Topics/Readings for “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” at Grub Street

Posted: January 6, 2011 in ChiZine, Grub Street Boston, horror fiction, Shibboleth, Smart Page-Turner, Teaching, Writing

(UPDATED August 1, 2016)

Hey, Everyone! Just posting  for my students the topics I’ll be covering and the possible readings I’ll be assigning in my upcoming Grub Street class “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” The first class session will be on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston. The class will run at that time for ten weeks, with the final class taking place on Nov. 16, 2016. 

(If this seems like a lot of readings, keep in mind the lists below are tentative. I’m not going to assign them all!)

Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing center dedicated to nurturing writers and connecting readers with the wealth of writing talent in the Boston area. For more information on Grub Street, click here.

1. Creating Strong Imagery

How do you create effective imagery? How do you make imagery that’s truly yours? How do you find the right way to express a specific idea? We’ll take a look at different techniques for creating imagery that suits your plot, your characters, and your premise in ways that will make your writing strong and vibrant.

Tentative readings: Robert Leslie Bellum, “Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective”; Ray Bradbury, “Long After Midnight”; Joyce Carol Oates, “Did You Ever Slip on Red Blood?”; Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Junot Diaz, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men.

2. Tracking Plot(s)

There’s more than one kind of plot. There’s the narrative plot, and that can include multiple threads. But there can also be also the symbolic plot, the thematic plot, the emotional plot…  how do you develop and co-ordinate them all? We’ll come up with different ways to stay on top of your plot(s) so that none of them get away from you.

Tentative readings: Daphne Du Maurier “Don’t Look Now”; John Gardner Freddy’s Book (1980) or Nickel Mountain (1973), and a short story submitted to the magazine I edit that illustrates through the editorial process it went through how there are several _kinds_ of plot.

3. Tracking Themes

Just as plots can have a lot of threads, so can themes. How do you weave several ideas into a whole? How do you keep track of all your ideas and incorporate them into your work without having the seams show? Or, worse yet, seem like you’re getting on a soapbox? We’ll look at ways to cook ideas so that they’re integrated into your story and don’t clutter your plotting.

Tentative readings: Mickey Spillane, My Gun is Quick; Shirley Jackson, TBD; Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories .

4. Harnessing the Weird

How do you use the unreal, the bizarre, in ways that are intriguing, but that won’t alienate the reader? How do you ground the bizarre in the real so you can use it in your fiction? We’ll figure out how to balance the everyday with the off-kilter so that they play off of and compliment each other.

Tentative readings: Justin Haythe, The Honeymoon; Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye; Hubert Selby, The Room, or Requiem for a Dream, or The Demon (1976);  Rosellen Brown, “The Only Way to Make It in New York” (1974).

5. Incorporating the Real

How do make everyday things dynamic? How do you add your own personal spin to the mundane in a way that makes for compelling as fiction? We’ll take a look at how two views of the same world (1950s suburbia) can create two wildly different fictional realities.

Tentative readings: Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road; Philip K. Dick, “The Father-Thing”.

6. Happy Endings?

How do you finish a story, rather than just have it just… stop? What makes an ending a real ending, and not just a narrative running out of steam? We’ll look at ways to keep your eyes on the prize of a memorable resolution while dealing with those pesky beginnings and middles.

Tentative readings: John Cheever, “The Five Forty-Eight”; Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes; Harper Lee, the last chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960); Richard Matheson, “Night Call” short story and teleplay.

7. Starting a Story

How do you make the beginning of a story a real grabber of a beginning, and not an incident that just happens to be front-loaded in your narrative? We’ll figure out ways to make the kick-off of your story the first of a sequence of incidents that that hook the reader.

Tentative readings: John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Jack Ketchum, The Lost (2001); Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love; Douglas Fairbairn, SHOOT (1973); JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; the opening 26 Minutes of The Godfather screenplay; Don Stuart “Who Goes There?” compared to its screenplay adaptation.

8. Violence and Action Scenes

How do you write action scenes and violence without just re-hashing, in prose form, things we see in the movies? How do you make action and violence seem real? We’ll take close looks at the ways writers make action and violence immediate and visceral.

Tentative readings: Jon F. Merz, “Prisoner 392”; Conrad, “Youth”;  David Morrell ,First Blood or The Totem; Richard Matheson’s short story “Duel” compared to Matheson’s teleplay adaptation of same.

9. Generating Conflict and Creating Good Villains

Plots need conflict. But how do you put characters into conflict in ways that are natural, and not forced? We’ll figure out methods to get the various characters in your work to lock horns, and go over ways to make your villains worthy of your protagonists (and vice versa).

Tentative readings: Gerald Walker, Cruising; Alan Moore, Watchmen; Raymond Chandler short stories; Elfriede Jelinek, TBD; Star Trek: Countdown graphic novel; William Faulkner, Sanctuary.

10. Research Techniques

How do you hunt down facts that enrich the story you’re trying to tell? Do you hunt down facts to buttress your plot? Or do hunt down facts to help you come up with plot points? Do you do both? We’ll come up with ways to put facts in your fiction so that they enrich what you write, and not read the copy from a Discovery Channel special jammed into your story.

Tentative readings: Marano, “Shibboleth”; Patrick Susskind, Perfume; Cori Crooks , Sweet Charlotte’s Seventh Mistake.


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