Expert offers fiction writing workshop in Redding

Susan Breen
Susan Breen

For seven hours on Saturday, March 3, a group of people at Redding’s Mark Twain Library will learn everything that goes into writing a fiction novel.

Fiction author Susan Breen will teach a free, one-day writing workshop, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program is open to writers of any level, and writing material will be provided.

“The workshop is a way to jump-start people into writing,” said Breen, of Irvington, N.Y.

Breen teaches fiction and novel writing at Gotham Writers Workshop in Manhattan, N.Y. She is the author of The Fiction Class and the Maggie Dove series of mystery books, and has been published in several magazines and literary journals.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City.

The hands-on workshop is part of the Allen and Helen Hermes Arts Series, the mission of which is to “enrich the quality of life in Redding by producing or supporting events in the visual, literacy, theater and musical arts that explore classical and contemporary culture with a critical eye,” according to the Mark Twain Library website.

Breen said that in her experience teaching writing, she has learned “so many adults dreamed of being writers when they were young. Then life intervened and now they are older and they have a story in their head, but feel they don’t know what to do with it.

“This class is a way to get some basic tools on how to get started,” she said. “It will not offer analysis and critique of writers’ works as much as encouragement.”

Students will sit around a conference table so they can make eye contact with one another. Breen will address the process of getting started.

“This is about developing the tools to begin writing, from something as small as setting aside a space for yourself to figuring out how to find time to write,” she said.

The workshop consists of five lectures, with each 15 or 20 minutes long. The lectures are followed by a writing exercise designed to put what has been taught into effect.

“People start off a little scared,” Breen said. “The exercises are designed to be fun and non-threatening.”

One lecture is on developing character. “Everyone will have a chance to flesh out their character and write a scene involving that character,” Breen said.

Breen’s tip is to set up a character “who really wants something, and then I say to myself, ‘Why would she want to do this?’ Then I start to set my character in motion,” Breen said. “I keep throwing obstacles in her path.”

Another topic that will be addressed is point of view. “We go over who is telling the story and whether it should be written in the first or third person,” she said.

“A lot of beginning authors will use the first person point of view because it seems easiest, since that’s how we talk.” According to Breen, a problem with this is that “people will often forget to use description. The story will come out very stream-of-consciousness.”

The business side of publishing will also be discussed, such as how to find an agent and how to self-publish.

Breen said one of her favorite exercises to inspire writers is to have them describe a place that was important to them growing up. She said doing this will help readers better relate to them.

“I’m a big believer in putting your heart on the page, in using material that has emotional value for you. People read because they are looking to form a connection — they feel like the writer understands what they have gone through,” she said.

Breen said every writer has a type of talent. “My job is to figure out what is everybody’s strength and what they should focus on,” she said.

She said one of the biggest problems people tend to have with their writing is they put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect, and are therefore reluctant to write anything down.

“You have to put it on the page even if you think it’s bad,” she said. “Once it’s on the page, you can always fix it.”

She said all writers, no matter who they are, receive negative feedback at one point or another in their career.  “In my life, I have never spoken to a writer who has not received a slew of rejection letters,” she said. “We all have horror stories — that’s how you know you’re serious. You are trying.”

She said it’s important to find something that makes one unique. “This is what people will connect to,” she said. “You should be able to answer, ‘Who am I and what makes me different?’”

“There is nothing worse in writing than being blind or playing it safe,” Breen added. “You are better off having nine people hate it but one person says that it changed their life.”

Students’ writing goals will also be addressed during the workshop. “Are you hoping to be published by a big New York City press, or just have your family read your work?” she asked.

By the end of the day, Breen said, she hopes students will have a fairly strong idea of where they want to go with their writing. “It’s a really fun experience,” she said.

To register for the program, visit marktwainlibrary.org or call the library at 203-938-2545 for information. Coffee and snacks will be served. Registrants are asked to bring a brown-bag lunch. The Mark Twain Library is at 429 Redding Road.

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