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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 (Scribner, 2015) was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, was a finalist for the 2016 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction and the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Her first book, a story collection entitled The Bigness of the World, won the 2008 Flannery O’Connor Award, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the 2009 California Book Award for First Fiction. Stories from it appeared in the Best American Short Stories and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. Scribner reissued the collection in early 2016. Lori received the 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Award and a fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Most recently, her work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Southern Review, and the Kenyon Review.
- Sunday, September 23, 10:30am-1:00pm
- Sunday, September 30, 10:30am-1:00pm
- Sunday, October 7, 10:30am-1:00pm
- Sunday, October 14, 10:30am-1:00pm
- 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.