Why do we write fiction? This is a question with as many different answers as there are fiction-writers: Some people write to exorcise personal demons. Some write to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Some write in an attempt to replicate reality. Some write to create imagined, fantastical worlds. Some write to make a political, moral, or educational point. Some write to test the limits of language and storytelling.
Just as there are infinite reasons why we write fiction, there are innumerable ways in which we write. Thus, in this class, rather than define what a work of fiction is, we will ask the question: what can a work of fiction be? We will discuss traditional aspects of fiction writing—e.g. plot, character, setting—but, rather than viewing these elements proscriptively, we will consider them tools that can be put to a variety of ends. Through reading fiction and craft essays by published authors, completing short writing prompts, and workshopping longer stories, you will pick up some of these tools, try them out, hold fast to some and discard others. You will complete this workshop with drafts of two complete short stories, beginnings and sketches for future work, and a renewed sense of the possibilities inherent in fiction writing.
- At least one private conference with the instructor (via Skype or over the phone) to discuss your work.
- Intensive peer and instructor feedback on two short stories.
- Greater familiarity with contemporary fiction and masters of the form
- A deepened sense of risk, experiment, and adventure as a fiction writer.
Week 1: Introductions/Inventories
Week 2: Images
Week 3: Action
Week 4: Wants
Week 5: Textures/Forms
Week 6: The Writer in the World
Sara Jaffe is a fiction writer living in Portland, OR. Her novel Dryland was published by Tin House Books in 2015. Her short fiction and criticism have appeared or are upcoming in publications including Catapult, Fence, BOMB, NOON, The Offing, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She co-edited The Art of Touring (Yeti, 2009), an anthology of writing and visual art by musicians drawing on her experience as guitarist for post-punk band Erase Errata. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction entitled Hurricane Envy.
"Sara Jaffe completely changed how I think about the creative writing workshop, and gave me other ways to think about my own writing. In this workshop, Sara invited me to locate my own writing through music, film; to find a middle ground between different art forms. Sara's workshop does not just focus on the finished product alone. She is interested in getting her students to talk about the process itself."
"Sara Jaffe is the rarest kind of editor—someone who can immediately and wholly absorb the work at its most ambitious and/or nuanced (and often as-yet unrealized) intentions, while simultaneously maintaining close attention to the micro concerns of the page. She was involved in editing my book LARGE ANIMALS from day one, an always-changing feat of co-brainstorming, conjuring, and employing her powerful understanding of structure and grammar (when asked) to my barely-ruly prose. As such, she's the best kind of champion—funny, extremely intelligent, and never afraid to say what she thinks, especially when it will help the work. Somehow she manages to stay neutral and care deeply, tackling others' writing on its own terms, always hoping the most for it."
“Jaffe’s writing is crisp and tender—every chapter ends just before the reveal, giving the book a jarring momentum—and we’re stuck with...feelings inside our own heads, our bodies taut with anticipation.”
“DRYLAND is a gorgeous, layered, meticulous, clamoring, beating heart of a thing about a sullen teenager swimming and not swimming, kissing and not kissing, in Portland in the days of grunge. It will make you want to swim there back there back twenty times without stopping.”
“Sara Jaffe is a damn fine writer and an important new voice.”
“Remarkable. It’s realism, but its realism brushes ever so deftly against the allegorical, making the novel shimmer, part diary, part dream.”
“I love DRYLAND. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book that felt more sincere, that was so unbesmirched by knowing irony or commentary or authorial interventions. It’s a rare and sweet thing.”
"I consider myself so lucky to have had Sara Jaffe be one of the first readers of my novel, STAY AND FIGHT. I specifically sought her out as an editor because of her skill at connecting the way that words fall on the ear to the power of the story itself. While some readers are good at reading for plot, and others work at the level of the line, Sara does both at once as if there is no separation between the two. Anyone who has read her writing knows that she can make writing get at something clear and profound, and that she believes in the playfulness and possibility that language can offer us. She is an expert, patient, and generous reader and editor."