Two fiction classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

A note to plug two excellent classes being offered this winter through the fantastic Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA) (and yes, I am teaching one of them):

*”Fiction Writing I,” taught by Clare Beams, running from January 14 through March 10 (eight Thursday evenings, 6:30–9:30). Clare is a wonderful writer and teacher who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through our involvement with the PCA. This fiction class incorporates elements of reading fiction carefully for craft elements, completing writing exercises to generate material and practice specific fictional skills, and some workshopping. It is a fantastic place to start if you’ve been dabbling in fiction writing, wanting to work on stories or a novel in a more focused and sustained way (or perhaps have made a New Year’s resolution to do so), or have a story you’d like to get some feedback on. Clare is a generous, knowledgeable, and fun guide to the art and craft of writing fiction.

*”Fiction II,” taught by . . . me! and running from February 1 to March 16 (seven Wednesday evenings, 6:30–9:30). I use many of the same approaches and techniques as in Fiction I, with the difference that in this course we jump much more quickly into sharing our work with the class, offering comments and constructive criticism through a basic fiction workshop model.

I like to say that this class is not necessarily for advanced students, or even students who’ve taken Fiction I, but is more for students who have material ready to share, and/or who have a writing process that works for them. We will still cover crucial fiction skills such as plot, character, point of view, details, etc., we will still read exemplary stories and novel excerpts from published authors, and we will still dedicate class time to writing exercises that will help you sharpen those skill areas. But we will do it while also giving time to a weekly workshop of two to three stories, requiring students to read their peers’ work with close attention, preparing to discuss the work in person and to hand their peers written comments responding to the work.

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Every workshop I’ve had the pleasure of leading at the PCA (where I have been teaching for about 2–3 years now) has been a wonderful experience; it’s easily in the top two or three things I get to do each year.

And that’s true not just because I get to talk fiction for several hours each week, or because the students are so wildly talented (although they are), but because I get to spend that time with others who care about stories and writing. If you are aiming to get more serious about your writing, wish to pick up a lapsed writing habit, or are finding your solitary writing routine a little lonely, both these classes offer the gifts of community and commiseration—things that can make all the difference to a writer, especially one new at his or her craft. One of my proudest accomplishments as a teacher is the fact that a number of writing groups have spawned from these classes, as students have gotten comfortable enough with one another as writers and critiquers that they’ve sought to continue those conversations on their own.

One final plug for either or both classes is just to say that both Clare and I are graduates of Master of Fine Arts programs in fiction writing, and we both have taken liberally from those curricula, not only in terms of how we run our workshops but in the way we approach craft elements. (Speaking for myself, my mini-lectures on things like point of view and dialogue are based on observations I made during a really formative “Readings in Fiction” class taught by the writer Michael Byers when I was earning an MFA at the University of Pittsburgh.) To put it a little bluntly, both fiction classes offer a high level of information and instruction—a level you’d typically pay quite a lot for—at a very, very low price.

OK, plugging is over. I’ve never really discussed these classes here on my blog, and I’m not sure why, because they’re a lot of fun to teach and I think both courses, along with the PCA’s offerings as a whole (and those of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, its sister organization), are really awesome, a credit to Pittsburgh in general.

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