Three Pitfalls of Pop Psychoanalysis

analyst's couch

My mother’s nickname in our family was “the dog psychologist,” because whenever our dog behaved strangely she always had some complicated explanation for how it must be feeling based upon the traumas she imagined it had experienced before we got it from the pound. This sounds familiar, right? We love to put people, animals, friends, … Read more

How to Write Memoir Short Stories

spines of short books

I have a friend that’s a composer. I once asked him, “How do you know how to blend together the violin and the french horn and the kettle drum and all those different instruments?” He looked at me funny and replied, “You go to graduate school.” What he meant by that was: “It’s complicated!” That’s … Read more

How to Write a Story, not an Essay

dune buggy on dirt

I have begun teaching the second wave of classes in my ongoing series. The second wave, which I call “Writers in Action” is an actual critique session, where, in a group setting, I look at student work with a view to how well students are embodying the lessons learned in the free technique classes I … Read more

Why Bold Writers Withhold Background Info

blue door with lock on it

We just had our third class in a series: “Make ’em Beg for It,” and I think this actually completes a three-class series that sets my students up to start writing with a good sense of what they’re doing. The first class was about identifying a story’s setting and action without the emotional, philosophical, and … Read more

How to Crush your Short Story Openings

baby smashing face in cake

When you’re writing your memoir as a series of short stories, as the students in my class are learning to do, it’s important to know where to open your story. Spoiler: it’s seldom where you think. Remember that this is a class about writing technique whose goal is to make your stories un-put-down-able to people … Read more

How to Write Layered Conflict Into Stories

barbed wire

My brilliant copy-editor friend Heather Munro recently asked me about story structure. I told her it’s quite simple. Stories are based upon conflict, but conflict isn’t what you probably think it is. To have conflict you have to have a character with a goal. Then, you have to have something to obstruct the character’s attempts … Read more

How to Give Characters Exciting Depth

smiling woman

The TV show Breaking Bad is a great example of a story where the idea of something called a super-objective comes into play. A super-objective is something you as the author know about your character, which the character may not even know about him/herself. It’s the character’s greatest wish in life. The aim of his … Read more