One Story Summer Workshop Day 3: Out Here in the Middle

Wednesday marked the middle of One Story’s third annual writers workshop, and as in any great story, the elements are coming together. Writers have spent great time and care with each other’s fiction in workshop, and the group continues to grow close. We were lucky to have another enriching day of programming with a craft lecture by Victor LaValle and an evening with a panel of editors from an array of exciting literary magazines.

Appropriately to the midpoint of our workshop week, celebrated author, Victor LaValle gave a lecture on structure entitled “What the Hell is Happening? Structuring Your Story.” I’m often bewildered by how rarely the subject of writers’ advice is handled methodically, with an eye toward maker’s skill rather than abstract theory, but the simple elegance of LaValle’s approach was indeed rare and enlightening. Using Samuel Fuller’s “The Deadly Circle” and Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” he demonstrated how to map the structure of any story, pulpy or literary, with an orderly arrangement of boxes and basic summary of present-action. In applying this technique to the draft of a story in-progress, LaValle emphasized the importance of balancing structure with discovery.

“If you plan everything all at once in the beginning, there’s nothing for you to discover, so there’s nothing for the reader to discover,” he reasoned. According to LaValle and the consensus of the classroom, a writer must find the surprises from experience. “As much as possible,” he told us, “if you’re writing about something, go do it.”

A lovely evening awaited in the company of three talented editors. Writers listened in on a panel comprising Patrick Ryan, One Story author and Associate Editor at Granta; Ronna Weinberg, Senior Fiction Editor at The Bellevue Literary Review; and James Yeh, Founding Co-Editor of Gigantic. All editors are also accomplished writers and offered valuable perspectives in their discussion. Moderated by our own Adina Talve-Goodman, panelists acquainted writers with their magazines and answered questions about the submission process, writing cover letters, how to get picked up from the slush pile and the editorial process among other useful wisdom.

As rich as the sequence of events has been this week, some of the magic happens in quiet moments between scheduled sessions. Writers have traveled from across the country and across the ocean to dedicate a place in their lives to the art we all love. In the hours between lecture and our evening panel, workshop writers and One Story staff set up in the beautiful meeting rooms on the sixth floor of The Center for Fiction to work. In the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, I’m sure everyone present found something they were looking for in the magnificent silence of writers, editors and interns communing over the solitary yet entirely shared love of the work we do.

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