Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/success in Circuit lies” — let poet Emily Dickinson’s words inspire you as we navigate narrative nonfiction, writing that takes the best elements of fiction, applies those to facts, and ends with compelling stories.

Time: eight Mondays, 20:00 to 22:00

Duration: 21 October - 9 December, 2019

Location: Atwater Library and Computer Centre—1200 Atwater Avenue, Westmount, Quebec View map

Description

All levels are welcome. Limited to 12 participants.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/success in Circuit lies” — let poet Emily Dickinson’s words inspire you as we navigate narrative nonfiction, writing that takes the best elements of fiction, applies those to facts, and ends with compelling stories.

In this workshop you will take your own “big idea” and add to it week-by-week until at the end of eight sessions you’ll have a draft narrative essay of 2,000 words or more. Each meeting will be split between discussing one of six elements necessary for good narrative nonfiction and workshopping participants’ writing. This will be supported by readings related to the discussion and to the week’s assigned writing. Below is an outline covering six weekly discussions. Two additional weeks are left open to allow for flexibility – perhaps there will be spillover from a previous week’s discussion or perhaps by consensus we’ll toss in another idea to discuss or take extra time to workshop participants’ work.

Please note that this workshop will not focus on memoir writing. Although memoir falls into the category of narrative nonfiction, I encourage participants to look beyond it when considering their writing for these eight weeks.

Outline

  1. What’s the Big Idea? Before the first meeting, participants are asked to read two essays (links will be provided) on how to identify ideas big enough to support an essay of at least 2,000 words. Based on that reading, they will arrive with three ideas, one of which they will choose to work with for the rest of the workshop.
  2. Form for Function. Structure! What shape will your essay take? Though the majority of essays follow a linear arc with a discernible rise and fall, that may not be the best shape for your piece. Using some experimental or nontraditional structures as examples, we’ll discuss what routes your piece could take.
  3. Who Says So? There are four points of view from which to write your essay. Perhaps first person is not the best, or maybe you can utilize more than one POV.
  4. Making a Scene. One of the things that makes the narrative nonfiction essay stand out from other forms is the use of scene. Scenes draw the reader into the text, breathing life into it while advancing the story. In this session we will discuss where to use scenes best in your piece.
  5. Such a Character! Every good essay has a heart and often that heart is formed from one or more characters. Who are those people? Maybe they aren’t people – maybe your essay’s strongest character is the landscape or a building. Regardless, developing the characters in your essay goes far beyond names and a few basic descriptive details. This week we will discuss a checklist for building character while considering which of your characters should be primary and which can remain secondary.
  6. Tie it All Together. In this session we’ll look at the importance of motif and pattern to unify a text and to guide readers to underlying and nuanced themes within it.

Workshop leader

Woman with white shirt
Credit: Niamh Malcolm
Shelagh Plunkett is an award-winning author of narrative nonfiction including the memoir The Water Here is Never Blue, which was short listed for the QWF Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction and the QWF Concordia University First Book Award.  Her writing has appeared in the Walrus, Yes!, Geist, enRoute Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and elsewhere.

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