Weekend Flash Sale: 15% Off @ Writing Workshops Dallas

We're having a weekend Flash Sale good for 15% Off any of our upcoming 8-Week classes that start this month. We've got great courses to choose from in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Screenwriting, and Online Classes. Just use discount code FLASH at checkout.

If you've already enrolled in one of our 8-week classes starting in October, we'd love for you to be our guest at an upcoming Seminar of your choosing. Simply contact us HERE and tell us which Seminar you'd like to attend for free (in-person or live stream).

Ideas that Work: Resonant Ideas by Ethan Chatagnier

What if blindness was contagious? What if everyone rode unicycles instead of bicycles? What if snow glowed in the dark? What if humans became unable to conceive children?

Most great ideas start with a “what if?”--but not all what-ifs are equal. Two of the ideas above are resonant, evocative. Two are not. Unicycle-world is quirky. There’s some magic to a world where snow glows. But neither is likely to strum a sympathetic chord within us. Neither is it tied to larger concerns and themes.

That’s what resonance is: the prolonging of a sound, the stretching of it. The way one frequency is tied to another.

Contagious blindness, the premise behind Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s Blindness, is connected to disaster and illness, to the idea of contagion, and the various metaphorical meanings of blindness.

The end of human conception resonates as well. Connected ideas: survival, fragility, sterility. Bonding and lack of bonding. Hope, or the end of it. Life and self-preservation. (This idea formed the basis for the book The Children of Men and its film adaptation).

Resonant ideas are a writer’s lifeblood. Always be on the lookout for them.

Five years ago, I listened to an interview with a pianist about playing music designed to be nearly impossible to play. I immediately thought “What if someone wrote music designed to actually be impossible to play?” Impossibility. Challenge. Composing. Performing. The difficulties and impossibilities of living any life.

It would be three years before I found the right form for that story, but it was on my mind the whole time. The idea hummed against other ideas.

When an idea does that, it means there is a story to be written, and that is what we will be looking at in my ONLINE Workshop: Finding Your Material in the Real World. You can learn more about this 5-week class, in which we will generate ideas for stories, by clicking on the button below. I hope you’ll join us!

Finding Your Material in the Real World

We tend to think of cooking as how you work a stove. Don’t let the chicken dry out. Don’t burn the garlic. Don’t overwork the pie dough.

What happens in the pan matters, of course, but it’s not the only thing that matters. You don’t have to watch many cooking shows before you hear a chef opine about the importance of working with quality ingredients. This refrain is as uniform in the culinary world as any piece of writing advice is in our literary world. And not for nothing: what could be more important to a dish than what it’s made out of?

To my mind, we often have a similar blindspot in the writing community. We focus on how to write this sentence, where to end the story, how to manage the pace. Only rarely do we speak of the other half of the process. As much art fails at the level of conception as it does at the level of execution. Stories are sometimes boring or overwrought because of the writing, but just as often the problem stems from an insufficient or poorly developed premise.

My upcoming ONLINE class, “Finding Your Material in the Real World,” is meant to remedy the lack of instruction devoted to finding and developing ideas. Improving the way you find and develop ideas can do as much to drive your writing forward as learning about drafting and revision. It can also be a lot of fun.

I hope to see some of you there. Click on the button below to learn more and register!

On Self Promotion & Not Apologizing For Your Work, by WWD Instructor Tori Telfer

For a long time, I felt guilty posting about my writing on the internet. And then I just stopped. I’m here to tell you that you should, too. (Stop, that is. By all means, keeping posting.)

I felt guilty because for a long time, I absorbed some not-so-helpful lessons from some not-so-helpful people, and one of those was that people shouldn’t promote themselves, that women shouldn’t promote themselves, and that “artists” certainly shouldn’t promote themselves. I was not innocent, either; over the years, I’ve cast my share of judgmental looks on people who are just out there hustling and trying to get eyes on their work. And I regret that.

I don’t know what changed last August—I suspect that, fueled by a dangerous amount of coffee and sweaty from shadowboxing, something within me just snapped—but out of nowhere, I decided to simultaneously promote my work as much as I wanted (Facebook! Instagram! Insta-Stories! Facebook again, one week later!) and to stop apologizing for all of it. It was a little bit nerve-wracking, because I heard voices in the back of my head: Ugh, she thinks she’s so-o-o impressive with her ARTICLES and her stupid BOOK. But I forced myself to ignore the voices and to just keep plugging along. Check out my latest. Come to my book signing. I believe in the article I just wrote. I think you’ll like it, too.  

It was actually an incredible relief. Suddenly, I was done: done feeling guilty that some people thought it was “weird” that I was writing about murder, or the law, or sickness, or people who believe in strange realities. Done feeling that I had to hide certain aspects of my work so that insecure people could feel better about theirs. Done with the weird freelancer apology dance: “Sorry for spamming you but here’s another article, it’s kinda long, no need to actually read it, LOL! Oh and while you’re at it, curious when my paycheck will arrive, not to bug you but it’s been four months, sorry for being a nag!”

