September 13, 2017
$360 | 10 Weeks
Discover how to elevate your creative nonfiction storytelling techniques – from structure to style — in this 10-week online course with author, editor, and educator Wendy Call. Access her insights and direct, specific weekly feedback on your writing from anywhere in the world.
Co-editor of the best-selling anthology Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide and author of the award-winning book No Word for Welcome, Wendy guides students through developing a project (up to 3,000 words) from first idea to final polish. She welcomes writers working in all nonfiction subgenres, including memoir, lyric and personal essays, travel writing, and literary journalism. While intermediate and advanced writers will benefit most, this course also can inspire emerging authors just beginning to explore this rich style.
Over ten weeks, the course explores eight essential elements of successful creative nonfiction. A written “lecture” posted on Monday morning explores the week’s craft element in detail, supplies short readings from literature, offers writing prompts, gives a short assignment, and suggests a bibliography for further exploration.
Course readings include excerpts from the works of nonfiction masters: James Baldwin, Jo Ann Beard, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Eduardo Galeano, Zora Neale Hurston, Rubén Martínez, George Orwell, Luis Alberto Urrea, Alice Walker, and David Foster Wallace. Through online discussion, we will discover how to apply their tools of the trade to our own writing projects. We’ll also review craft essays by Vivian Gornick, Adam Hochschild, Phillip Lopate, Brenda Miller, Sue William Silverman, and others.
Finally, we’ll roll up our sleeves and get to writing, applying new skills to our nonfiction prose. Students will post assignments weekly, receiving detailed critiques from Wendy, plus commentary from the class. (That is to say, this is a workshop setting. Your writing will be reviewed by several of your peers and made available to everyone in the class. Wendy’s feedback on your work will also be shared with the group.)
Please plan on at least five to six hours a week for this class: two hours reviewing the lecture and readings, two to three hours per assignment, and another hour or two for critiquing your peers’ work and participating in the online discussion forum.
Note: This class concentrates on writing craft, not publishing. We will not devote time to pitches, approaching editors and agents, or other freelancing concerns.
Week #1: Crafting Good Questions ~ What can I write about?
Every true story begins with a question the writer wants to answer. Every successful story ends with the reader learning something new. In our first week together, we’ll read craft essays from several well-known writers on how they find the perfect story idea, and then we’ll seek out our own.
Assignment: Generate a list of ideas for true stories you would like to write, each one with a question that you will answer for the reader — and for yourself.
Week #2: Research Strategies ~ How can I discover what I need to know?
No matter what sort of information you need, this class can help you find it. From ten-year-old court records to three-hundred-year-old manuscripts, where there’s a will, there’s almost always a way. Our reading this week will be a tour of research and library sources, both on and offline, as well as tips for interviewing.
Assignment: Devise research questions. Describe what you need to know in order to complete the story you have chosen. Then, offer feedback to your peers on how they might find what they need to know. Wendy’s feedback this week will be ideas for how to answer your research questions. (Obscure questions most welcome!)
Week #3: Narrative Arc ~ What makes a good (true) story?
Now that we have done some research, how can we mold that material into a story? How do you create a narrative arc? Why have one, anyway? Should it be overt or covert? Inspired by examples from master storyteller Eduardo Galeano, we’ll build sturdy structures for our stories.
Assignment: Plot the narrative arc for a story you are telling, then describe your plan to your peers.
Week #4: First-Person Narrator ~ Just who is telling this story, anyway?
We’ll delve into the multi-faceted role of the first-person narrator in nonfiction prose. Looking at examples from Zora Neale Hurston, Bob Shacochis, and Alice Walker, we’ll explore the differences between the author, the first-person narrator, and the “I-character” that appear on the page.
Assignment: Write a “character sketch” of your first–person narrator. That is to say, not you-in-the-world, but the “you” who appears on the page.
Week #5: Character Development ~ Who gets to star in my story?
Character development is just as important in nonfiction as it is in fiction. This week, we’ll explore this crucial question: How do we make compelling characters out of real people – without making anything up? Examples from Jo Ann Beard, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Sandra Cisneros will guide our work.
Assignment: Answer a series of twenty questions about a real-life character. Turn those answers into a character sketch.
Week #6: Putting the Tools To Work ~ Developing Your Draft
You will devote this week to developing your story draft and asking questions about anything that comes up for you as you write.
Assignment: Turn in a full draft of the story you have chosen to tell (up to 3,000 words).
Week #7: True-to-Life Scenes ~ How can I make a (good) scene?
We’ll talk about what goes into a powerful scene in creative nonfiction (one or more characters taking action in a specific setting). Looking at examples of strong scenes by Annie Dillard, Rubén Martínez, and a favorite writer of your choosing, we’ll break those scenes down into their component parts. Then, we’ll build our own.
Assignment: Work your way through a twelve-step process (this one is fun!) to create a fully rendered scene on the page.
Week #8: Self-Editing Techniques ~ How can I tell the best story possible?
This week, we’ll each review the work we’ve produced over the previous seven weeks (and feedback received on the Week #6 draft) and begin to revise. Informed by examples of how Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway revised their work, we’ll explore the four different levels of editing (developmental, substantive, copyediting and proofreading), and learn why it’s important to separate them.
Wendy will offer you two-dozen self-editing exercises to revise and improve your prose. You will learn how to create your own, personalized “self-editing checklist.”
Assignment: No assignment (or peer feedback) this week, just an open forum for discussion as you work on your final drafts and try out self-editing tools.
Week #9: In the Home Stretch ~ Finalizing Your Draft
This week will be devoted to completing your story revision. Feel free to ask for guidance as you do!
Assignment: Submit a completed piece of literary nonfiction (all subgenres welcome) of up to 3,000 words for feedback from Wendy and from your peers.
Week #10: That Elusive Thing Called “Style” ~ How do I find my true writer’s voice?
How do they do it? How do writers create voices on the page so singular that we recognize them immediately? We’ll look at short examples from literary giants Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace and parse their styles, as well as read what poet Emily Hiestand and master editor Ben Yagoda have to say on the twin subjects of style and voice.
Assignment: Complete a few exercises that explore the literary styles of different writers, then scrutinize examples of one another’s writing, as we explore the individual voices we each bring to our nonfiction.
“It was phenomenal! Immeasurably valuable to my writing progress (on too many levels to list). I was ecstatic to gain possession of what I now view as my ‘Go-To Creative Nonfiction Primer Workshop’ book.”
“Great class! Wendy builds a sense of community with the students, and provides precise individual feedback and excellent lessons.”
“Ten excellent weeks of writing, critique, and exchange! This class provided me with the tools to continue developing and editing stories on my own.”
“Wendy’s broad sensibilities in responding to workshop participants of various levels of writing skills, life experience, and communication styles, was as instructive to me as the overall workshop. Wendy is a great teacher.”