There are spaces in Intermediate Fiction (English 225) at SFCC this fall. It’s aimed at focused development of craft and stories. Russ Whiting is the instructor—and I’ve asked him to talk about the class below.
There are still a very few spots left in my on-line fiction class (English 221)—take it from anywhere in the world! Focus is on flash fiction. Terry Wilson’s writing class (English 120), always a jump start, is also open to a few more folks.
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Interview with Russ Whiting
What are the major one or two things students will learn in the class?
I hope that students take away many things from the class, but I suppose the main thing we learn is that writing is a craft and a practice, and we get better at it each time we go to the well. The course is built around practice and I see my job as a facilitator or coach to prompt each student’s best writing. The second thing I try to impress upon students is that the story, whether short or long, is the most important element. We can work out the details as we share and critique as a group. We work on ideas, plot, description, dialogue, point of view, and all the necessary elements of the story, but the most important thing is just going for it.
Will you address longer forms of story like the novella or novel, or mostly short stories?
I like all the forms that stories take and it is up to the students to decide which forms suit them. Often, a short story can be a chapter or an outline of a novel or novella, so everything is fair game. I will definitely discuss the difference between them, what is selling in the market, what editors and agents are looking for, and how to build each form and what each includes. I’ve lined up a New York agent to do a phone interview with the class and answer questions about how the literary world has changed and what really works for readers.
What is your opinion about the central challenge that writers face?
I grew up on a farm and worked on ranches, doing the toughest labor you can imagine, but writing is still the hardest job I’ve ever done. As a newspaper editor and reporter, freelance journalist, and now fiction writer, I think that shaping words to tell a story, entertain, educate, and elicit a visceral response in the reader is the ultimate challenge. We want it to “sound” beautiful, have characters that jump out of the pages and become real in our minds, and tell a story that somehow matters. In order to do all these things, we have to sit and write, usually alone. Overcoming the obstacle of our own inertia is probably the toughest wall we have to climb, but that’s what the class is for. We learn that we are not alone, that there are specific things we can do to break the resistance, and ways to trick the muse into action.
Only to say that I really love teaching this class. We become a community of artists. I have students who have published novels that began in this class, script writers who are producing short films and entering them into national contests, and even one student who is now teaching creative writing at a college in Missouri and continuing to write her own novels. It always gives my writing a boost and I want to be able to do that for other writers.