Michael Noll is the author of the novel Seven Attacks of the Dead and teaches writing at Texas State University. His blog Read to Write Stories features writing exercises, writing prompts and interviews with writers.
On January 31, Michael will be teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “How to Write a Scene.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Michael Noll: I think the most difficult scenes come in the middle of a story or novel. At a story’s beginning, we usually have some sense of how to begin or where we’re headed—that’s what makes us write the story in the first place. But it’s in the middle where these things tend to get less clear and we get trapped by chronology, giving a minute-by-minute rather than getting to the good stuff and getting out.
Scribe: What are your favorite types of scenes to read and write?
MN: I just wrote a scene where a character does something ridiculous—something she knows will tick off someone else. Before writing the scene, I was lost in the story, beginning scenes that kept petering out, and so I threw out all of my ideas about where the story was headed and came up with the ridiculous thing that made me laugh. I wrote the scene around that thing. Those are the scenes that are fun to write: when you have something definite and good that you want to write and the problem is simply how to lead up to it and how to show the aftermath. The difficult scenes are when you have no idea what will be in it.
Scribe: What books are you reading lately? What are you learning from them?
MN: I just read a really good story by Monica McFawn. She won the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Prize for her story collection, and when you read the first story, Out of the Mouths of Babes you understand why. She immediately introduces something that the character should not do and then has her do it—repeatedly, with higher stakes each time. It’s a tense, funny, great story. I also read The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. It’s a novel about a Christian preacher who’s sent to a colony on an alien planet to minister to the natives. It’s a pretty high-concept idea for a book, but Faber handles it in a real simple way: creating the planet and the natives in only a few details that get repeated over and over. It’s a really effective strategy and an engrossing novel.
Scribe: What are you looking forward to about your upcoming January 31st class?
MN: Every time I teach a class, I’m amazed by the students’ imagination and talent. The great writer Kent Haruf, who recently passed away, once said that there was no scarcity of talent among would-be writers. The successful ones were those who kept working at their craft. So, I find it so exciting that so many talented writers have signed up for a class in order to learn something about craft and improve their own work.
To register for Michael’s class, click here.
For a complete list of upcoming classes, click here.