Your characters can’t do anything if they’re nowhere. Geography is destiny, and literary characters, like real people, are detainees of time and place. Who they are and what happens to them (plot) is usually a result of their immediate surroundings. However, setting is more than just blossoming trees and impressive architecture. Setting is both the historical and phenomenological sum of a character’s parts. In this course, we will examine and exercise ways to develop the world in which your character thrives and suffers. We will paint the picture of how your character got where and why.
Lecture: Epic settings and landscapes in American fiction. The urban, suburban, and rural. Author as city planner and architect. Depicting actual cities and towns in your fiction and using tools such as Google Earth and Google Images as research. Conducting a virtual walking tour of your story/novel’s setting.
Class Discussion and Handout: Examples and excerpts from a variety of novels and short stories. Recommended-reading list.
Homework: Choose a real town or city you’ve never visited. Research that town. Collect images and video of the town or city’s streets and buildings. Choose one of your already existing literary characters and write a descriptive one to two page passage detailing that character’s experience of being in a new place. How is this town/city different from his/her own? What new thoughts/feelings does he/she experience?
Lecture: Time and ethos as setting. How the time period or era of a novel shapes a character’s thoughts and behavior. Historical fact and fictional supposition. The fun of revisionist fiction and why it seems to be so popular.
Class Discussion and Handout: Examples and excerpts from a variety of novels and short stories. Exercises in fictionalizing past events.
Homework: Re-write the climax of a significant historical event such as an assassination or winning moment in sports. Write it from a new perspective in a way that perhaps alters the outcome or brings new meaning to it.
Lecture: Landscape as antagonist. Fiction in which landscape is a significant force/character of the story.
Class discussion and Handout: French naturalist literature. Researching architectural and ecological language and principles to enhance descriptive detail but also add dimension to your story’s themes. Avoiding cliché in describing nature and using it as symbol.
Homework: Write a short story or novel opening in which the setting is the sole character.
Lecture: Fictional landscapes and settings. Renovating the real in constructing imaginative spaces. Drawing a map from nothingness. Famous fictional cities/communities that have had held very real places in the minds of readers.
Class Discussion: Bring your homework assignments, and share it with the class for discussion if you’d like. Include your email address, if you would like the instructor to follow up with private feedback after the class concludes.
Final Handout: Additional resources, books and websites helpful to historical fiction writers and aspiring novelists.Notice: Sorry, but registration is now closed.
About Eugenio Volpe
Eugenio Volpe has published stories with New York Tyrant, Post Road, Salamander, Smokelong Quarterly, Superstition Review and more. He has won the PEN Discovery Award for his unpublished novel and been nominated for both Pushcart and Best of the Web prizes. His novella "King James" will be published in fall of 2013. He lives in Bristol, RI and blogs about surfing and Don DeLillo at mebeingbrand.blogspot.com.Notice: Sorry, but registration is now closed.