“The literature of imagination, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives and therefore it offers hope.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin
Fantastical literature is as ancient as story itself, yet still pervasive today. In the four thousand years between the Epic of Gilgamesh and A Game of Thrones, fantasy fiction has inspired the human imagination, given us the courage to battle our own demons, to brave the impossible, and to help us to understand in profound new ways what it is to be human.
This four-week course will include lecture, group discussion, in-class readings, and group exercises. Students will complete conceptually-oriented, take-home writing challenges, either examining and tweaking their own existing story-worlds or conjuring new ones, all from a big-picture perspective.Weekly progress on these exercises will be shared with the class for constructive feedback. Topics covered in the course will include the modern roots of fantasy and its branching sub-genres; the Hero's’ Journey universal story structure used from ancient myth to Hollywood; techniques and guidelines for magic and world-building, and how to keep fantasy fresh and relevant in a rapidly evolving world. Students of all levels are welcome.
Raising the Stakes!
What is the one thing your protagonist must accomplish? What happens if they fail? Why should the audience care?
These are some of the hard questions this course will have students ask of their own work. Taking a macro-level approach to story, it will guide students in fine-tuning the key narrative components that grip audiences and keep them coming back for more. Universal components useful to all writers across the genre spectrum, from literary to popular fiction.
This four-week course will include lecture, group discussion, and in-class readings. Students will complete conceptually-oriented, take-home writing challenges, examining and tweaking their stories from a big-picture perspective. Weekly progress on these exercises will be shared with the class for constructive feedback.
The moment a narrative parts from the familiar laws of reality is certainly a magic one. When done masterfully, an author's use of magic can sweep the reader up in a torrent of powerful emotions: wonder, horror, excitement, dissonance. But just as easily, the reader could refuse to suspend her disbelief and give up on the story altogether.
This four-week course will study widely varied approaches and examples of magic from masters across the genre spectrum, from the literary (Magic Realism, Slipstream, and the Weird) to the popular (Fantasy and Urban Fantasy), from novel to short story. Writers discussed include Marquez, Kafka, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Neil Gaiman, Ursula LeGuin, and others.
The course will also include in-class writing exercises, sharing and commenting on student works-in-progress, and group discussion of various topics related to the dangers, strengths and strategies of using magic in fiction.
Speculative Fiction transports its readers deep into the realms of their imagination; on impossible journeys through wondrous ivory cities, treacherous asteroid fields, and the most horrific depths of the cosmos.
While some see the genre as escapist yarns, its power and relevance as an art form cannot be denied; speculative fiction is as ancient as story itself and pervasive in all forms of modern media from the most esoteric intellectual to mass-market pop culture.
The authors of speculative fiction may be the gods of the realms they manufacture, but with great power comes great responsibility. They must master not only the standard tools of writing, like point of view and character, but they must also convince the reader of a reality where the impossible is real and believable and everything is different, yet familiar. They must delve into the darkest depths of their creations to find profound wisdoms and revelations of what it is to be a human so--like shamans or wise women or benevolent time-travellers--they can share them with their readers in the real world.
While the focus of this course will be on the umbrella genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror, the material covered will be helpful to anyone writing in the myriad sub-genres contained under those, including Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Alternate History, and Urban Fantasy. Students of all levels are welcome, and will be expected to submit written work of speculative fiction-- either short story or novel excerpt--and respond to the work of their fellow classmates.
The Skillery in Germantown
Plot Your Novel
Summer 2015, 2016, 2017
Watkins College of Art and Design
The plot of an entire novel is a daunting thing to chew. In this course students will cut that meal into manageable pieces without compromising any of the unique flavors within. Students will learn the basics of story plotting, and then examine three established story structures used by accomplished authors and screenwriters. Each student will create their own novel concept (or enhance an existing one), develop a full outline of its plot, and have it critiqued by the class using the skills and techniques taught during the course. This course is open to all levels of experience.
Writing a dynamic character requires a number of factors. Goals and motivations. Background and upbringing. Inner demons and the journey toward profound positive change. But most importantly, they must behave, think and act in a convincing and consistent enough fashion to appear to be real living people. This course seeks to break down these components through use of the heuristic Enneagram model of human personality, mythic character archetypes, wisdom and techniques of highly accomplished authors, so that students can create convincing, dynamic characters and set them up for journeys of self discovery and change. The course will include lecture, group discussion, in-class readings, take-home writing prompts, as well as private and small-group exercises. All levels of skill and experience are welcome.