Self-promotion for a writer—and especially a freelance writer—is nothing to be ashamed of, though plenty of people will try to make you feel ashamed, and small, and indulgent for doing it. Somewhere in the ether there’s this idea that art is made impure by the vulgar stuff of self-promotion. Of course, all that attitude does is keep a lot of artists firmly in the “starving” category, but I’ve seen people use that argument to justify their own lack of success, too. If you never go hard for your own work, you can never fail spectacularly, and you can convince yourself that the world simply doesn’t understand you.

But the hard-but-liberating truth of the matter is that no one is out there thinking, “Man, if I could just find a really great and kinda cute and self-deprecating writer to hand this fantastic opportunity to…” It took me a long time to truly realize in my bones that no one was carefully watching me from afar, waiting to hand me a trust fund/staff writer position. Quite the opposite. Last year, I found out that a man I once interviewed is in talks with a producer to have a movie made about his life. Another girl that I interviewed went viral because of my story and is now an international model. In both cases, I, the writer, was simply the conduit. Which I’m happy to be! (I don’t think I deserve to be an international model! I think often the writer should only be the conduit!) But both of these situations reminded me that, career-wise, I have to be my own best spokesperson. No one’s going to read my article and approach me to write the screenplay; they’re going to go straight to the source. I have to be my own mouthpiece; I have to create (and argue for) my own value.

As a freelancer, as a writer, as a woman who is frequently assumed to be just kinda vaguely available all the time, it is vital that I’m in my own corner. I have incredibly supportive people in my life —and not a day goes by when I am not hugely grateful for it all—but I don’t have a company behind me, or any source of income that is not a direct result of my work, or any safety nets other than the love and coffee-making skills of my family and friends. I have to be my own publicist, financial advisor, and racker-up of hustle stats. Like most writers, I am a one-woman show: there’s just one slightly overwhelmed woman over here doing all the pitching, writing, editing, copywriting, press release crafting, social media posting, newsletter sending, Excel spreadsheet-keeping, tax paying, financial plotting, goal-setting stuff of it. Because of all that work, my business generates product. I won’t apologize for the product’s existence, or the fact that I’m trying to get eyeballs on it.

Of course there are ways to promote yourself poorly: constant spamming, tasteless posts screeched in the middle of national pain, the time Lindsey Lohan posted a sexy selfie and then tried to write about ISIS in her caption. But over all my attitude toward art, which is to say work, is that the best thing to do is to do it really well and really shrewdly. The hustle, the self-promotion, the self-confidence, the paycheck then allows you to craft the sort of life you want, donate to the causes you believe in, pour energy into being a good partner, family member, and friend, COMPOST EVERY SCRAP OF FOOD WASTE YOU CAN, and generally help others. So go ahead, post that link on Facebook, and then in your newsletter, and then again on Twitter. Your work has value—and let’s be honest, we’re all too broke to afford a full-time publicist. So get out there and promote it.

And, in the interest of self promotion, I'm teaching an ONLINE class for Writing Workshops Dallas on Longform Journalism that starts on April 16th. Check it out here.

 PS: Follow me on Instagram. (“No! Days! Off!”)

Tori Telfer is the author of Lady Killers, published by Harper Perennial in 2017.

How to Develop Memorable Characters, by WWD Instructor Amber Royer

I'm leading a seminar on March 11th called Writing Characters People Get Attached To, which you can register for here. I've got a few things to say about this because I'm obsessed with great characters as a reader and a writer.

If you're an avid reader, you know that feeling when you get to the end of a really good book – or worse, the end of your favorite series – and you want to read slower just to avoid having to acknowledge that you’re about to reach the last page. When you close the book, you know you'll be sad, no matter how it ends for the characters, because while you can presume they will go on with their fictional lives, you won’t get to share in any more of their adventures. 

So what is it that gives fiction the ability to affect us like that? Why do readers write fan fiction, cosplay as their favorite characters, petition writers to return to a fictional world or keep a series going? In short, why do we get attached? 

And, more importantly, as writers, how can we write the kind of fiction that will generate that kind of emotional response? It all comes back to character, of course.  It’s been said that character is story. We don’t care about brilliant world-building or lush, gorgeous prose if these things aren’t affecting someone we have bonded with. And chances are, if we haven’t bonded with the protagonist of a story the first time we meet them on the page, we’re never going to get properly attached. 

I know that sounds like a lot to ask for from a first meeting. But is it really

Say you meet someone in real life at a cocktail party. They’re having a bad day, and they come across as mean and nosy (or a braggart, or disorganized and incompetent). How hard does that person have to work to overcome a negative first impression?  Super hard, right? That’s because our brains are hard-wired to make judgments, and we’ve learned the hard way that wasting our time cultivating relationships with the wrong people will only leave us betrayed and disappointed (or at the very least, annoyed). 

