Learn How to Write the VanderMeer Way

Jeff VanderMeer has been appointed the 2016-2017 Trias Writer-in-Residence for Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and will be teaching a creative writing course called “Ghost Modules, Months of Secrets, and Dark Matter.” Assuming you’re not currently enrolled in the upstate NY college, he’s also been kind enough to post the basic outline for his seminar, along with a reading list.

This, along VanderMeer’s Wonderbook lecture series, will make for indispensable inspiration for those of you embarking on your own writing projects this fall!

VanderMeer has set up an innovative way to guide students through their reading and writing projects. By dividing the course into themed months (“Mimicry”, “Secrets”, “Freedom”, and “Revelations”) so each writer can gradually figure out their strengths.

The students will use what they learn from these texts and our discussions to create three major works: a short story in which each student takes the same basic plot elements and characters from a published story by an iconic writer and creates their own version; a “fan fic” specific to Aase Berg’s Dark Matter and Amelia Gray’s Gutshot (with the possible intermediary of Donor’s Into the Mysterium; and their own original short story, critiqued in class.

You can head over to VanderMeer’s blog to find the class reading list, which includes Warren Ellis’ Normal and Amelia Gray’s Gutshot, and short works such as “Vaster Than Empires…” by Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Poetry Cloud” by Cixin Liu, Catherynne M. Valente’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time” and (my personal favorite) “The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson!

He’s also shared his breakdown of the structure of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which he calls “a kind of masterclass on specific detail and nuance when it comes to cultural issues.” Be warned that VanderMeer’s breakdown is highly spoilery, but it also shows how, as an author, you can play with intercutting different points of view to create more three-dimensional characters.

And as if that wasn’t enough, VanderMeer has also shared one of his Wonderbook lectures with Electric Literature. The writer breaks down some of the many, many options you have when you begin thinking about your story’s structure. How would you like to begin? Is the protagonist’s dinner conversation truly necessary? Which character will provide the best point of view for the airship explosion? There’s also a marvelous (but spoilery!) exploration of a pivotal scene in Mervyn Peake’s Ghormenghast. You can read the entire lecture, complete with wonderful illustrations from Jeremy Zerfoss, over at Electric Lit. I’d advise that those of you who have a rough draft of a story set some time aside, read the entire piece, and then have fun playing with some of the suggestions VanderMeer makes. But watch out for story gophers…

Art by J. Zerfoss, from J. VanderMeer's WONDERBOOK. Click to enlarge.

Art by J. Zerfoss, from J. VanderMeer’s WONDERBOOK. Click to enlarge.

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