The Art of Brevity

Join me in this live two-hour class and discover why less can be more in your creative writing, and how you can apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story to a novel that contains thousands and thousands of words.

I’m Grant Faulkner, and I want to invite you to my upcoming two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity.

How did a writer (me) immersed in a lifelong training regimen to be a novelist find his aesthetic (and find himself) in brevity?

Like many, when I first became a writer, I thought the end goal of writing was that big behemoth of a saga called the “Great American Novel.” I found myself working on a long novel for nearly 10 years when I surreptitiously discovered 100-word stories and decided to take a break from my longer work and replenish my creativity by writing shorter pieces that would give me the satisfaction of completion and the momentum of publishing them.

I learned that the short form is beguiling. Since it’s so short, it would seem to be easier, but in my initial forays I couldn’t come anywhere close to the one-hundred-word mark. At best, I could chisel a story down to 150 words, and I was so frustrated by the gobs of material I’d left out that I didn’t see a way to go farther. A mentor chided me to keep going farther, to trust that my story would actually get better as I cut it down. 

I’d trained myself to write through backstories, layers of details, and thickets of connections, but the more I pared my prose to reach 100 words, a different kind of storytelling presented itself. The art of brevity. The art of excision. The art of compression. The art of omission. The art of spaces and gaps and breaths. The art of less

Such an art finds itself at the center of flash fiction, which is defined as a story under a thousand words and goes by many names, including “short-shorts,” “miniatures,” “sudden fiction,” “hint fiction,” “postcard fiction,” and “post-it fiction,” among others. Flash communicates via caesuras and crevices. There is no asking more, no premise of comprehensiveness, because flash fiction is a form that privileges excision over agglomeration, adhering more than any other narrative form to Ernest Hemingway’s famous iceberg dictum: only show the top one-eighth of your story and leave the rest below water to be conjured. 

Novelists are taught to strap together crisscrossing tentacles of story lines and fill the capacious spaces of a novel’s pages with layers of details—to write with a sense of expanding, of putting bulk on a story’s bones—but writers need to know how to construct a story with less just as much as they need to know how to build a story with more. Life consists largely of isolated, disconnected moments. We live within what goes unsaid as much as what is said, so many stories demand to be told with less—of everything. To reveal a character’s essence through hints. To build suspense not through connections, but by what is left out. To let the reader fill in the gaps of a story by following a trail of implications.

In Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity, I’ll discuss the style, the aesthetic, the discipline, and the craft of brevity. To write shorter pieces seems like it should be easier on the surface, but it’s not. With increased compression, every word, every sentence matters more. A writer has to learn how to privilege succinctness over any notion of comprehensiveness, to form narratives around caesuras and crevices instead of strings of connections, to move a story through symbolic weight.

In particular, here are five things I’ll discuss: 

  • Omission: how a story works with silences and the use of white space can work to enhance and amplify a story. 

  • Concision: how a writer must be like a master pruner, minimizing context, eliminating backstory, snipping connective tissue to allow a story to grow. 
A different type of creativity emerges within a hard compositional limit.
  • Structure: how to plot in such a short form, to include only the essential elements of a story; how miniatures can hold a different kind of expansiveness, a “bigness” created by the suggestiveness of the smaller form.
  • Collage: how brevity invites in elliptical contours that allow a story to be told through the amorphous structure of a collage, and how it invites in different forms, such as the “found object” of a to-do list, a letter of complaint, or an online review. 

  • Longer forms: how brevity works in longer forms, such as the novella and the “flash novel.” 

My aim is that you’ll will leave this workshop steeped in ideas of how less can be more, and you’ll be ready to apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story that is 100 words to a novel that is thousands of words.

I hope you’ll join me.

-Grant Faulkner

What Makes Mysteries Great

Join me in this two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the essential elements of a great mystery, and the rewards they make possible for readers and writers.

Why write a Mystery novel?  

I’ve been a published author for thirty years. I’ve won major awards and made all kinds of Bestseller lists. So why do I stay with the mystery genre? Is there something unique that a mystery offers the writer – things I can do within the genre that I couldn’t do in mainstream fiction? For that matter, why have award-winning mainstream novelists like Kate Atkinson or Michael Chabon or John Banville turned to crime?

I’m also a lifelong reader, one of the many who gravitate toward the shelves marked Mystery – and it’s definitely not because I’m looking for a book that I’ve read dozens of times before.

I head to the Mystery section because it’s where I’ll find the very opposite of formulaic. It’s where I’ll discover stories that are playful, or tough, or odd, or sparkling with insight. Stories that are unexpected, or troubling, or goofy, or offer a window into the past (and thus, the present.) Stories that are, from their opening scene to their closing sentence, human. 

I am perpetually fascinated by what my fellow writers manage do with the mystery genre – and endlessly curious about where I might go next with my own mysteries. But one thing for sure: I plan to stay with the genre, because the Mystery

…has structure. Wherever a story may be on the mystery spectrum, from the coziest of amateur sleuths to the most pulse-raising thriller, there are rules and conventions. I see these as the bones of a skeleton, with all kinds of bodies built around them.

