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Classes for Audit

The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College hosts 10-day, on-campus residencies at the start of each semester. A select number of classes held during this time are open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory courses. Each class is two hours long and costs $45.

Auditors must complete preparatory work and required reading for each class attended. Please double-check the reading requirements when you sign up, as we don’t necessarily have handouts for all texts. Unless the description notes that handouts will be provided, auditors must seek out these items.

Please read our class audit policy before you register online. Registration is currently closed.

Below are sample courses available for audit.


MINING FOR HUMOR: A CROSS-GENRE CLASS

Faculty member: David Yoo  

Carol Burnett famously said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time,” which captures more succinctly my approach to writing with humor than anything I could come up with on my own. It explains why a full decade after graduating high school, I suddenly felt the urge to write comic YA fiction. We will examine humor in not just current YA fiction but also in adult fiction and nonfiction as well, in an effort not only to figure out “how they do it,” but also to help us understand how we can find the humor in our own writing.  

Requirements: I will read excerpts from various works that I find funny. I want you to bring in a brief excerpt of writing that you feel is hilarious, and we will debate the merits of these pieces.  

Suggested reading:  

  • David Sedaris, “A Shiner Like a Diamond,” in Me Talk Pretty One Day 
  • Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 
  • A.M. Homes, “A Real Doll” a short story in The Safety of Objects 
  • Nora Ephron, “A Few Words About Breasts” (essay) 

Questions:  

  • How does Homes wring humor out of dark, subversive subject matter? 
  • How does said humor impact the story?  
  • How does Sedaris make humor out of the experiences of others?  
  • Lastly, if someone were asked to describe your sense of humor, what would they say?   

 


TMI & THE STORIES OF OUR LIVES (CNF)

Guest faculty member: Xu Xi 

Let’s face it, we’re inundated with too much information. Don’t you sometimes want to shout TMI(!), the way surly teens will when parents (or other adults) over-share the (fill in the blank) contents of their lives? How do we know what to write when everyone and their child / parent / grandparent / extended family / pet / emotional support animal / BFF / former BFF / spouse / ex-spouse / lover / ex-lover et al is on social (or not-so-sociable) media sharing the stories of their (and perhaps even your) lives? What problem of our shared humanity do we dare explore when every expert (and non-expert) is opining or “writing insightfully” on all the same big problems, whether Covid, the state of democracy, the latest horrifying injustices, climate change, etc.? Can we honestly examine personal trauma, dysfunctional histories, illnesses, cultural dislocation or the like, when your own experience pales against everyone else’s real (or imagined) PTSD? How do we even essay on the arts, sciences, social sciences or even the quotidian when the world’s uber-knowledge and the quotidian are out there day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute in dizzying (or nauseating) display? In this talk and generative writing session, we’ll examine ways to shut out TMI in favor of discovering what you need to write and why. We will consider a few CNF examples from that collective of writing lives in an attempt to locate those stories you must own. 

Required reading: There is no pre-reading required, but a recommended reading list will be provided along with handouts of the presentation visuals. Bring a laptop or pad or paper & pen to write in response to questions and prompts that raise the stakes on the imperative of your CNF.  

 


THE THROUGH-LINE: SECRETS TO NARRATIVE TENSION

Guest faculty member: Debra Jo Immergut  

All novelists, whether aiming to produce lyrical literary fiction or leaning toward a more commercial category, want to lure readers to turn to the next page, and the next. Crafting a tale with ample narrative tension is one way talented storytellers accomplish this. Withheld information, unsettling ambiguities, and surprising but believable twists can boost the power of any novel-length work. We’ll examine techniques for increasing momentum and suspense while sidestepping the obvious tropes and gimmicks. For lessons in what makes a strong novel premise and a riveting plot, we’ll look to timeless literary novels as well as the best of “genre fiction” (a term we will also discuss and dissect). We will center our discussion around Toni Morrison’s Beloved, analyzing how the author uses withheld information to pique our curiosity and coax us to follow her deep into this novel’s difficult emotional terrain. 

