Mining Your Life with Melissa Marr

In this course, we examine what we might not even realize we know, as well as how we can springboard from reality into fiction.

Your Instructor: Melissa Marr, author of the Wicked Lovely novels

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: July 21, 2020 - August 18, 2020


Price: $325

Class Description

We all have experiences that we can use to create layered, unique stories, characters, worlds, and conflict.

What we are, where we’ve been, who we know, and why we wake at night from dreams and nightmares—all of these can be explored to create voices and plots from our own lives. Join us to explore how we draw from our lives for nuanced fiction. This workshop is not about memoirs or autobiographical essays. In this course, we examine what we might not even realize we know, as well as how we can springboard from reality into fiction. 

The truth is that sometimes we don’t realize how much we have to explore in our writing because it’s what we know. Have you ever been in a car accident? What are some ways to take that moment of careening out of control to add emotion to a story? Have you given birth? Can you take that experience to create other story elements? What hobby or skill do you have? How can that be the basis of a career for a fictional character? Where have you walked and slept? How does setting a story in that place add to the complications of a story?

What we’re doing by starting with an anchored experience is beginning a text with the real knowledge of an experience, hobby, or place.  Instead of writing the 300th story set in NY or LA or Seattle, show the reader a new space. Or if that’s your city, show us the untold version of it. Instead of researching how hospitals work, use your trip there with broken arm, childbirth, gallbladder surgery. Can you describe the hospital room? The scent? Sounds? Temperature? What about your hobbies? How do they translate? Does knowing how to shoot pictures lend itself to defending yourself in an invasion? Does knowledge of art festivals help when pursued by a killer?

Participants may have a short story or novel excerpt already prepared when enrolling, but it’s strongly suggested that they write and expand on the piece as the class progresses as well as experiment with new work. Often, it’s best to start with a clean slate.

Each week will include a short lecture, suggested readings, and writing assignments that will be critiqued by your instructor and your peers. There will be opportunities to pose questions and engage in discussions with both Melissa and your fellow classmates.

MINING YOUR LIFE is taught by Melissa Marr, author of the Wicked Lovely novels (2007-2012), Graveminder, and others. Her debut picturebook Bunny Roo, I Love You resulted from adopting her son, who was born in opiate withdrawal (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome).  Made For You and her upcoming novel Pretty Broken Things both sprang from experience with a stalker and from dating an ex-con. Her Cold Iron Heart utilizes a twelve-week jewelry fundamentals course. Most of her fiction has roots in the real world in some way. To make that possible, she not only utilizes her life, but takes up random opportunities and travels. Be it studying historic jewelry making, desperation to escape a small town, or crawling into a grave, she tethered her (mostly fantasy) books to the real world by mining life. Currently, she’s stalking wild horses for an upcoming book of her photography of horses. She’s a multiple bestseller (NYT, USA Today, LA Times, Wall Street Journal) as well as internationally bestselling author, and her work can be found in translation in twenty-eight languages.

What This Class Covers

WEEK 1 – Sourcing Experiences

In this first class, we’ll address our life experiences. Have you danced in a rainstorm? Crouched in fear as a tropical storm wailed outside? Can you throw a punch? Bake? Have you been on a boat? Train? Motorcycle? We begin by crafting lists of what we know a little or a lot about, where we’ve been, what unique or common experiences we might have that can be exploited to conquer the dreaded first blank page. We’ll look at ways to learn random enriching tidbits, from community classes to roadside attractions to travel blogs. We’ll also begin brainstorming about potential combinations of how we could use something from our list to start either a novel or piece of short fiction. We are exploring our voices and experiences to add realism to fiction, so the experience—be it a spectacularly good/bad first date to an ax throwing class to a miscarriage to a marriage—can lead to a voice that will resonate with readers. This is not about only the painful experiences but the joyous ones. Both kinds add richness to stories.
*There will be a handout of resources, a short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 2 – Sourcing Hobbies & Interests

In this class, we’ll step away from experience to more objective knowledge. Have you taken a basket-weaving class? Martial art course? Cooking class? Are you a hiker? A gymnast? A marksman? What we know allows us to lend realism to a character or world. How can any of these be used to lead us to a character? A world? A plot?  We’ll also discuss the important topic of cultural respect and own voices. Looking at what we know helps us as writers locate a story that we can author with authenticity. After that, we’ll look at how the seeds from the first two weeks lead into stories. What sparks for each person may be a character, a question, or a setting. We are looking for the sparks from our mining, and from them, we will have a solid fire in which we can forge the story.
*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 3 – Places, Expanding, and Refining

At this point, we’ll add places. Setting a story in Arizona or Scotland will add different complications to a character’s journey. What is the mode of travel? The natural disaster for that region? The clothing style? Do we need snow shoes or snake gaiters? Adding the realistic elements of a specific setting will shift elements of story. That is our primary objective this week. By this point, we have a significant start on our stories and will have submitted them for constructive critique from fellow classmates and the instructor. 
*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 4 – The End

For our final class, we’ll be reviewing. Now that you’ve selected a story—short fiction or novel start—or have applied new knowledge to one you had in partial state when you entered the course, we’ll focusing this session on the keys elements of fiction– voice, pacing, dialogue, character development, plot, etc. Here is where the traits (from experience to location) add complications to your world, your plot, or your character’s motivations. We’ll be critiquing pieces, polishing, and asking any questions that might have lingered or not been answered throughout the session. Ideally, students will have a good start on a novel idea or complete story nearing readiness to submit to journals after completion of this session.
*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

Goals Of This Class

  • Learn how our experiences can lead to realistic characters
  • Learn about our experiences can lead to plots or nuances to existing plot ideas
  • Develop an understanding of how to use these in crafting your fiction
  • Develop an understanding of how our own history and experiences can add to a more authentic voice
  • Find settings from our travels or lives and apply the knowledge of physical space (from transit to climate) to add nuance or complications for our character and plot
  • Leave class with a deeper understanding of the key elements of writing
  • Get your work critiqued by your peers and a professional author
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