Seattle Writing Classes: Nature of Narrative

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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.

Posted in Classes, Writing Techniques

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.

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.

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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
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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!

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