Create Strong Characters in Seattle Writing Course

The Catcher in the Rye includes strong characters, a theme of the Seattle Writing Classes.

The Catcher in the Rye includes strong characters, a theme of the Seattle Writing Course.


The characters in your story, whether fiction or nonfiction, function like the dramatis personae in a play. They do not exist in isolation, but in relationship to the other characters, the plot, and setting.

For example, most stories have a protagonist and an antagonist, though the form of the relationship varies from genre to genre. The protagonist is often the main character in the story, while the antagonist is the person or thing the protagonist struggles against. A strong story will allow for a balance between these two opposing characters; if one or the other is too predictable or weak, the story will suffer. We will discuss how to fix this in the Seattle Writing Course.

The plot of the story revolves around the protagonist. The term ‘protagonist’ comes from ‘protagonistes’ – a Greek word meaning one who plays the first part or the chief actor. While the protagonist is a hero in most of the stories, he or she can be a villain as well, as in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. While an antagonist need not necessarily be a person, the protagonist is almost always a person. The list of fictional protagonists includes Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Ishmael in Moby Dick, or Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Memorable nonfictional protagonists include Tobias Wolff in This Boy’s Life , Mary Carr in The Liar’s Club or Chuck Yeager in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.

In the Seattle Writing Class, we’ll discuss how to create strong protagonists and antagonists, essential elements of a strong story.

For more, please consider signing up for my spring Seattle Writing class, The Nature of Narrative.

Posted in Classes, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , , ,

Travel Writing and Marketing Master Class

Travel Writing and Marketing Master Class
Seattle, WA
April 7-9

Travel Writing Classes

Sign up early for the Travel Writing and Marketing Master Class.

Why do you need to sign up for the upcoming Travel Writing, Marketing Master Class? It’s early evening and you’re luxuriating in a 5-star Balinese lifestyle resort. You’re reclining on a pristine white daybed with your partner, sipping a cocktail beside the gorgeous infinity pool. Maybe you spent the day wandering around a market and marveling at the colors, smells and sounds. Perhaps you were inspired by art galleries, found intriguing historical sites, enjoyed a bird’s eye view from a hot
air balloon and took a dip in the crystal clear turquoise ocean.

Soon you’ll be heading over to the resort’s Michelin-starred restaurant, where you’ll dine on exquisite international cuisine in opulent beach-side surroundings. Tomorrow you’ll be experiencing a bespoke
aromatherapy spa treatment before boarding the hotel’s VIP yacht for an unforgettable snorkeling and diving trip. And the best part?  You’re getting paid to do this.

This isn’t an unachievable dream. I’ve been paid to travel the globe and stay in the most exclusive hotels and resorts for over nine years. My travel stories have appeared in more than 200 publications and
I’ve earned thousands of dollars writing about the world’s most luxurious destinations. Let me tell you, success feels fantastic – and I’m going to show you exactly how to do it.

The Complete Travel Writing & Marketing Master Class (April 7-9) is an exclusive program where we’ll explore, in detail, every single step of my travel writing, pitching and selling strategy. Other workshops gloss over the details, but that’s not how we do things around here. You will walk away from this program knowing exactly how to get sensational paid trips around the world and sky-rocket your travel writing success – even if you’re starting at $0.

Workshop is limited to twenty-five participants to guarantee a high quality experience and allow plenty of time for
interaction between your instructors and fellow writers of the Travel Writing and Marketing Class.

“Roy Stevenson will be teaching the marketing side of the class,” says Nicholas O’Connell. “Roy is one of the savviest and shrewdest travel writers anywhere and he’s very generous about spreading the wealth of his knowledge about how to break into the world of freelance travel writing. I highly recommend his books on the subject as well as his Complete Travel Writing, Marketing and Photography Destination Master Class in Siem Reap, Cambodia (Oct. 23-28). I’ll  have more details on this class in a later blog post.  Take a look at his website for more:

As part of the Travel Writing and Marketing Class, Nicholas O’Connell will be offering An optional one-day creative travel writing workshop  offered to Master Class participants for an additional fee. His class will complement Roy’s as he’ll emphasize the art and craft of travel writing: once you’ve got the assignment, how do you deliver the goods in an appealing and colorful and memorable way? The one-day writing workshop will be held on April 6.

Registration is open.  Learn more and register …

Posted in Classes, Travel, Writing Techniques

Seattle Writing Class Discusses Storytelling

Seattle Writing Class

Seattle Writing Class discusses Down in my Heart by William Stafford.

In this Seattle writing class, we’ll discuss techniques of realistic fiction such as story, characterization, dialogue, point of view and symbolism to enrich and enliven narrative writing. All of these techniques tend to show, rather than tell, bringing the reader into the story by attempting to recreate the experience on the page, rather than simply summarizing it.

