Tag Archives: FAWC

After the workshop: what I learned at FAWC

4 Aug

I didn’t get a chance to update this blog more regularly after the first two days in my workshop because Pam gave us a lot of work to do (a good thing). I found myself spending a lot of time writing at night and then spending my mornings either finishing up an assignment or two, or revising what I’d written the night before. We’d often have two or three assignments, plus some reading. I know that two or three writing assignments doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but for a slow writer like me who edits obsessively, it took a long time. Also, there’s the time I took to think of an idea that would make sense and then write a story around that idea. The amazing thing about Pam is that she could come up with ten different ideas in a minute or two, and could think of just as many directions that our own stories could go.

Provincetown ferry to Boston

I said goodbye to Provincetown on the last ferry back to Boston.

One exercise that I really enjoyed was the Two Sentences exercise. She had us each start three different stories writing only two sentences for each one. Then another member of the class would choose one of the three to continue and would write the next two sentences. Then the original writer of the first two sentences would write sentences five and six. And on and on until the story was completed. It was a lot of fun, but we did reach a snag when we got to sentences seven and eight. Many of our stories stalled at that point, and I’m not sure why. Maybe we lost our focus? Pam reminded us that every sentence needs to move the story forward. Kurt Vonnegut once said that “every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” It is even more apparent when you’re not doing one or both of those things in very short stories, and Pam explained where we had all stalled in our sentences. I remember I got stalled on one story I had to continue because the setup of the previous two sentences required me to come up with dialogue for a character that had changed since my last contribution — in my view, the voice of the character had been lost. Because I couldn’t “hear” the character’s voice anymore, I felt that I was unable to write the dialogue, and I found myself losing interest in the sentences my partner had written. I really did enjoy the exercise, though, and it got us all thinking, while also taking away the pressure of having to think of the next line — something that can really stop a story (or writer) cold. I’d like to try this exercise with writer friends of mine whose work I know a little better and see where it goes.

By far the most important thing I learned was the concept of the “inside/outside” of the story. It seems like such an easy, simple notion, but it’s something I didn’t fully understand until this workshop. Pam explained it really well and she gave us readings and had us work on exercises that provided examples of this idea. The short explanation is that there is the “outside” story of what is happening (the action, setting, plot), and then there is the inside story of the POV character (that character’s particular struggle/preoccupation/obsession etc.). Looking back at some stories I’ve written, I see that some of them have very little inside story, and it is the reason that the story lacked resonance. I don’t know if this is something that most experienced writing instructors take for granted as something that newer writers should already know or understand, but Pam’s class cracked something open in my brain, allowing me to truly understand this concept for the first time.

I’m really glad I took this class and that I got to learn from a teacher as funny, interesting and experienced as Pamela Painter. I definitely recommend her as an instructor, and I recommend the Fine Arts Work Center. A week there is not cheap, but I think that if you take your writing seriously and you have an open mind with a willingness to learn and grow, then it is worthwhile.


My Week at the Fine Arts Work Center – Provincetown, MA

28 Jul
Fine Arts Work Center

Fine Arts Work Center

Today was the first day of the week here with a brief orientation and meeting with our workshop leader and fellow classmates. The class I’m taking is Flash Fiction with Pamela Painter, an Emerson professor and widely published writer of both regular length short stories and much shorter flash or micro fiction pieces.

I liked Pam right away. We only had fifteen minutes together as part of our introduction to her class, and she led a mini lecture about the flash fiction form with some examples of the assignment she’d like us to do for tomorrow.

The class is small – right now just me and two other women, with a possible fourth classmate to join us tomorrow. I think the perfect size for a class is six people, so four (or three) is pretty small. The benefit is having more time to talk to Pam one-on-one and be able to learn as much as possible from her – something that is more difficult to do in a larger class.

View from the Provincetown Fast Ferry

We passed a sailboat on the way to Provincetown.

Our first assignment is to write the first two sentences of three different stories. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! The first two sentences of any story are – like the last two – some of the hardest to write. The sentences need to do the following: place the reader in time and place; introduce character(s), POV, voice and conflict; draw the reader in. In some ways, the story needs to be already somewhat formed in your head before you can even begin.

Luckily for my writing, it is rainy and a bit cold (mid-sixties), so I got a big mug of tea and am locking myself in my room to write. Fingers crossed I don’t come down with a case of writer’s block!

Tracy Staedter

Science writing, editing and workshops


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