About One Story’s newest online class and how soap operas can unlock your writing

Karen 2As a Contributing Editor at One Story for the past six years, I’ve been privileged to work with many talented writers, including Megan Mayhew Bergman and Aria Beth Sloss, whose One Story issues both went on to be included in The Best American Short Stories, Jodi Angel, whose piece was chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories, and David James Possiant, whose story was part of his debut collection, The Heaven of Animals, a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize. Editing these authors has been a joy and taught me a great deal about the mechanics of writing and how it works. I know how to use my red pen to help bring fiction to its full potential on the page.

And yet, when it comes to my own writing I often have trouble. Besides my part-time editing job at One Story, I have two young children (ages 7 and 4). When I do manage to carve out an hour or two, the pressure to be productive can be overwhelming and I often find myself drawn away or too discouraged to continue. I suspect I’m not alone here. Whether it’s a job, an aging parent, school, or something else, there are always reasons to undercut our own writing time.

This five-day class is designed to ease the pressure we place on ourselves to be perfect, and to simply get back to having fun on the page again—through the always dramatic, often silly, totally over the top world of soap operas. While it’s easy to dismiss soaps as campy escapism, these daytime dramas tell stories that endure.

With classic soap clips as our guide, each day will contain a lesson, followed by a writing exercise designed to help you hone your skills—from building stellar openings and resonant endings to creating narrative arcs and memorable characters. As the NY Observer once declared (in an article about how literary authors such as David Sedaris and Frank McCourt were secretly watching soaps instead of working on their novels): “Writing can be dull work. The writing on soaps is everything but.”

About One Story’s next online class, and why character is its focus

PR May 2015 AltWhen I was sixteen, I had a wonderful English teacher who recognized my passion for writing and encouraged me to pursue it. On my portable Olivia, I would bang out a story about life on a submarine during World War II. I would bang out “chapters” of a detective “novel” set in the year 2750. I would bang out the “status report” of a fly assigned to follow a moose around Canada and report back to the other flies. “You have a good ear for sentence rhythm,” my teacher told me. “But why are you writing about this stuff?”

“What should I write about?” I asked.

“Go to the mall,” she said. “Take a notebook and a pen, and watch people, and listen to them, and write about them. Don’t worry about writing stories. Write vignettes.” (She had to explain to me what a vignette was.) “Just try to capture what they’re like.”

And that’s what I did. Some of those vignettes were half a page long; some were three pages. Some had dialogue (overheard); some had thoughts (imagined). They were plot-less, story-less. I wrote as many as twenty a week and showed each one to her, and she read them all and said, “Keep going.”

I had no way of knowing then that she was helping shape me into the writer I would be for the rest of my life: a writer who puts character above all other aspects of fiction writing, a writer who follows his characters and listens to them and collaborates with them as a means of creating short stories and novels.

For years, I’ve wanted to teach a class that focuses on character and how that one aspect of fiction writing is not only the spine of a story but the connective tissue that runs through every other aspect: setting, description, dialogue, point of view, even plot. And now it’s happening.

Please join me for From Character to Story: A Craft Intensive from October 1st-8th.

Through online lectures, exercises, videos, and message discussion boards, I’ll walk you through the tools in your fiction writing toolbox and show you how character is the secret to making the most out of them. At the end of the week, you’ll feel more confident about your ability to get into, explore, and finish short stories—all through the lens of character.

This online class will meet on your schedule. Each day, the next class will be automatically uploaded. You can log in any time to access the materials. Have a question? Jump into the discussion boards and I’ll post an answer to the group. You’ll also be able to share you work with fellow students and connect with writers across the globe. If you fall behind, no worries; all the class materials will be available to you for an additional week for you to catch up.

I hope you’ll take part in a fun and enlightening week that promises to breathe new life into you, your characters, and your writing process. The deadline to register is October 1st.