…is subversive. A paperback entertainment can deliver weighty social comment. A frivolous distraction in a bright cover may leave its reader with a dose of introspection. Crime can be sneaky.

…has vivid characters. Characters only come alive when they grapple with challenges. A compelling character is one whose struggles the reader has followed—and what challenge could be more powerful than a murder?

…is where a reader and writer meet up. A mystery writer is always conscious of the reader. I deliberately shape my stories to baffle, mislead, and startle the person at the far end of the process. And when writing a series novel, I am very aware I am not the only family my characters have. My relationship with my reader is playful, serious, and (one hopes) long-term.  

…has an end. A mystery must have a solution, be it perky/neat or grimy/noir. The way the story wraps up needs to be intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

This two-hour Five Things I’ve Learned classis built around points of craft, but it centers around the larger question, What is the purpose of a mystery—why do we do the modern equivalent of huddling around the campfire listening to them? 

For the reader, our time together will give a chance to listen to the creator of a string of enormously popular characters reflect on why she’s spent so much of her life telling these kinds of stories.

For the writer, it’s a chance to look over the shoulder of a bestselling MWA Grand Master and hear her talk about how she’s done it: what five key tenets of the genre are, why certain rules came into being, and how you should—and maybe shouldn’t—break them.

I love what I do, and I hope you join me for Five Things I’ve Learned about What Makes the Mystery Great.

The Longevity Economy

What Nature Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Healthier Lives

Join me in this 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned from researching the lives of animals in the wild about human health and our own aging process.

I’m Dr. Steve Austad. For more than 40 years, I’ve devoted myself to researching the strategies developed in other species that combat fundamental aging processes. I’m the Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but I’ve also traveled the world – playing in the laboratory of nature, studying long-lived animals in the wild to learn about our own aging process.

My research is built on the hypothesis that our long-lived relatives could hold the key to our own efforts to live longer healthier lives. I look forward to sharing some of the most important things I’ve discovered with you in my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about What Nature Can teach Us About Living Longer, Healthier Lives. As I’ll explain, what I’ve learned – both in nature and in the laboratory – is remarkable.

My recent book, Methuselah’s Zoo, tells stories of our long-lived animal relatives who live extraordinarily long lives – from clams, to elephants, to tortoises, and beyond. At the heart of this book are the linked questions that drive my work: Why can’t nature, which is so successful at producing healthy adults from single fertilized eggs, do the seemingly much simpler task of keeping that adult healthy through time? Why do some animals like mice age quickly, while others – like bats, birds, whales, and people – age slower?  Why do so many animals benefit from natural aging strategies that are even better than those we humans have?

We still don’t know everything about why animals (including humans) age. But we have learned a great deal, and we’re learning more every day. In our time together, I’ll help you understand the importance of five fundamental ‘tips’ that explain some animals’ exceptional longevity in the wild:

  • Size matters – get big
  • Get a crown (no, not like British Royalty, although great healthcare has probably helped them live longer than most of us)
  • Be a bat
  • If you can’t be a bat, be a bird
  • Live cold and slow

More importantly, I’ll explain what these discoveries in nature – and what related discoveries in scientific laboratories like mine – are teaching us about ways we can successfully extend human health.

Animals have much to teach us about the ways we can live better longer. I hope you’ll join me.

– Steven Austad

What It Takes to Get Published

Join me in this live two-hour class, and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about what agents, editors, and publishers look at when considering a new manuscript – and all they’re really looking for.

When I started in book publishing in 2000, the entire industry looked so different than it does now. We were on the cusp of figuring out how to sell ebooks, self-publishing was newly arrived on the scene and very much frowned upon by the industry, and the only audio books I listened to were clunky 8-disk volumes that I rented from the library. How times have changed!

My goal during this course is to pull back the curtain on an industry that’s little understood by its key players—writers and authors. If you want to succeed in book publishing, you must see what publishers see when they’re acquiring books. Writers and authors have a hard time accessing the information they need because the industry is famously opaque and complex and subjective. If you ask five people for advice, you’ll get five different answers. Plus, publishing has been profoundly disrupted in recent years, in ways that writers welcome and find challenging. 

All of this is why I want to spend these two hours with you—sharing what I’ve learned as an industry insider for the past twenty-plus years. I’ll share what I know about what makes authors successful from my tenure as Executive Editor of Seal Press for nine years, and now as Publisher of She Writes Press for the past ten years. I’ll challenge you to get grounded in realistic expectations about what publishing a book can do for you and how to harness the power of your book beyond simply book sales. There is so much more to being an author than just selling books! Finally, I’ll share with you what agents and editors and publishers are really looking at and looking for—and how to work with that, or around that as might need to be the case.

This class is about giving you a bird’s eye view of an industry you are a part of already if you’re an author (or intend to be). The more you know, the more you grow. I’ll lay it all out there for you in my signature transparent style—and I’ll encourage you to grab the reins of your own publishing journey and be the director of the experience that awaits you.

Please join me,

– Brooke

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