Thought I’d post the week-by-week breakdown of my new class at Grub Street in Boston, REVENGE of the Smart Page-Turner! which will run for 10 weeks at Grub HQ in Boston on Mondays from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM beginning on January 10, 2013. Here’s the official Grub Street class description:
The newest addition to Grub’s ground-breaking series of classes that combine the best of literary fiction with the punch of popular and genre storytelling. In this course, students will get serious “hands on” instruction that applies the characteristics of three archetypal figures from pop fiction–the Detective, the Outsider, and the Thief–to the actual process of writing fiction. The goal for students is to acquire a practical set of writing tools that can make scenes and narratives dynamic, emotionally involving and intelligent. Special attention will be given to strategies that can rework familiar pop fiction tropes so they can be used in fresh and innovative ways, which will entail a multi-week analysis of Suzanne Collins’ YA bestseller The Hunger Games. There will also be analysis of how the techniques of great screenwriters like Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), Joseph Stefano (Psycho) and David Mamet can be applied to the “nuts and bolts” of writing popular fiction, be it romance, supernatural, adventure, thriller, crime fiction, science-fiction, erotica, etc. Individual class time will be devoted to the workshopping of portions of novels and/or short fiction. While this class expands upon topics covered in Grub’s “Writing the Smart-Page Turner” and “The Smart Page-Turner Strikes Back!” classes, it is open to all but recommended for those with previous workshop experience. Students should come ready and eager to read a variety of materials across a broad spectrum of taste, from Pulitzer-winning fiction to meat-and-potatoes paperback potboilers. Students should expect to be workshopped 1-2 times over the course of ten weeks, depending on the class size.
Please note that this is not a finalized list of readings and other materials selected for the course.
1. The Skill of Noticing
Ever notice that really good writers… well… notice a lot of things? The layout of a room? Clothing? Character quirks? Things that just ring true? Noticing things like these is a developed skill. We’ll start this course with a close look at how to look at things in ways that strengthen your writing.
Edgar Allen Poe, “Man of the Crowd”; National Book Award Winner Bonnie Jo Campbell, “Boar Taint”; Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Strout, “Criminal”
2. Positioning Yourself for the Right P.O.V.
Great! We’ve learned how to notice! But is noticing really observing? Contextualizing what you’ve observed is an important writing skill, too. We’ll look at ways to choose the right narrative “vantage point” that will make your writing richer and more resonant. In particular, we’ll look at the ways in which the use of outsiders and thieves as characters in the works we’ll cover gives the authors of those works unique opportunities to dig into human nature.
Christopher Nolan’s film Following [NOTE–This film is available streaming on Netflix and via IFC OnDemand, if not enough students have access to these resources, we may screen it in class]; maybe Jack Schaefer’s Western Classic Shane; Roland Topor, The Tenant; Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back,
3. Polishing the Turd–Practical Approaches to the Rewrite
Legend has it Steinbeck once said, “I’m not a good writer. I’m a good re-writer.” We’ll find ways to add/or subtract the right elements from a work by looking at the different tools that screenwriters and prose writers use to tell the same story. A re-write is basically an adaptation of a first draft, almost in the same way a screenplay can be an adaptation of a prose work and a novelization can be a prose adaptation of a screenplay.
Joseph Stefano’s teleplay “A Feasibility Study”; Michael Marano, “A Feasibility Study”
4. Set Decorating
One of the most common problems with new writers is the so-called “White Room Syndrome”, a failure of imagination on the part of the writer that makes it seem as if the characters are functioning in a vacuum. We’ll take another look at the readings and other materials we’ve gone over so far to pick out the ways that these writers and screenwriters have enriched their settings and characters through the use of specific and carefully chosen details.
5. The Art of the Mash-Up: Plots and Sub-Plots
How do you create sub-plots that work with your main plot, and don’t feel tacked on? How do you resolve your main plot, without leaving your sub-plot dangling? We’ll look at ways to weave your plots and sub-plots together so that that they feel like a unified, integrated whole. In particular, we’ll look at the ways that Oscar winner Paul Haggis could take individual stories by F.X. Toole, each with their own plots and story arcs, and weave them together into one great narrative, his screenplay for Million Dollar Baby.
F.X. Toole, “Frozen Water” and “Million $ Baby”; Paul Haggis‘ screenplay for Million Dollar Baby
6. How to Steal, Part I
There are, after all, only seven plots. How do you tell your story and make it stand on its own? We’ll look in detail at a great recent Smart Page-Turner, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and dissect its component parts so we can see the actual mechanics of how to pinch ideas and reconfigure them in kinda awesome ways.
Robert Sheckley, “The Prize of Peril” and The 10th Victim; Suzanne Collins,The Hunger Games [Note–We’ll be reading this YA book in its entirety, so please purchase a copy or get it out of the library.]
7. How to Steal, Part II
We’ll continue what we started last week, with particular emphasis on using some of the skills we’ve covered in the class so far to craft our own unique takes on the Seven Universal Plots.
Collins, The Hunger Games [con’t]; An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; Bruce Joel Rubin‘s screenplay Jacob’s Ladder; Sunil Sadanand, “Waiting Period”
8. Watching the Detectives
We all love detective stories, but what does a detective do? A detective connects disparate elements to piece together a description of what has happened. Isn’t that also what a writer does? We’ll look at a great work of detective fiction for ways to piece together killer plots, anecdotes, scenes and character sketches.
James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss; David Seidler’s screenplay for The King’s Speech
9. The Epic Voice in Pop Fiction
So… you’ve got a third-person narrator for your work. How do you give that third-person narrator a voice with a real personality that’s suited to your narrative? We’ll find ways to do just that, plundering tricks that have worked for writers from ancient Greece all the way to the production offices of Mad Men.
William Goldman, Marathon Man; Jack Ketchum, “The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard”
10. Creating Tension
Ever read a scene that just sits there, on the page? We’ll find ways to use tension and urgency to hook battery clamps to a dead scene to make the little bugger dance.
Thomas Harris, Hannibal; David Mamet’s first-draft screenplay for the film version of Hannibal; Aaron Sorkin, “Pilot Episode” teleplay for The West Wing.
To enroll, see the listing at Grub Street here. Thanks so much! Post below if you have any questions.