Instructor: Nora Caplan-Bricker
Date & Time: Saturday, February 16 | 12:30 PM to 4:30 PM
Location: USM’s Glickman Library, Portland
Fee: Member: $50 | Nonmember: $105
Registration Closes: February 11
To write a good story, one needs good characters. It’s often the promise of meeting an interesting person that propels a reader into a piece. And it’s the human dimensions of that character—their desires and failures, their insecurities and vulnerabilities—that stay with the reader long after the story is over.
To turn real people into characters, a nonfiction writer must be as psychologically astute as the novelist and far warier of the line between perception and projection. In nonfiction, as the journalist Jon Franklin wrote in Telling True Stories, even the inner life of the character on the page “must come from reporting, from observing externalities… It requires quite a leap from standard journalistic reporting for a writer to say: I can understand another human being, my character, well enough to put the reader inside that person’s mind.”
Writers of literary nonfiction—memoirists, narrative journalists, profile writers, and so on—must work to conjure characters as rich with interiority as any fictional creation, and yet they must not forget that their subjects are real, and that no one can fully inhabit the consciousness of another person. Through in-class writing exercises and examination of exemplary works of literary journalism by writers such as Susan Dominus, Jennifer Percy, and John McPhee, participants will explore the art and craft of creating characters in literary nonfiction.
Discussion topics will include what Franklin calls “the psychological interview”—essentially, the reporting that enables a writer to convey at least a sliver of a subject’s inner world—as well as the ways character is realized through detail and scene. Participants are encouraged to bring draft material to work with (please note that these pages will not be shared with the class or instructor).
Nora Caplan-Bricker is a freelance journalist, essayist, and critic. Previously a contributing writer at Slate and a staff writer at The New Republic, she has also published essays and features in Harper’s, The New Yorker online, The Washington Post Magazine, The Point, The Baffler, and The Poetry Foundation. In 2017, she received an inaugural RALLY Award for feature writing on the topic of sexual violence, conferred by the Poynter Institute, for her Slate cover story “Flight Risk.” She teaches creative nonfiction at GrubStreet in Boston, and has also taught at Emerson College and the College of the Holy Cross. She lives in Boston, Mass.
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