston’s Grub Street

Posted: July 27, 2011 in Articles, Books, Grub Street Boston, Master Class in Popular Fiction, Smart Page-Turner, Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing

Hi, Everyone!

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.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); Tracy Letts‘ play BUG; one of Lee Child‘s Reacher novels; Mark Boal‘s screenplay for The Hurt Locker.

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.

Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One; a short story by P. G. Wodehouse; John Le Carre, maybe Absolute Friends  or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Russell Braddon, The Year of the Angry Rabbit.

5. Pacing

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.

David Morrell, First Blood or The Totem; Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, or From Russia, with Love or Live and Let Die.

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?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs.

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.

Peter Straub, “A Short Guide to the City”; Hubert Selby, Last Exit to Brooklyn or The Demon; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).

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.

Patrick Süskind, Perfume; Elizabeth Kata, A Patch of Blue.

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.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a story from her collection American Salvage; Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man.

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

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