Apprenticing in Fiction: Four Masters Up-Close

with Allan Reeder
Notice: Sorry, but registration for this workshop has now closed.
Workshop Type: 4-Week, Fiction, Online, Unlisted
Length: 4-Week
Genre: Fiction
Type: Online
Location: Online
From: Sunday, 06 October 2013
To: Sunday, 03 November 2013

Workshop Description

“A writer is a reader who is moved to emulation,” – Saul Bellow.

The central goal of this workshop is to encourage this movement from observer to practitioner.

Unlike with the master painter or pianist or plumber, you cannot learn much at all from watching the master fiction-writer at work. You must observe the sentences he or she has made and set down in sequence to create the story. In other words, to apprentice in the art, you must make the page your master. This course aims to promote creatively profitable reading through a patient, up-close approach to four different “master” stories, one per week.

With focus as much on the art of the sentence as on story structure, participants will be prompted to move from what is effective on the page to how it is effective, and in turn, by becoming better readers, to make famous writers’ maneuvers graspable and ready for emulation. With such an approach, and with supplementary readings on the practice of storymaking, the course will provide specific and useful exposure to the artful elements operating in compelling short fiction.

Among the topics for readerly attention in each story will be:

  • Narrative structure
  • “Scene” vs. “summary”
  • Free indirect style
  • The specific experience in the general
  • The interplay of character and setting
  • Empathic imagination
  • Development of narrative tension/momentum
  • Imagery and its placement
  • Dialogue mechanics.

Workshop Outline

Pre-Workshop Readings (Handouts)

  • “A Note on Technique,” by Wallace Stegner
  • “My Life’s Sentences,” by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • “Reading Like a Writer,” by Francine Prose (brief excerpt)

Week 1: Going Roundtrip with The Doctor

  • Apprenticing to: “The Doctor,” by Andre Dubus (Sr.)
  • Supplementary reading: “Letter to a Young Writer” (Dubus)
  • Practice: Isolations and Emulations

Isolations are brief exercises in which participants select a particularly admirable story passage — as brief as a single sentence — and take a stab at articulating the reason for writerly admiration. What does the passage achieve? How does it achieve this effect? What can we learn?

Emulations move participants from observers of examples of effective craft to makers of original fictional moments.

Week 2: One-Way Travel with Mom

  • Apprenticing to: “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” by Flannery O’Connor
  • Supplementary reading: “Writing Short Stories” (O’Connor)
  • Practice: Isolations and Emulations (see above for descriptions)

Week 3: Free-Range Storytelling

  • Apprenticing to: “Fits” by Alice Munro
  • Supplementary readings:
    Introduction to Selected Stories (Munro)
    Excerpt from The Art of Fiction No. 137, from The Paris Review
  • Practice: Isolations and Emulations (see above for descriptions)

Week 4: Going Nowhere with Friends

  • Apprenticing to:
  • “Beginners” by Raymond Carver — original story draft
  • “Beginners” by Raymond Carver — as edited by Gordon Lish
  • “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver

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Allan ReederAbout Allan Reeder

Allan Reeder, an award-winning writer, editor, and teacher, is the founder and president of Hillside Writing (, which provides imaginative, dedicated coaching to professional and apprentice writers. After assisting novelist John Irving with fiction and screenplay projects, Allan worked as an editor at The Atlantic and then as executive fiction editor at DoubleTake magazine. For the past thirteen years he has mentored the exceptional young wordsmiths in The Writing Studio at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, in Natick, Massachusetts, where he has designed and taught studio courses in nonfiction and fiction writing. A recipient of the E. E. Ford Prize for Exceptional Teaching, Allan has earned for his own writing back-to-back Artist Grants in Fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a full fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, nomination as a Ploughshares Emerging Writer, and a Promise Award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. He curates and writes Hillside’s blog, Sentence x Sentence.

Notice: Sorry, but registration for this workshop has now closed.