Seattle Writing Class Discusses In Media Res Openings

Seattle writing class discusses in medias res opening

Seattle writing class discusses in medias res openings.

In my summer Seattle writing class, we’ll discuss In Medias Res openings, one of the most effective ways of opening a story. To write in medias res, you’ll need a strong scene from the middle of your story. Pick the most vivid and dramatic moment in the story, for example, when the canoe is about to go over the falls, or the killer is making his last stand, or the argument is reaching its climax. You’re looking, in other words, for a scene that has conflict and drama. These qualities are essential to any in medias res scene, because they will bring the readers quickly into the story.

After finding the scene, divide it in half. Use the first half of the scene in the lead and save the second half of it for right near the end of the story. By dividing it in half, you’ll create suspense within your story. The reader will get hooked on the first half of the scene and then read to the end of the story to see what happens. In the process, readers will finish the rest of story.

After putting first half of scene in lead, make transition to actual start of story. For example, tell how you came to make a rafting trip down the Salmon River. Readers will follow this discussion because it will reveal whether you survived going over the falls. From time to time, foreshadow the falls and give the reader hints about what is going to happen.

Once you’ve reached the point where the second half of scene occurs, insert it without repeating the opening scene. Just use summary or a repeated detail to remind the reader of what happened at the start of the story. Then go through second half of scene. End with a conclusion that makes sense of the trip and gives the reader a sense of what you learned from it.

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Writing Class Helps Bring People to Life on Page

Characterization in Writing Classes.

Ed Viesturs and Characterization in Writing Classes.

In my writing classes, I emphasize the need to bring people to life on the page. I recently interviewed mountaineer Ed Veisturs for a magazine story and sought to bring him to life through a focus on his efforts to climb Mt. Everest. Writing a short profile is a great way to do this, one of the techniques I discuss in my Seattle writing classes, including my summer writing class, Writing for Story. When writing profiles, I like to focus on a specific event that illustrates the person’s character. Here are some excerpt from that story.

What was the weather like you when you summited Everest without oxygen?

The weather was perfect that day. It was cold but nothing I couldn’t deal with. I started out using headlamp in the dark and then it gradually got bright. It was my third attempt, and previously I had been 300 feet from the summit. For me the motivation was the mystery of the last 300 feet. At 29,000 feet, 300 feet is huge. That was the barrier I wanted to discover. I was breathing 15 times for every step take. After 15, I had to take another step. You have to do it. It’s step by step, towards a rock 100 yards ahead. That was my next goal. Then I found a another goal. You have to be focused and deliberate. If you look too far into the distance, you can’t do it.

I got to the top around 1 p.m. It was 12 hours from high camp,.

How did it feel to stand on the summit?

It was one of those dream come true moments. Growing up in Illinois, one of flattest states, I had a dream of climbing an 8000 meter peak without oxygen. I had a poster of Jim Whitaker in my room. He was the expedition leader on that climb. So I lived that dream. I achieved the goal of doing it without oxygen. I was alone on the summit. To have that place  to yourself was pretty special.


I discuss more about characterization in my summer writing class, Writing for Story.

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Seattle Writing Class Discusses Dramatic Outlines


Writing for Story: Seattle Writing Class.

Writing for Story: text for summer Seattle Writing Class.

In teaching my Seattle writing class, I’ve learned that structure is the biggest challenge for most writers. While most writers understand sentence structure and paragraphing, they have trouble organizing individual paragraphs into a larger story. This is one of the things we’ll discuss in my upcoming spring Seattle writing class, Writing for Story. One of the best ways of structuring a story is to begin with an outline, one of the techniques I’ll discuss in my spring Seattle writing class, Writing for Story. This needn’t run pages and pages: sometimes even a simple three or four sentence outline can do the trick, such as the one I’ll explain below. By using this outline, whether for a story or book, you’ll have a good chance of figuring out the larger shape of the story in advance. If you fail to do this, it’s like building a house without a strong foundation; it can easily collapse.

The dramatic outline allows you to chart the emotional peaks and valleys of the story so that you’ll know where you’re heading when you sit down to write. The five short statements below describe the major actions in the story. There is one statement for each major focus. This is not like the outline you wrote in English composition class; these statements highlight on the dramatic actions in story. They help you focus on what’s essential to the story. This is a conflict—resolution outline, with the conflict introduced in the first statement, developed in the next three statements, and resolved in the last statement.

1) Complication – Make it simple and active. Have you chosen active verbs to show action? Is the main character included statement? How will you illustrate the main action? Do you have the source material for this? Is the action dramatic enough?

2) Development Action – Clear, cogent, related to complication.

3) Development Action – Clear, cogent related to complication, tied to previous development, tied to main character.

4) Development Action — Clear, cogent related to complication, tied to previous development, tied to main character.

For more: Writing for Story.

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Seattle Writing Classes: Nature of Narrative

Text for Seattle Writing Classes.

A River Runs Through It discussed in spring Seattle Writing Classes.

The Nature of Narrative: Spring Creative Writing Classes

As part of my Seattle writing classes, I’m offering a spring class, The Nature of Narrative which will introduce you to the essential building blocks of dramatic writing, whether in fiction, nonfiction or film. The alternating pattern of scene and sequel forms the basis of all dramatic writing, pulling readers into your story and not letting them go until the end. This pattern is as essential as breathing, but is often misunderstood by writers. This eight-week course will show you how to incorporate these techniques in your own work to provide drama, pacing, tension and resolution in your creative nonfiction, short stories, novels and memoirs.

The Seattle writing course will run March 22 to May 3 on Wednesday evenings (and on Monday evening, April 3) from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 221 of the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood (4649 Sunnyside Avenue North).