Let’s take as an example Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Imagine that this scene is our first view of Emma, which shows her calling Miss Bates, an awkward woman of a lower social class, a fool just to get a laugh from her friends (this is actually the low point Emma reaches, fallout from which makes her think she has lost her love interest). The entire group has gone on a picnic together, and they are trying to entertain themselves, but the conversation is lagging.

"It will not do," whispered Frank to Emma; "they are most of them affronted. I will attack them with more address. Ladies and gentlemen—I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse to say, that she waives her right of knowing exactly what you may all be thinking of, and only requires something very entertaining from each of you, in a general way. Here are seven of you, besides myself, (who, she is pleased to say, am very entertaining already,) and she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated—or two things moderately clever—or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."

"Oh! very well," exclaimed Miss Bates, "then I need not be uneasy. 'Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I?—(looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)—Do not you all think I shall?"

Emma could not resist.

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once."

Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.

As readers, we would see Emma as cold and callous, prone to mocking others. When we meet Knightly, the love interest, we would consider him a fool for thinking so highly of Emma and sincerely hope that he realizes his mistake before it is too late and he proposes. Everything we see Emma do after that would be colored by our assumptions about her self-centeredness, and we would be waiting for Knightly to see the truth, too.  Which is not at all the story Austen wanted to tell.  She wanted to talk about a good-hearted young woman who doesn’t realize the dangers of matchmaking, and can’t see the love right in front of her that can fulfill her own life.  Our hypothetical Emma wouldn’t be nearly as memorable. Why? We wouldn’t trust our impressions of her. Even though technically it would be the same character, we wouldn’t be able to attach to her in the same way.

We can sometimes overcome a bad first impression in real life by building up a course of future actions that show who we really are. But fictional characters? Readers assume that they are in the character’s mind and heart on the page, so they’re also going to assume that the impression they are getting is accurate (which is why unreliable narrators are so hard to pull off without the reader feeling tricked). It will take a lot to change that. This is why you have the “Save the Cat” moment when introducing a less than likable character. (This is a technique from screenwriting, popularized by Blake Snyder, in which the character shows kindness or the glimmer of being a hero -- sometimes literally saving a cat from a tree.) Our first impression of the character needs to show her potential for positive change, if positive change is going to be part of her arc.

But what if the character ISN’T a nice person? How do you get the reader to attach to an anti-hero? That’s just one of the things we’re going to talk about in my seminar on March 11th, Writing Characters People Get Attached To. We'll also focus on understanding character agency and character arcs, and creating characters that feel like real living, breathing people.  I hope to see you there!

Zap, Pow, Bam: On Writing Flash Non/Fiction, by WWD Instructor Cara Benson

Zap, Pow, Bam!

Those words exploded on the screen of my youth (and maybe yours, too) during the famously cheesy fight scenes in the Batman TV series. I loved them. Their primal colors and expanding letters syncing with horn blares, punctuating the show with such onomatopoetic pleasure – who could resist? It was the psychedelic 60’s on the heels of the afrofuturism that began in the 50’s, and the art and streets were in full rebellion against, well, you name it.

This is an oversimplification, of course, times and people being what they are — complicated and variable. Besides, I didn’t know any of that then. Heck, I wasn’t even born when the episode at the bottom of this post first aired. But I am looking back on those scenes, overlaying them with colorized scrims of meaning for myself.

Why am I doing this? Because I’ve been ruminating on small packages of words that convey a lot with a little. In a word, I’m thinking about FLASH. Also known as sudden, micro, mini, prose poem and hybrid, flash pieces are writing of up to about 1500 words. We might think of them as works that make their own small screens and then fill them. My first book, (made), is a concatenated collection of such writing. Bhanu Kapil called a it “magical dictionary….It’s not trajectory. It’s not narrative. It’s vibration.” (Thanks, Bhanu!)

In these shorter works, the words do extra work. They do vibrate together. And so we must pay extra attention to how they are fitting together. And yet, we can also shoot out of the cannon without worrying we will fall to the ground before hitting our target because we do not have to go as far as we do in the short story or essay or novella or, god forbid, the book. So much possibility in brevity! Which isn’t to say that we need to think of truncating our expression; hardly. We can think of it as an explosion onto the page.

That’s one way, anyway. I also adore flash that sneaks up on me. Or quietly and kaleidoscopically turns around its subject creating prisms on the walls in the room in which I’m reading. There are so many modes for making in this form. I’m back to working on a few of them of late as helpmates to the multimedia novel I’ve been writing for a handful of years now. They serve to give me a sense of completion while I spend the majority of my days with the sense of leaving everything unfinished each time I shut down my computer.

And so I decided to share my process. To that end, I’ve created a Flash Writing workshop for Writing Workshops Dallas. Come write with me! You can respond in fiction or CNF (creative non-fiction). It’s online so you can join in from anywhere. We will read, write, critique, and discuss these gems and also cover avenues for publishing. A one-on-one consultation with me on your work is included.

All the details are here at Writing Workshops Dallas, which starts on April 9th.

GUEST BLOG POST by Cara Benson originally appeared on her Blog.