instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Workshops with Jess Wells

- "From Daydream to Story: Learn the First Steps in Fiction"- "Writing the Story of Your Family " - "How to Write Historical Fiction"- "Fundamentals of the Short Story"- "Creating Credible Worlds: Settings That Work Hard for Your Story" - "Works in Progress Workshop for Returning Students" - "Theme is Where the Art Is"- "Making Time for Creativity: How to Write with a Full-time Job"

From Daydream to Story: Learn the First Steps in Fiction

Whether you are a nonfiction writer who wants to break out of the mold or a daydreamer who wants to get those stories down on paper, join us for this fun and informative course in the essential elements of fiction.

In this class, you’ll get in touch with the fanciful, daydream side of yourself and also work with the core elements of storytelling that will help you transform your ideas into art.

“It’s a real joy to build stories in your head, but when it’s time to share them, there are structural things you need to know to help you recreate the excitement and experience of that story,” instructor Jess Wells says. “This class will help you get comfortable with the key elements of a story, such as the classic three-part story structure, point of view, and the role of the protagonist, antagonist and even ‘the sidekick’.”

This course will be a combination of short lectures on craft, in-class writing exercises, fun homework assignments to use new skills in building your fictional world, and readings of great stories. We may also have informal discussions on topics like how to battle writer’s block/procrastination and ways to validate yourself as a writer.

"Writing the Story of Your Family"

Many families have fascinating pasts driven by courageous ancestors and wise elders – great material for either biography or historical fiction. Have you inherited letters or diaries? Have you heard a story at Thanksgiving that is just begging to be written? How do you go from items in the attic to fully-realized characters on the page? Could adding a fictional character increase the thematic clarity of the project?

We will work with some of the powerful writing techniques and keys to storytelling to craft either fact-based biography, fictive biography, or historical fiction. And if you have already started a project we’ll help you untangle your plot or bring verve to your language.

"How to Write Historical Fiction"

Historical fiction can transport you and your writing into worlds that are incredibly fun to write. Do you want to reintroduce a little-known hero/heroine into popular culture? Would you like to tell the sweeping saga of your own family’s struggle in America? And since any story more than 50 years in the past is considered historical fiction, sometimes one’s own childhood tale can be the source of your inspiration.

Although historical fiction is an increasingly popular and legitimate genre, it has its own unique demands. You can’t just throw a tapestry over the flat screen TV in your scene and call it historical. There are real differences between modern life and life in the past, which require real differences in your writing. And that, to me, is the greatest thing about it: it’s like a three-dimensional chess game with the bottom layer as the character’s story, the middle layer as the unique historical setting and events, and the top game being played with language.

Either during the 1-day workshop or in each session of the 5-week class, we’ll have a lecture on an aspect of the craft of historical fiction (and great writing in general), some enjoyable in-class writing assignments, and a discussion on research opportunities.

Nearly all sessions involve a segment spent on your specific project, looking either at plot development, character development, or assisting you in your research.

Our reading may involve passages from the greats of historical fiction:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
“The English Pupil”, a short story by Andrea Barrett
Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon
and others.

My goal is to help you identify an era and an area that speak to you, determine where and how to research, and when to stop researching. We’ll explore the requirements of accuracy vs. entertainment, discuss where to publish your historical work, and do what it takes, as a group, to move you toward your goal of creative, credible historical fiction.

"Fundamentals of the Short Story"

The short form – the short story and novella – is my absolute favorite literary form. They are multifaceted, beautifully compacted pieces of art. But they are not a snapshot or a verbal photograph – they have very hard work to do in a very short time frame. In this class we will examine and practice both in class and as homework each of the five key topics that can make a tremendous difference in your crafting of short stories:

• How to develop the emotional arc of characters by looking at their desires and the catalyst that makes them change
• The classic 3-act structure of a story; the importance of internal theme and how it matches an external statement on humanity
• Powerful beginnings that hook the reader immediately
• Setting as a plot driver
• Internal conflict and dialogue as characterization

In each session I will give a short lecture on the craft. We'll work with your material and my worksheets on the topic (or sometimes as homework as well). Together we’ll read short story masters like Andrea Barrett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and James Joyce, and discuss how their work illustrates the topic of the week. We’ll also make time to workshop specific pieces from those who volunteer, with group suggestions and kudos.