For example, the poet William Stafford’s uses a scene in his memoir Down In My Heart to demonstrate the difficulty of practicing nonviolence in a violent world. In constructing a scene such as this, writers include important details they or their subject noticed while experiencing an event, so that the reader can see, hear, feel, smell and taste the same scene.

To compose a scene, a writer has to note what gives rise to a particular feeling, and then render that on the page so that the reader can experience the event as the writer did. In scenic writing, a writer shows the reader what happened, rather than summarizing or telling about it.

No technique has transformed nonfiction as completely as the dramatic scene. Much nonfiction is now organized almost exclusively in scenes, whether feature stories, personal essays, nonfiction short stories, memoirs or nonfiction books like the classic traveler’s tale The Fruit Palace by Charles Nicholl, a gripping read about the effect of the cocaine on Colombian society.

A dramatic scene is a complete action, from start to finish, although not necessarily in that order; writers sometimes manipulate the chronology to create suspense or other literary effects. A scene includes the sequence of small actions, dialogue and gestures that make up a larger event. Scenes treat dramatic, significant moments, turning points in the life of the person described. These moments often involve a conflict that is introduced and resolved by the end of the scene.

For more, please consider signing up for my Seattle Writing Class.

Posted in Classes, Food and Wine Writing Classes, Writing Techniques

Seattle Writing Class Explores Memoir Writing

Seattle Writing Class

MFK Fisher and Seattle Writing Classes.

My winter Seattle Writing Class, Follow the Story, will explore a number of writing genres, including memoir writing. Memoir is especially useful in treating questions of identity, a particularly American dilemma, as this is a country without strong classes and social norms. Identity often has to be negotiated, explored as a mix of ethnic, social, economic, psychological, and other dimensions. The fluid nature of American society leads many writers to pose questions such as, Who am I?  Where do I belong? What does it mean to be American? These are some of the topics we’ll discuss in my Seattle Writing Class.

One of the crucial tests for a memoir is finding this larger issue. What does this life illustrate? What has  the narrator learned from his or her life? Without a larger point, a personal memoir can easily lapse into boring, repetitive, poor-me stories. Humor is an especially effective antidote to this, showing that a writer has a perspective on his or her life. This sense of perspective helps give the memoir a point, avoiding the trap of what Joyce Carol Oates called “pathograpy”, memoirs that uncover disease, disaster, and sickness and revel in it, without trying to give a sense of how such a condition can be transformed.

For many Americans, discovering their identity comes from travel. Over the years Europe has Writing Memoirs   For many Americans, discovering their identity comes from travel. Over the years Europe has been one of the most popular destinations in this regard. In Map of Another Town by M.F.K. Fisher, she discovers a sense of herself when enduring trying circumstances while living in Aix en Provence. Fisher went on to become the dean of American food writers and much of what she learned came from her experiences, both good and bad, while living in France. Fisher has to struggle to discover who she is within or outside French society. Struggle is essential to a good memoir. Without it, there’s little suspense and little sympathy generated for the writer.

For more on memoir and other genres, please consider signing up for my Seattle Writing Class, Follow the Story.

Posted in Classes, Seminars, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , , ,

Seattle Writing Class Discusses Travel Writing

Seattle Writing Class

The scallop shell, symbol of the Camino de Santiago, a portion of which we’ll walk during the Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class.

My winter Seattle Writing Class, Follow the Story, will focus on genre in narrative writing. We will discuss travel writing and many other genres during the eight- session class. Here are some tips for the would-be travel writer:


  • START WITH FAMILIAR, GO TO THE UNFAMILIAR – Good travel stories meet the reader’s expectations about a place, but take them a bit further. Good stories take the readers as they are, and in the course of the journey, bring them to someplace new.
  • STRUGGLE – Don’t forget to struggle a bit as you travel. If you fly from destination to destination without a hitch, you’re going to tell a BORING STORY. Conversely, if you have to work to get through your vacation then chances are you’ve got some drama to provide interest and suspense in your story.
  • FOCUS ON PEOPLE as well as the place, especially people who are characteristic of it. Ever notice how the folks you met along your journey conjure up the strongest memories? It’s the same with readers. They want to be introduced to the folks that made your trip special. Add QUICK CHARACTER SKETCHES of the most memorable folks you met.
  • ORGANIZE STORY AROUND SCENES – Don’t include every event that happened, just the important, lively, funny, fearful, memorable ones. This is one of the techniques I’ll discuss in the winter Seattle Writing Class.
  • GENERALLY SPEAKING, USE FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Make yourself a character in the story. Filter the place through your point of view. Describe how it impinges on you.  In first person point of view the “I” is the focal character and it selects, colors and shapes the material related in the story.When I write in first person, my feelings, thoughts, impressions are added to descriptions of the actions, so that the reader gets a sense of how they affect me, but the “me” is a very selective one, because I understand that readers are looking for a surrogate in the story and that my job is to fulfill that role without boring, irritating or putting them off
Posted in Classes, Food and Wine Writing Classes, Seminars, Travel, Wine Making and Wine Writing Tagged with: , ,

Seattle Writing Classes: Breaking Writer’s Block

Seattle Writing Classes

Seattle Writing Classes help you overcome writer’s block.