Reading assignment 

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison 

Other books I’ll use as reference points (optional but helpful to read before or after our session) 

  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John LeCarre  
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward 
  • Enduring Love by Ian McEwan 

Pre-class assignment: As you read Beloved, create a written list of questions that arise in your mind–anything about the characters or the action that intrigues you and instills a desire to read on and learn more. Then take note of any points where those questions are answered (they may not be). Write down the chapter number where your questions first arise and where they answered. 

Questions for discussion:  

  • At what points does Morrison employ classic plotting techniques such as cliffhangers and surprise twists?  
  • And if you were to draw a diagram of the novel’s plot, what shape would it take?  

 


AN EYE FOR AN I: LYRICAL ELEMENTS IN POETRY—A GIFT FOR THE PROSE WRITER

Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen  

We will turn revenge on its head in order to make beautiful that which may be evil. I’d like to claim that is what we will do that in this craft class, but what we will actually do is look closely at some lyrical practices of poetry, using the poet’s eye, and explore how these practices might inspire the prose writer, particularly at the “I” (POV) level. Using Roland Barthes’ discussion of pleasure and bliss as a springboard, we will practice turning the sentence on its head using the “prose to poetry to prose” model. Instead of taking an “eye” for an “eye,” we will explore how to give the “I” more literary opportunities.  

Required: You will need to bring a page of your own prose writing.   

Required reading (handouts provided before class): 

  • Barthes, Roland, first section of “The Pleasure of the Text”  
  • [The following are together in a PDF:] 
    • Richard Hoffman.  Half the House, pg 91 
    • Beryl Markham. West With the Night, pg 115-116 
    • Gretel Ehrlich.  Islands, the Universe,  HomePg 43-44 
    • Gary Snyder.  The Practice of the Wild.  Pg 110-11 

Questions:  

  • Think about the unusual way in which Barthes defines pleasure and bliss. In that context, how might we better understand new or sometimes counter-intuitive perspectives of the “I/eye?”  
  • How might we become more conscious of the way we practice the sentence, the “I/eye” of the piece, and our awareness of audience? 

 


SERIALIZING YOUR YA OR MG NOVEL/NOVELLA

Guest faculty member: Nicholas Belardes  

The idea of serial storytelling is both exciting and scary. It’s part instant gratification, part long-game (especially if you have 30 or more chapters). Suddenly you have to consider how readers get only weekly or monthly installments. They can’t jump in and consume your work’s entirety. How can you prepare your work to capture and retain readers? In this workshop, we’ll talk about “intention” in writing and publication, explore how to prepare and pitch for serialization, and look at specific opportunities with University of Arizona’s Children’s & YA lit site, Pine Reads Review. Be prepared to also talk outlining/crafting and a bit about marketing. Bring the opening chapter of your work to examine during our craft/prompt time. 

Required reading:  

Reading Requirement Notes: Read at least 5-10 chapters of The 12 Rules of Survival, studying for craft, format, and “intention.” After reading the Pullman chapter, ask yourself the “intention” of your work, including your publishing “intention.” Consider Vandermeer’s discussions on revision, especially in terms of outlining and how you might apply revision methods to format your work for possible serializing online.  

Suggested Reading: 

 


CHARACTERIZATION TECHNIQUES IN GRAPHIC NARRATIVES

Guest faculty member: Jennifer Murvin 

This class will explore techniques in characterization inspired by essays on craft from writers such as Lynda Barry, Jack Driscoll, and Katherine Dunn, and through additional examples from graphic novelists and memoirists Emmanuel Guibert, Roz Chast, Andy Poyiadgi, Alison Bechdel, Craig Thompson, and Gene Luen Yang. Writers will learn a variety of techniques to approach characterization of the self {in the mode of memoir} and others {creative nonfiction and fiction}. Thoughtful and strategic approaches to characterization will influence other essential aspects of narrative, such as plot, narrative arc, and setting and culture; we will explore characterization as the heart of effective writing, extending even to page design, in graphic narrative. Techniques discussed in this class are also applicable to the writing of traditional prose. 

Required readings (provided before class): 

  • Graphic short story “Teapot Therapy” by Andy Poyiadgi 
  • Excerpt from One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry 
  • Excerpt from Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast 

Reading question:  

  • How does the writer-artist approach characterization through both concrete and significant details, and how does exaggeration play a key role in characterization in graphic narrative? 

