The Alchemy of Theme with Sarah Gerard

In this four-week workshop, you'll use the elements of fiction to identify opportunities for theme in your characters, settings, and prose—and bring them to the surface.

Your Instructor: Sarah Gerard, author of BINARY STAR

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: April 20, 2017 - May 18, 2017

Enrollment: 15 students

Price: $325

Class Description

After character, setting, and plot, theme is that magical thing that makes a story sing.

It's what gives you butterflies and also a sense of completion.

But what is theme? And how does it get into a story?

Welcome to The Alchemy of Theme, led by acclaimed Binary Star author Sarah Gerard.

Whether you're early in the outlining phase or putting the finishing touches on a piece, or revising a story that just doesn't work, this class will help you use the elements of fiction to identify opportunities for theme in your characters, settings, and prose—and bring them to the surface.

You'll look at how other writers have used theme successfully, and discuss how theme can be used both to guide you through the early stages of writing, and to bring your story to a strong resolution. 

At the end of these four weeks, you’ll have read and responded to eight short stories, as well as a number of ancillary readings, which illuminate the themes at work within those short stories. You'll look at theme operating at all levels of each story: plot structure, scene, and prose. And you'll end the course having completed at least four new pieces of critical or creative writing, in which you’ll put this new knowledge to use.

What This Class Covers

Week 1: Building an Image System

You'll open the class with two stories by contemporary writers who use variations on motifs to build systems of images with metaphorical properties. You'll examine the ways that, scene-by-scene, these writers use their image systems to develop character and theme simultaneously, and you'll practice identifying and developing images with metaphorical properties in your own stories. The readings this week are “This Far” by Alejandro Zambra and “The All Saints’ Day Lovers” by Juan Gabriel Vazquez.

Week 2: What world is this?

Next you'll look at two stories by contemporary writers who use point-of-view, tense, and voice to establish a thematically resonant setting for their stories. You'll examine the ways that the established parameters for these stories lend deeper meaning to their subjects, and how the writers draw out and connect these deeper meanings. The readings this week are “Dying of the Dead” by Jeff Jackson and “Four Institutional Monologues” by George Saunders.

Week 3: Who am I, really?

Now you'll talk about how two contemporary writers use theme to develop three-dimensional characters, and how the symbiotic relationship of theme and character can help you make choices in your stories, and ultimately bring your stories to resolution. The readings this week are Kelly Link’s “Secret Identity” and Joy Williams’s “Dimmer”.

Week 4: Finding the Universal in the Particular

Finally, you’ll practice putting this new knowledge to use in your own stories. Sarah will show you how to identify the metaphorical “about” in your pieces, no matter their stage of completion, and how to bring the larger meaning of your work to the surface by focusing on its metaphorical elements. You'll study the methods various contemporary writers use for excavating their own work, and look at the opening pages of a few notable novels to see how theme arises on the level of the sentence.

* Readings are subject to change. Each week will include assignments to be critiqued by Sarah, as well as your fellow students. There will also be opportunities for discussion and Q & A along the way. 

Goals Of This Class

  • Use the elements of fiction to identify opportunities for theme in your characters, settings, and prose, and bring them to the surface.
  • Look at how other writers have used theme successfully.
  • Discuss how theme can be used both to guide you through the early stages of writing and bring your story to a strong resolution.
  • Read and respond to short stories by writers writing today, as well as a number of ancillary readings, which illuminate the themes at work within those short stories.
  • Complete at least four new pieces of critical or creative writing, in which you’ll put this new knowledge to use.
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