What We Do

Literary Fiction uses “story” to get readers to identify deeply with any and all aspects of human experience.  Fiction writers use technique—significant detail, characterization and point-of-view, dialogue, setting, scene and summary, shape and structure—to cause readers to experience the lives of others in their own bodies, hearts and minds.  Fiction is meant to feel “like life” to readers but is actually quite unlike life. As in all art, the desired effect is created through artifice: stratagems that are invisible if they are working well. Fiction is highly organized even (especially) when it appears not to be, whereas life (as we all know) is chaotic and inconclusive.  The creation of fiction, then, arises from the primal human impulse to tell stories in order to make meaning in our lives.  

Literary fiction is distinct from “genre fiction” (eg., mystery, suspense, romance, fantasy), which works with character stereotypes and conventions of plot, setting, and situation to meet the expectation of readers of that genre.


Noon by Charles Duncan


Creative Nonfiction (sometimes called literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction) is prose that brings together the best techniques of fiction and poetry in the telling of a story as true as the author can make it.  From fiction, we learn how to layer sections or short vignettes, how to start scenes as close to the action as possible, and how to "show" rather than "tell" when sharing discovery with a reader.  From poetry, we learn how to use rhythms or music in language, how to convey feelings through images, and how to create density of meaning through metaphors or word associations.   The resulting work should be a sensory experience that feeds your head as well as your heart.


Three Responses to In-Class Exercises by Jill Winsby-Fein

Bus (from a in-class prompt) by Morgan Stewart

Falling (from an in-class prompt) by Morgan Stewart


"Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion  recollected in tranquility." -William Wordsworth

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is  poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."  -Emily Dickinson

"A poem should not mean, but be."  -Archibald MacLeish

"What is poetry which does not save nations or peoples?"  -Czeslaw Milosz 

"Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry."   -Muriel Rukeyser

"In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity  to love anything at all."  -Wallace Stevens

More Definitions

Oaktown by Rachel Brylawski

Morning Meals by Tess Satsuma

Becoming Full by Tess Satsuma

Circe by Morgan Stewart

Contrary to a popular and perennial misconception, playwrights are not literary artists, but dramatic artists. That is to say, the playwright is a partner in the ineluctably collaborative process of creating live theatre. While the playwright needs certain literary skills (indeed, both the storytelling skills of the fiction writer and the “intensifying” skills of the poet), he or she uses these skills in very different ways and to very different ends. In theatre, the work of art––“the play”––is the performance, not the written script, which is merely the blueprint for that performance. To pursue the metaphor further, one might say the playwright is an architect who designs a building that must stand and function in a certain way. Yet the “building” doesn’t simply stand there and function; it moves through time, arising from nothing and falling away again to nothing. In this sense, what the playwright exercises is really something more like the dynamic, four-dimensional intelligence of the choreographer.

 Thus, while a playscript may also have literary value (e.g. Shakespeare), its essence is that it is written to be performed, not merely read. One of the chief challenges of being a playwright, then, is learning to show restraint, to write no more (and no less) than is absolutely necessary: in other words, to leave room for the other artists––the actors, director and designers––to do their work and bring their own creativity to the process of creating the play. Playwriting is not for control-freaks, unless you happen to be Samuel Beckett. 


The format of a playscript looks the way it does for practical reasons. It must be easily legible and comprehensible to the other artists with whom one is to collaborate. (This is different from a movie script or screenplay, which is primarily a means of selling a story idea to a producer who may have very little understanding of the art form of cinema itself.)


The playwright’s “role” in the theatre has changed over time, and it continues to evolve. In Sophocles’ time, the playwright was also the one who directed the play. In modern times, we have tended to separate these two roles, and sometimes even inserted a third, “mediating” role between them: the dramaturge. In certain experimental theatres, such as Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre, the playwright is more of an amenuensis, someone who notes down and later gives dramatic shape to ideas that come up spontaneously in group improvisations. And of course in some cases, playwright, actor, and director are the same person.


Why study playwriting? Like any art form, it involves “craft”: a set of specific skills that enable one to adapt the formal constraints of the medium itself to one’s own aesthetic aims. These skills can be learned. Of course, it requires something more––“inspiration,” perhaps––to use these skills effectively in the creation of great theatre.