 


WRITING EMOTION (cross-genre)

Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey  

Readers discuss the emotional lives of characters at length, as their own emotions are affirmed, challenged, or in some way provoked by those of characters. And yet, while crafting characters, we can’t simply write, she feels, she feels, she feels. Even if the redundancy didn’t threaten to ruin our stories, this constant telling sometimes makes us, the authors, too present in our tales: we are explaining what should be evident from what is said, done, thought, seen, or otherwise perceived by our characters. Feelings in prose must seem experienced—springing from within our characters rather than draped over them by us, for the purposes of our ideas or our plots. So, how do we create such representations of emotion? Discovering the answers to this question will be the goal of our session, which will include a presentation, a discussion, and a writing exercise. While our reading will focus on a YA speculative fiction novel, the class is intended for all prose writers, those working on fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as genre and literary works. 

Required Reading:  

  • Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. 
  • Ballenger, Bruce. “A Narrative Logic of the Personal Essay.” The Writer’s Chronicle vol. 50, no. 5, March/April 2018, pp. 22-29. (provided before class) 
    • While this essay is about logic and structure, it has interesting things to say about the balance between narration and reflection that will be relevant to our discussion. 

Also required: Bring your copy of texts with you to class, or bring substantial notes so you can discuss your reflections with specific quotations or paraphrasing of the text. 

Reading Questions:  

  • How do you know what primary characters feel moment-to-moment in the scenes? How do you know primary characters’ acknowledged and unacknowledged drives/yearnings? 
  • What do you see as the similarities and differences between depicting emotion for teen readers and adult readers?  
  • What do you see as the similarities and differences between depicting emotion in a creative nonfiction piece and a fiction piece? 

 


INTRO TO COMICS & GRAPHIC NARRATIVES

Faculty: Josh Neufeld                  

In his seminal work Understanding Comics, cartoonist Scott McCloud writes: “The different ways in which words and pictures can combine in comics is virtually unlimited. . . .The mixing of words and pictures is more alchemy than science.” This class will explore the dynamic realm of sequential art and the ways that comics can produce powerful moments of frisson between words and images. In the first hour, we will familiarize ourselves with the language of comics and discuss the parameters of the form. We’ll explore the skills necessary for being a graphic novelist—scriptwriting, visual thinking (showing vs. telling,), encapsulation, layouts and thumb-nailing—and of course drawing. I’ll also discuss the tools of the trade, from analog to digital drawing materials. In the second hour, we’ll collaborate on a spontaneous narrative exercise—creating self-contained minicomics that embrace the whimsical and the unexpected. You’ll leave the class with a batch of new comics, as well as an appreciation for and enthusiasm about the “invisible art.” 

Required Reading (provided before class): 

  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Chapter 6: “Show and Tell” 

Suggested Reading: 

  • Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art, particularly Chapter 4: “The Frame,” and Chapter 6: “Writing & Sequential Art” 
  • Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures 

 


I, YOU, HE, SHE, WE, & WHO?

Faculty member: Laure-Anne Bosselaar  

In the great majority of poems, a speaker (or voice) will—through the use of tone (the character’s attitudetoward the subject matter) and its many variations—build some kind of relationship with the reader. This relationship can run the gamut from being very intimate to extremely distant. In this very interactive class, we will look at how the choice of pronouns can dramatically change a poem’s impact. Each student should bring a short poem they have written (no more than 20 lines) in which they use the pronoun “I” as the main speaker of the poem. If you don’t have one, bring a short poem that you love in which the pronoun “I” plays an important role. 

Required reading: handouts will be distributed in class. 

 


WRITING BOOK REVIEWS

Faculty member: Amy Hoffman  

Some critics fear that, with daily newspapers cutting back or eliminating their book review sections, reviewing is a dying art; in fact, it is alive and well in literary magazines, alternative publications, on the Internet, and even in some writers’ personal journals. In this workshop, we will consider the various reasons why people read and write reviews: their purposes, audiences, styles, and forms. We will practice writing a short, Publisher’s Weekly-style review in class and discuss the results. 

Required: A book—one you’ve read and enjoyed recently in your genre. Please bring it with you. 

Required Reading:  

 Suggested Reading:  

  • Pool, Gail. Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2007, 192 pp., $19.95, paperback. 

 

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