“The discussions and exercises we do can be just as helpful to the writer who has already written several novels […] as the writer who is on their first novel attempt.”
— Stacey Swann
Stacey Swann’s fiction has appeared in The Bridport Prize Anthology 2017, Epoch, Memorious, Versal, Covered W/ Fur, and other journals. A past Stegner Fellow, she teaches with Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and in their Novel Certificate Program. She is contributing editor at the literary journal American Short Fiction.
Stacey is teaching a class called “The Fiction Hatchery: Moving Ideas to the Page Through Characterization, Plot, Setting, and Theme” at the 2018 WLT Summer Writing Retreat. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Scribe: What was the greatest challenge you faced in starting your own novel?
Stacey Swann: For me, as I began my first novel, my greatest challenge was overcoming my fear of the size of the project. Before that project, I had only written short stories. The idea of writing hundreds of pages around a single idea seemed so daunting. I had to have faith that, if I just kept writing, more ideas for the plot would start to appear. I think that’s why, as a teacher, I’ve become such a fan of different kinds of foundational work at the beginning of project. It helps generate those ideas even before the bulk of the drafting begins, making the length feel less intimidating.
Scribe: In your class, you will discuss how to start a new writing project. What, in your opinion, is the best way to get started?
SS: I always tell my students that the best way to go about a project is the way that feels right to them, specifically. I know that sounds vague! But the fact is that writers all have very different processes, and there is no one right way to finish a novel or a short story. Some writers love to draft with no set agenda and want to surprise even themselves when they write. Other writers really need the structure and scaffolding of an outline, even if it is a very vague and sketchy one, to help them at the beginning of the project. You have to observe your own reactions as you write and hone in on the things that seem the most fun and the most rewarding to you as you work.
Scribe: Not all writers sit down and figure out their stories’ conflicts before they start. How important is the early story-mapping process?
SS: As I mentioned above, there’s a portion of writers that like the conflicts to reveal themselves as they draft the scenes, rather than knowing the conflicts before they begin. But even for those writers, having a general sense of the direction they are heading initially can really help with momentum. Doing that foundational work doesn’t have to mean mapping out the exact events that your characters will grapple with. It may just mean knowing the general type of conflict. For example, in my own novel, I knew some of my characters would be grappling with whether they could forgive a loved one for infidelity. But I didn’t know the exact type of infidelity when I began writing, or what the motivations for the characters were. Those things only solidified for me as I actually began drafting.
Scribe: Your work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. Would you say that story development is just as important for shorter pieces as well as novel writing?
SS: Absolutely! Whether you are writing a four page short story or a four hundred page novel, thinking deeply about your characters and what’s at the heart of the project—why it’s important to you, the writer—not only can make the drafting an easier process, it can also deepen the complexity and depth of the finished project.
Scribe: What level of writer is your class best suited for?
SS: One of the reasons I love the Fiction Hatchery class is that the format can work for writers of every level. The discussions and exercises we do can be just as helpful to the writer who has already written several novels and/or short stories as the writer who is on their first novel attempt or is trying their hand at a short story for the very first time.
Thank you, Stacey!
For more information of the the Writers’ League of Texas 2018 Summer Writing Retreat, click here.