One of the best things about writing for a daily newspaper is that it either permanently cures you of writer’s block, or it convinces you to pursue another profession.

When I worked on the Ellensburg Daily-Record, a small daily in eastern Washington State, I had to cover a wide variety of topics, not all of them especially captivating–the Ellensburg Rodeo, the Kittitas County Weed Board, country and western concerts, and an eccentric old lady who won the Halloween Contest by dressing up in a dog food bag.

During the time I worked there, I developed a method for quickly organizing and composing stories. It was the only thing that allowed me to survive with my love for writing intact. I developed this method by trial and error, mostly by error. Early on, like many of those who sign up for the Seattle Writing classes, I would obsess about the lead, spending three or more hours on it. As the deadline approached, I had less than an hour to finish the rest of the story.

I needed to find another way. I discovered that if I postponed my instinct toward perfectionism to later in the writing process I could produce a better story. First, I got black on white, quickly typing up the rough draft, and then I went back over it and tinkered with it. The key to avoiding writer’s block was postponing perfectionism.

Over time, I refined this technique. I would arrive at the office, organize my notes, find an angle around which to structure the piece, and then type away. After finishing the rough draft, I would go back and polish it from the lead forward. By postponing my inclination toward perfectionism to the end of the process, I was able to turn in a stronger piece.

This is one of the topics we’ll over in my fall Seattle Writing Class, Revising Your Life. Let me know if you’d like to sign up!

Posted in Classes, Seminars, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , ,

Restaurant exemplifies ideal of Travel Writing Classes

Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes

In my Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes I love to visit restaurants like the Sooke Harbour House, where I had the pleasure of dining with my family.

In my Travel Writing Classes, I love to visit restaurants with a strong sense of place.

Though European restaurants often exhibit this connection with place, North American restaurants are making this a priority, too.

Thus, it was a great pleasure to visit Sooke Harbour House on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It was one of the first restaurants to place a strong emphasis on local foods, a natural outgrowth of its location on a beautiful inlet, with access to abundant local seafood, meats, and an extensive flower and produce garden.

I have been wanting to visit Sooke Harbor for years and finally got the chance this summer with my family. We sat outside in the sunshine at a table overlooking the sea, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. I ordered the delicious charcuterie plate, which came with a side of wonderful figs and local produce. My children, not easily impressed by fancy food, agreed that the fish, soup and ice cream were some of the best they’d  ever enjoyed. My wife, Lisa, raved about the plum dessert.

Everything was perfectly prepared, with a light touch and the freshest of ingredients. The amiable waiter even made our dog, Stella, feel at home. It was everything I had expected and more. As is the case with the restaurants I visit for the Travel Writing Classes, the place reflects the philosophy and practice of the owners.

The Sooke Harbour House has been owned by Frederique and Sinclair Philip since 1979. Sinclair Philip is the Canadian representative to Slow Food in Italy and some years ago was a Slow Food Vancouver Island Convivium leader. Mr. Philip has a doctorate in political economics from the University of Grenoble in France.

The restaurant reflects this heritage, taking cues from French, Japanese and  Northwest Indian cuisine. If you have a chance to visit, don’t miss it!

Posted in Classes, Food and Wine Writing Classes, Travel, Wine Making and Wine Writing Tagged with: , , , ,

Narrative Nonfiction in Seattle Writing Classes

Seattle Writing Classes: The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat

In my Seattle writing classes, I like to emphasize how to write nonfiction that exhibits the drama and depth of a great novel. I recently read The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, a nonfiction book that serves as a fine example of this genre. The book is a meticulously researched account of the University of Washington rowing team who competed at the 1936 Olympics. The author met one of the team members, Joe Rantz, who lived nearby. By that time Joe was an old man, but he remembered well the experience of rowing for the Husky crew and of competing in the Olympics. He talked about the magic of being a part of “the boat” and what it meant to him and the other young men.

Brown realized that he had a story. He went back and interviewed Rantz as well as his daughter Judy. Slowly, the story began to materialize. This is a strategy I discuss in my Seattle writing classes, especially my fall writing class, Revising Your Life.

