Archive for the ‘Smart Page-Turner’ Category

Hey, Folks!

After some brainstorming on the part of Grub Street and myself, the core of what I’d previous mentioned would be my Master Class in Pop Fiction has been re-tooled into a new Level II, Intermediate class called… The Smart Page-Turner RELOADED! Students no longer have to apply to the class, as they would for a master-level class.

The Official Grub Listing is here:

http://tinyurl.com/3ctj92f

Cost is $430 for Grub Members, $455.00 for Non-Members. Registration deadline is September 15, 2011. Class will meet for 10 Mondays from 6:30-9:30pm at Grub Street headquarters. Begins September 19th.

Below is a tentative list of topics and readings; there’s a lot more material here than will be assigned, but these are the things I’m thinking about. I’ll be making final decisions soon. Some works will make the final cut. Some won’t. But here’s the lay of the 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 or screenplays) of longer, full-length works.

We’ll be reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in its entirety, so if you want to sign up, track down a copy or get it out of the library.

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

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, 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.

Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, Planet of the Apes; Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One; a short story by P. G. Wodehouse; John Le Carre, 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 sign up,  contact Grub Street here: http://tinyurl.com/3ctj92f

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

Just wanted to to announce my NEW class at Boston’s Grub Street, one of the largest independent centers for creative writing in the United States. This will be officially published on the Grub Street website soon. But here’s a preview! I’ll also be publishing a more detailed overview here, soon.

Master Class in Popular Fiction

10 Mondays from 6:30-9:30pm at Grub Street headquarters in Downtown Boston, near the Park Street Subway Stop. Begins September 19th.

Description:

This class will give serious writers of short and novel-length popular fiction a versatile, practical tool-kit for adding literary dimensions to their work–be it SF, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Satire, etc. Intended for students who are preparing or ready to submit their work professionally, the emphasis of this class, taught by an experienced editor, award-winning author and critic, will be on peer workshopping, creating viable strategies for submitting your work to the right venues, lectures and in-class exercises. Issues such as pacing and structuring of scenes will be covered. Works of smart, novel-length popular fiction will be closely examined in whole or in part in order to demonstrate ways in which specific tools taught in class can be applied. Some works of pop fiction will be examined as demonstrations of what not to do. There will also be lessons on re-purposing the story-telling techniques of playwrights, screen and television writers to prose fiction. Participation in this class is by submission only. To apply, please submit a 10-15 page novel excerpt or sample of short fiction to rowan@grubstreet.org by 12:00pm on Wednesday, August 31st.

Some people have been asking me about my use of screenplays and teleplays in my new Revenge of the Smart Page-Turner class at Boston’s Grub Street. Why am I using so many materials not written in prose for a prose-writing class? There are a few reasons.

* A fresh set of eyes. When you’re a prose writer taking apart stuff written for another medium, it forces you to look at the techniques being used from another, fresh perspective. There’s a bit of intimidation when you’re trying to pinch techniques from writers like Cheever. When you look at how a screenwriter can take the themes Cheever explored and keep them intact in another format, you can glean some awesome new strategies that you can apply to your crafting of fiction.

* Problem solving. Screenwriters and teleplay writers have to be practical. They have a great “tool kit” for telling stories and developing character, usually on really tight deadlines. If you steal from their really versatile set of tools, you can avoid getting stuck in your prose writing, and create scenes that are not stuffy and/or un-dramatic.

* 20/20 collaborative hindsight. Screenwriting and teleplay writing are inherently collaborative. Screenwriters and teleplay writers have to work with directors, actors, set designers, etc. What does this have to do with writing prose? When you look at what directors, actors, set designers, etc. contribute to what screenplay and teleplay writers have written, you can come up with kick-ass ideas for character-and-plot-enriching nuggets to add to your prose.

* A lot are just damned good writers. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, every good writer steals. A lot of screenplay and teleplay writers are, frankly, just really freakin’ good storytellers. If you’re gonna steal, steal from some of the best.

Revenge of the Smart Page-Turner will meet for 10 Wednesday-night sessions from 6:30-9:30, starting on April 6th at Grub Street Headquarters in Boston. To sign up, click here. Last day to enroll is the 6th.

Here’s a testimonial from a former student who took an earlier version of my Revenge of the Smart Page-Turner Class, before it became a formal Grub Street offering:

“If only every teacher had the passion of Mike. He brings his rich background of book and film knowledge–and experience–and uses them to create classes that are a joy to attend. His comments on your writing are thoughtful, sincere, and designed to make you strengthen your writing muscles–no matter how developed or atrophied they may be.” John D.

You can sign up here http://tinyurl.com/2vb9a8s
Or look at a week-by-week breakdown of the class here

WAIT! Can it be? A new Grub Class from Mike? REVENGE of the Smart Page-Turner! IT’S TRUE! More details coming soon, but in the meantime, here’s the Grub Street listing:

http://tinyurl.com/2vb9a8s

(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.