I was MIA from Wicked last Wednesday and I apologize. When I should have been home writing my blog, I was instead at the world famous Chautauqua Institution where I was teaching a fiction writing class.
Never heard of Chautauqua? It’s an amazing place. Located in upstate New York, the Institution was founded in 1874, originally as a summer camp for Methodist Sunday school teachers. It has evolved into a cultural powerhouse. Each summer, residents and visitors are treated to countless symphonies, operas, theater productions and lectures about everything from sparking creativity in business to using science to de-bunk the paranormal (I went to that one!).
Part of summer programming includes classes for both children and adults and that’s where women’s fiction writer, Emilie Richards, and I joined forces to teach So You Want to Write a Novel.
Work? Yes, it was lots of work. For one thing, it’s not easy to decide what fiction writing techniques to teach and what not to teach when you have only five classes and the class is a mixture of folks of various ages and experiences. We decided on the basics: where to come up with ideas, how to write beginnings, characterization, dialogue, plot.
Each day we did an in-class assignment. My favorite: handing out random newspaper articles and having each student come up with a story idea based on the article they got. Who says dull articles can’t spark creative ideas? One student had a real estate ad...and she came up with a story about a house that’s being renovated and the ghost that possesses the woman who owns it. Another student’s article concerned an author who was visiting Chautauqua whose book is about the Rust Belt. Her idea? In the 10 or so minutes we gave them to come up with a story, she created a sci-fi universe where rust isn’t rust, it’s blood, and the population feeds on it.
We also gave homework each night and on the night we discussed genre, each student was given a random genre to write in and the same story to work with: The Three Little Pigs. We asked them to write the beginning of the story, a paragraph or two, but the next day when they returned, most students had written the entire story.
And they were wonderful!
We had the three little squealers’ tale told as mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and even romance. Each student added clever details, names that had us laughing out loud (Sir Sausage Link) and endings that were surprising takes on the traditional tale.
It was an exhilarating, exhausting week, but not to worry, I got to get a little R&R, too, including a two-hour ride on an authentic paddlewheel steamer and a visit to the Jewish Life Center where along with the rabbi and others, I made the most delicious challah bread.
Food for the body, beauty for the soul and a week of creativity. No writer could ask for more!