In addition to the classroom work, I’ll schedule individual conferences with each of you. This will give me a chance to go over your story or book chapter with you one-on-one and suggest ways to improve it. There will be six assignments: a 150-word story idea or book concept statement, a 250-word stimulus-response scene, a 150-word character sketch, a 1500- to 2500-word story or book chapter and its revision, and the creation of a blog, website, Amazon author page or Facebook page. The cost will be $625 per person. Texts: Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. Both titles are available at the Elliott Bay Book Company.

To enroll, send a check for $625 to Nick O’Connell, 201 Newell St., Seattle, WA 98109 or you can pay with a credit card on the Paypal link below. The course is limited to 15 participants and usually fills several weeks prior to the start of class. For more information, see my website, or contact me at or call 206-284-7121.

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Seattle Writing Class Discusses Author Platform

Text for Seattle Writing Class.

A River Runs Through It discussed in spring Seattle Writing Class.

In my spring Seattle writing class, we’ll discuss how you create an author platform. Many authors cringe at the mention of this concept, preferring to spend their time writing rather than marketing or creating a network. But the task doesn’t need to be overwhelming to create a platform that will help you sell your book, whether you’re pitching to a traditional publisher or planning to self-publish your book. The important thing is to work smart. Figure out the best way for you to create a strong platform while continuing to write.

The author platform has taken on an important role when it comes to whether or not a writer will get a traditional publishing contract — and it’s equally important to self-published authors who are serious about their writing careers.

The rise of the author platform as an industry obsession is a relatively new phenomenon. While industry folks may argue that platform has always mattered, today it’s more important than ever before. A huge shift has transpired in the past decade when it comes to what agents and editors weigh when deciding what projects to represent or publish — and in some cases an author’s star quality matters more than his or her actual book.

Author platform is more than just social media. Many aspiring authors believe that platform is all about social media, but in fact Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram are only small pieces of the author platform pie.

The platform is a strategy and means of selling a book. Because the book world has changed so dramatically, publishers don’t have as many predictable sales channels, and they increasingly want a sure thing when it comes to selling. They may love a book, but if they’re not sure how to sell it, they won’t buy it unless the author has a platform in place to for it. For more, sign up for my spring writing class, The Nature of Narrative.



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Charles Johnson on Writing Classes

Charles Johnson Cartoon for writing classes

Charles Johnson Cartoon for writing classes.

In my writing classes, I emphasize how learning art and craft is essential to succeeding as a writer. Tonight, I’ll be interviewing my former teacher, Charles Johnson, on teaching and writing. He just published an important new book, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling. The book grows out of his teaching at the University of Washington, where I received my Master of Fine Arts and doctorate. Here are some of the questions we’ll address:

-Why did you write The Way of the Writer? What was the impetus for it?

-What do you hope the book will do? What kind of conversations will it spark?

-How does the book grow out of your own approach to writing?

-You never attended a creative writing program. How did you find your way as a writer?

-How important were mentors like John Gardner? How would a young writer acquire a mentor?

-How was working as a journalist important to your development?

-What did art and cartooning teach you about writing?

-You say in The Way of the Writer that you avoided creative writing classes while working on Faith and the Good Thing? Why?

-Have these programs changed over the years? As a young writer today, would you be more or less willing to attend such a program?

-What would you look for in a creative writing program? What could be most helpful about such a program? What are potential drawbacks?

-Has the writing workshop approach evolved? Is it still the main pedagogical strategy of these programs? What are its weaknesses? Its strengths?

-Can craft and technique be taught?

-What cannot be taught?

The are also issues I’ll address in my spring writing class, The Nature of Narrative. I’ll be interviewing Charles Johnson tonight 7:30 p.m. at Third Place Books Seward Park in Seattle. Please stop by!

From Charles Johnson—a National Book Award winner, Professor Emeritus at University of Washington, and…
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Creating Characters in Seattle Writing Class

Tom Wolfe's work will serve as a model in my Seattle writing class.

Tom Wolfe’s work will serve as a model in my Seattle writing class.

In my Seattle writing classes, I emphasize the importance of creating strong characters, whether in fiction or nonfiction. In my upcoming spring Seattle writing class, I’ll discuss how to write a character sketch, one of the essential techniques of narrative writing. A short, vivid character sketch should introduce all of the major players in the story, the protagonist, the antagonist, and various helper characters. For a short story, you might include four character sketches at most. Don’t use character sketches for very minor characters; most readers prefer to focus on a small nexus of characters as a way into the story.

As part of the Seattle writing class, you’ll pick out the protagonist and antagonist of your story. Choose one of them to describe in a character sketch. A character sketch is a short word picture that introduces one of the main figures in your story. It should be short, vivid, succinct. Include distinctive details; try to SHOW rather than simply TELL about someone. Include one tag or crowning detail that the reader will associate with them. See examples below.

“He was a good-looking Irishman with a lot of black hair and a great wrestler’s gut. When he sat down at his typewriter he hunched himself over into a shape like a bowling ball. He would start drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes until vapor started drifting off his body. He looked like a bowling ball fueled with liquid oxygen.”

From The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe

“At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Tyler is modestly sized, if muscular, with thick blacksmith hands, dark hair showing flecks of gray, and green eyes, one of which–the left—bears a birthmark that sometimes lends that iris a golden hue. Maybe the defect is actually a gift, because Tyler has 20/20 vision in his right eye but 20/15 in the left.”

From “The Way of the Sniper,” by Rick Telander in Men’s Journal, December, 09.

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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.

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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.

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