Please bring a laptop or tablet, if possible, and work you have already created; or just come with your imagination and a desire to have fun.

"Creating Credible Worlds: Settings That Work Hard for Your Story"

Setting is not simple backdrop, like a green screen on which on film is shot. Setting in fiction plays an important role in theme, plot, genre, and even characterization. It’s no accident that your intrepid heroes have to ride through a narrow mountain pass: it’s the way the author forces friend and foe into a meeting. It’s helpful that your main character is the village doctor, hosting family after family during their crisis in a little room in the front of the house. Even the relentless dark and biting wind of a distant planet illustrates both the physical challenges facing the colony of scientists but also their brooding cruelty to one another.

Whether your write sci-fi, historicals, erotica, or modern fiction, your setting can make or break your story. In this one-day class, we’ll look at:
o What are the key to a well-drawn fictional world?
o What elements assist in creating an effective setting and better yet, an efficient setting that works hard for you in your story?
o How can a setting be drawn to challenge the protagonist in his/her quest?
o How can a setting allow the author to control movement of the characters and introduce diversity of events and characters?

We may look at the opening pages and/or the maps of well-known books from different genres, including perhaps:
The Lathe of Heaven, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf, Perfume: Story of a Murderer, The Hobbit, and The World Beneath.

We may also take a free-form map and create a world of our own to see what a setting requires.

And of course we’ll tip our hats to the amazing power of a beautifully written setting that transports us, transfixes us, lets us smell the flowers of a foreign land.

"Theme is Where the Art Lives"

Go from a wordsmith to an artist by understanding the key role that theme plays in your fiction. Deft handling of theme and its multiple facets is what drives plot, characterization, setting, in short…it’s the key to making art. Work with me on identifying the theme in your work, crafting the “only to discover that” moment in your plot/story-arc/characterization, and the way to make your characters the embodiment of theme.

This course has been offered as a Master's Class at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, New Orleans.

"Works in Progress Workshop for Returning Students"

Move your plot from stuck to thriving, pare down your cast of characters to a harmonious bunch, and discover the theme that makes your work uniquely yours. In short, get guidance, feedback and support from Jess and fellow students that will move your work — novel, short story, historical or fantastical fiction, or memoir — toward beautiful, satisfying completion.

Each workshop meeting will begin with instruction on a key to great writing and/or the writer’s life, and then go into a round-robin where each attendee can discuss plot developments, show work, ask questions, and receive support for being a writer. There may be homework, exercises and suggested readings, examples of the greats of the short story etc., if the class wants it.

Whether you’re moving from nonfiction to fiction, from corporate writing to fantasy, from a great outline and concept but few pages, from a beginning short story or a written novel that’s overly tangled, our work together can help you. If writer’s block or a busy life get in the way of progress, we can discuss that as well. It’s your time and it’s all about you.

"Making Time for Creativity: How to Write with a Full-Time Job"

People everywhere wish they could find the time to express themselves. Meeting rooms, construction sites and classrooms are filled with people who can't re-orient their priorities to make room for art in their life.

Even those who identify themselves as artists are constantly plagued with a shortage of time to create, and students, ready to tackle a new life, need instruction on how to build a lifestyle that is conducive to their visions.

This workshop will:

• Empower the participants with practical, hands-on ways to carve out time for their art
• Instruct in priority building
• Confront the obstacles, internal and external, to a creative life
• Develop techniques for maximizing time
• Reveal the famous writers who produced great works of art while gainfully employed
• Provide guidance in building a writer’s life and budget
• Introduce the business work-ethic into the creative process
• Plan a new writer’s life that can start tomorrow

Through a combination of worksheets, discussion and lectures, participants will walk out with a plan of action that works!