Brown organizes the book around Rantz and the other team members. Rantz is an especially appealing character, who struggled in his personal life, abandoned by his family. He had to make a living for himself during the Great Depression as well as compete for the crew team to make sure he kept his scholarship to the University of Washington.

Brown researched the book so he could add scenes of Joe’s early life in the Puget Sound area and the excitement of joining the crew team and competing with some of the best crews in the country and eventually the world. Drawing on journals, newspaper articles, and interviews, Brown weaves a compelling narrative about Joe and the other team members who shocked the world with their grit, tenacity and brilliance.

The books builds slowly toward the climatic scenes near the end, where the competition intensifies and Joe and the others have to dig deep to realize their dreams. The ending is especially moving, conjuring up a world now lost in time. The books is nostalgic in the best sense, reminding us of a moment of honor and selfless achievement that could easily be forgotten, but is lifted to permanent life by Brown’s extraordinary book.

Posted in Classes, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , , ,

Seattle Writing Class Hosts U.W. Press Editor

Regan Duff of the University of Washington Press speaking to my Seattle Writing Classes

Regan Huff of the University of Washington Press speaking to my Seattle Writing Classes.

In my Seattle writing classes, I always provide a detailed explanation of the publishing process. As part of this, I like to invite editors to speak about how they publish books and stories. Last week, we had the pleasure of hearing from Regan Huff, the senior acquisitions editor of the University of Washington Press who spoke to my summer Seattle writing class about the changing role of university presses, which have become to the go-to source for many books that once would have been published by larger houses.

“We’re non-profit so we can do books for a mission-driven reason,” she said. “We can keep books in print forever. We care about how books are designed. We care about authors.”

Most of these presses are attached to a university, so they do publish scholarly books, but in recent years they’ve branched out to more general interest topics and readerships. “We publish a lot of books on Asian and environmental issues,” she said. “We’re publishing a first-time author who is a pilot and engineer.”

Regan explained that the U.W. press publishes authors from all over, but they are focused on the Pacific Northwest region as subject material as well as other fields.

“If you are considering pitching a book, ask yourself, have we published something like your book?” she explained to my Seattle writing class. “Most presses are interested in books related to the current list, or a particular field. Go to the website and see what they have published recently.”

Make sure that your manuscript is a good fit for the press before submitting. This entails considering how the press will market it as well as the quality of the manuscript. “Look for a fit rather than holding your work up to be judged,” she told my Seattle writing class.

When you submit your manuscript, make sure that your pitch letter and book proposal reflect this understanding. “What is your book about and why is it interesting?” she said. “Who will read the book?”

Good advice for those looking to get published!



Posted in Classes, Seminars, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , , , ,

Writer as Reader in Seattle Writing Classes

Seattle Writing Classes Discuss Writer as Reader with Dana Gioia as example.

Seattle Writing Classes Discuss Writer as Reader with Dana Gioia as example.

In this summer’s Seattle Writing Class, “Writing for Story,” we’ll learn how to read in public as a writer. This is a necessary skill for anyone who wishes to promote a book or read in public.

I was reminded of the importance of this when attending the recent reading by Dana Gioia, who received Image Magazine’s Thirteenth Annual Denise Levertov award. Gioia is not only an internationally acclaimed poet, but is one of the best contemporary readers of poetry around. He gave lyrical, dramatic interpretations of his and other people’s poems, all from memory. When I asked him about how Wallace Stevens had influenced his poetry, he said Stevens was an influence, though perhaps not as important a one as Shakespeare or Robert Frost. He then recited from memory Steven’s poem, “Peter Quince at the Clavier.” Are there any contemporary poets who could match that? If so, I have not heard them read.

Gioia’s ability to memorize, recite and perform poetry seems to grow out of his convictions that poetry is a public art, not simply something to be written and read without being spoken. These beliefs helped shape his tenure as head of the NEA, where he did important work in repairing the direction of the agency. In his 1991 essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” he took up this issue, criticizing the way contemporary poetry and writing was taught. The essay appeared in the Atlantic and created quite a sensation. I read the essay while in graduate school. It had an important influence on my own writing, and on the Seattle Writing Classes I eventually taught. Gioia’s understanding of audience and belief that writers need to speak to an audience outside of writing programs convinced me to follow a similar trajectory in my work and teaching. I highly recommend this essay as well as his poems and literary criticism for neophyte writers looking for a thoughtful and helpful model.

Posted in Classes, Writing Techniques Tagged with: , , , ,

Join Our Mailing List

Follow The Writer’s Workshop!

Like us on Facebook