The “First Words” course series is intended to be introductory and thus a welcoming space for beginner writers. The course runs over nine weeks and features three different instructors, each taking a three-week block that covers a different aspect of fiction writing.
Beginning, Middle, and End
April 29, May 6 & 13
The three-act structure goes at least as far back as Aristotle, who said that a tragedy must have a beginning, middle, and end. That the same is true for any story seems obvious enough, but knowing this does little to help us figure who which is which, where to begin, how to end and the journey in between. The way in which things happen is rarely the way we recount or recall them. In the first session, we’ll start with the end, or close to it, with the climax. The destination isn’t everything but for a writer it helps to have one in mind, and in as much detail as possible. In the second week we’ll work on the opening scenes, and in the third we’ll work to connect them. This will leave us a bare-bones plot structure and, hopefully, some workable scenes to build on.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
May 20 & 27, June 3
The setting of a story is more than a stage for your characters; it is a character in itself. Writers create a comprehensive mental picture of the time and place in which the story action is happening before extracting certain details to reveal to the reader. This is complicated surgery. The emotional state of a character influences what they observe to the same degree as their levels of knowledge and experience. In three sessions, we will explore the myriad ways in which setting and description serve as the foundation of a story as we practice eliminating clutter and choosing strong details that exemplify your characters’ outer worlds while illuminating their inner labyrinths.
Getting to Know You
June 10, 17, 24
“It’s tea-time; all the dolls are at the table. Listen, it’s that simple.”–Anne Lamott
Stories begin with characters and their predicaments. The key to compelling fiction is convincing characters with personalities and motivations readers can in some way relate to—characters who are flawed yet sympathetic, consistent yet capable of surprising things. Getting to know your characters is like getting to know real people, and letting them reveal themselves through their words and actions. Like all of us, they’re shaped by their surroundings. Their personalities and choices deepen the plot and shape how a story unfolds. Through writing exercises, examples, discussion and some workshopping, these three sessions will explore creating dynamic protagonists and antagonists. Session One focuses on inspirations for characters and motivation, Session Two on dialogue and setting, and Session Three on how these all come together to support a storyline.
About the instructors:
Chris Benjamin is the author of more than fourteen published short stories and three award-winning and critically-acclaimed books: Indian School Road: Legacies of the Shubenacadie Residential School; Eco-Innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada; and the novel Drive-by Saviours. He was the 2014 Writer-in-Residence at the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library Chris is also a freelance journalist, currently shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award. He’s not sure the journalism helps the fiction any, but it tries.
Sarah Mian’s debut novel, When the Saints (HarperCollins 2015) is “a new Canadian classic” according to the Toronto Star. Her award-winning fiction and poetry have appeared in journals such as The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review and The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction. Her non-fiction has been featured in Flare Magazine and on CBC Radio’s ‘Definitely Not the Opera’ and ‘How To Be.’ Sarah is from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and currently lives on the south shore.
Carol Bruneau is the author of six books, including her just-released novel, These Good Hands. Her first novel, Purple for Sky, won the Dartmouth Book Award and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 2001, and her last one, Glass Voices, was a Globe and Mail Best Book for 2007. Her novels have been published internationally. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Globe and Mail, the Literary Review of Canada and The Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and her essays and stories in various anthologies and journals. Based in Halifax, she has taught writing workshops throughout the Maritimes, served as Writer in Residence at Dalhousie and Acadia Universities, and is on the part time faculty at NSCAD, where she teaches writing for the arts.