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“Over the years, numerous students have told me that they don’t feel comfortable writing backstory or have been told to avoid backstory,” says instructor Lori Ostlund. “My general philosophy is to utilize all tools, and backstory is one more tool to help writers make sense of their characters and give meaning to the plot.”

In this class we will address backstory as a fiction tool that is rich in potential but often underutilized. We will read short stories that bring in backstory through dialogue, summary and exposition, flashback, flashforward, and documents (diaries, resumes, etc.), discussing how the backstory allowed each writer to get at the core of the story—who these characters are, why they act as they do, what this story is truly about. In addition, we will engage in writing exercises that focus on specific backstory techniques, including how to transition in and out of backstory. Participants will use these exercises to create work at home, which we will workshop in class.

“My goal,” Lori says, “is for us to think about these craft elements in ways that are new and generative. You will leave this class with new ideas about how and when to incorporate backstory and a greater appreciation for its ability to add depth and complexity.”



    Lori Ostlund’s novel, After the Parade, was a Barnes & Noble Discover pick, a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her story collection, The Bigness of the World, won the 2008 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and was a Lambda Finalist. Lori’s work has appeared in the Best American Short Stories and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories as well as in ZYZZYVA, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, and other journals. Lori has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award and was a finalist for the 2017 Joyce Carol Oates Prize. She has been a teacher for over twenty-five years in New Mexico, Spain, Malaysia, and North Carolina and is currently on the Mile-High MFA faculty. Since 2022, she has served as the series editor of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She lives in San Francisco, where she is at work on her fourth book, a novel entitled The Proprietresses, based on the years that she and her wife owned a furniture store in Albuquerque. Her third book, a story collection entitled Are You Happy?, will be published by Zando Projects in April 2025.

  1. Sunday, September 23, 10:30am-1:00pm
  2. Sunday, September 30, 10:30am-1:00pm
  3. Sunday, October 7, 10:30am-1:00pm
  4. Sunday, October 14, 10:30am-1:00pm
  5. Sunday, October 21, 10:30am-1:00pm
  • Lori is a great teacher, and came with a plan. She was kind and patient, and steered/started conversations in a tactful way.  She skillfully led discussions of the samples we read. When it came to critiquing our own work, any comments were couched in constructive language, and she set the tone for critiques.

    She was much more accessible than other teachers I have had in the past. She even went so far as to think further about questions she had already answered in class, and e-mail her thoughts to us later.

    Carole Stivers


Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 5:30 pm PDT
Sunday, October 21, 2018 @ 8:00 pm PDT
Event Category:


San Francisco
2042 Balboa St.
San Francisco, CA United States
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Cancellation Policy

10 days or more before the start date for a class, the registrant will receive a credit minus a 10% fee OR a refund minus a 20% fee.

3-9 days before the start date for a class, the registrant will receive a credit minus a 20% fee OR a refund minus a 30% fee.

2 days or less before the start date for a class, the registrant will not receive a credit or a refund.

The Writing Salon cannot offer refunds, credits, or makeup sessions for classes a student might miss.

In the event of an emergency, we may consider a refund or credit, whether partial or full. We review these requests on a case-by-case basis, and we ask that you notify us as near as possible to the start date for the class.

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