Welcome to week one! I’m happy you chose to join me.

Let’s start right out with a discussion of what good openings have and start writing.

Angus Wilson said in a Paris Review interview that “Plays and short stories are similar in that both start when all but the action is finished.”

Consider the start of a short story like the opening of a play. Imagine you’re in the audience and the curtain goes up. What do you see? What are the first clues that guide you toward understanding and connecting to the story that the actors and playwright will create for you?

First, there’s the stage. What’s on it? A set. Maybe it’s an apartment living room–something that tells you the first scene(s) will take place.

Next the characters enter. Or maybe they were there already. Where are they in the set? What are they doing? As they speak, they’re not invisible or stock still. They’re engaged in actions. What are they doing physically?

All of these are questions your reader brings to the first paragraphs they read. So how quickly can you start answering the important questions, filling in critical details that I like to call “grounding elements”?

These concepts are also known as the story’s “Givens.” (The Given information that a reader needs to connect to your work.) I want you to put in enough of these right off the bat to immediately show your reader what’s going on. Give her the who, the what, and the where. Is the when important? (Morning, winter, evening?) If so, put that in too!

Additionally, let’s get some action occurring. Your strong hook will develop as your reader discovers what the characters are doing and saying.

For now, we’ll start with grounding—creating the foundation to engage a reader as you start your piece.

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To Read This Week:

Frank Conroy: “The Writers’ Workshop”

This reading provides a lot of the essential “brass tacks” writing elements for the course. It presents the critical elements of what makes for good writing most clearly. We will use Conroy’s principles often throughout the course to create objective guidelines for effective writing.


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As discussed above, your job is to create the story’s Givens: the who, what, where, and (sometimes) when. Let’s jump right in with these.

Open a story with the given information a reader needs for your story to begin. Start right out with setting. Where are we? Picture the place in your mind as you start to write.

Who’s there? See them. What are they doing?

Start right up with specific details, images, and characters in physical action. This doesn’t have to be a knife fight or a car chase. Let the actions and details come to you from the story you want to write.

When you can see all of these things, start writing. Your goal is to write 300-500 words of a story’s opening for this week using all of the guidelines above.

Note:  If you have a story going already, this focus on opening with ongoing action can be a great way to revise and find where things should really start.

Special point: Don’t allow yourself to transition in time or place. Keep us in a single scene with a gradual progression of time. No jumps just yet. You should be able to stay in a single location and chronology for 500 words or more. Anything else is too fast for now.

(No flashbacks, flash forwards, scene ends or shifts, changes in Point of View, cuts to other locations. All of these are off the table for now.)

Have fun! I look forward to reading what you come up with.