The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Craft Sessions

Each morning, participants attend online Craft Sessions where Creative Writing Instructors go in-depth on a particular element of craft. In each of these sessions, participants will expand their writing knowledge by exploring different topics and prompts, each day with a different instructor. Held on Zoom, these synchronous classes are also made available as a recording to program participants.

Craft Sessions are included in: Week One of the 1 and 2 week summer programs, and in the Craft Package

    In Summer 2022, participants will choose five of the below sessions for their morning electives.

    Storytelling through Dialogue

    Taught by: Mark Bias

    This craft session will revolve around one main generative exercise. I will describe two characters. I will tell you what each character wants, where they are located, and a brief description of what they look like. You will then have a select amount of time to write a conversation that happens between them without writing any descriptors. This class will bring you to a better understanding of how dialogue can be more effective when it is not being supplemented by descriptions.

    The Magic Behind Worldbuilding

    Taught by: Rutendo Chidzodzo

    Have you ever read a story that transported you out of this world? Have you ever lost yourself in a story and imagined yourself in it? How can we create such worlds? What craft techniques make for great worldbuilding? In this craft session, we will focus on how to create magical worlds, we will focus on how the five senses can help with worldbuilding. How can smell, sight, touch, sound, and taste create worlds that allow the reader to get lost in?

    Rotten Tomatoes

    Taught by: Levi Pulford

    The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Named after the Italian word for “tomato” and inspired by a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, pomodoros are small intervals of time (traditionally 25 minutes) dedicated to completing a task. In this craft session, we will write with one task in mind: to unpack time in our writing. How does time move forward in a story? When should time move backward? What other forms of time exist? Spectacular time, slow time, parallel time—so many forms of time to consider in so little time.

    Scene and Cinematography: The Reader as the Director

    Taught by: Kimberly Ravold

    When we read, we picture a story in our minds. The author might provide us with the plot, the location, the characters, and the dialogue, but the reader is the one to synthesize all of these components into a cohesive narrative with their imagination. The engaged reader makes our stories possible. If we compare our written work to filming a movie, the reader is the director that brings our words to life.
    As writers, it is our job to empower our readers with all the tools they need to complete their imaginative work. How do we do this without overloading them with information? Together, we’ll learn how to direct our reader’s gaze in our scenes, becoming cinematographers of the written word.

    Let’s Talk about Dialogue

    Taught by: Ashley Ruiz-Robles

    “Good dialogue is not real speech — it’s the illusion of real speech”  — Ernest Hemingway
    Dialogue is essential and can serve various purposes in writing. Within one conversation between characters, the dialogue may be advancing the plot, providing characterization and inserting humor, simultaneously! In this craft session, we will explore the way dialogue functions in fiction. We will be looking at examples of dialogue in novels, novellas and short stories in order to discuss format, tone, and techniques we can apply to our work. We will also be engaging in a writing exercise meant to help us become more comfortable with writing intentional and purposeful dialogue.

    A Disturbance in the Force(s)

    Taught by: Nadia Saleh

    In this craft session, we’ll explore the forces that drive our fantastical worlds. What conceptions of good and evil are your characters operating under? What faith do they follow, if they follow one at all? How does the natural world affect their choices? We’ll quickly inspect the mechanics of Frank Herbert, Leigh Bardugo, and Angela Carter, among others, before delving into generative writing exercises to find out what makes your world tick. 

    Drafting the Backstory

    Taught by: Christina Sun

    Page one isn’t where your story begins. Mapping out your characters’ pasts can help you understand them and their motivations better and can even help iron out plot issues. From the way they were raised to significant accomplishments or losses, a character’s backstory can heavily influence the way they act. Together, we’ll examine craft techniques on how to draft efficient backstories and review published works where writers have successfully incorporated backstory into the plot. By the end of the craft session, you will walk away with the tools needed to draft your characters’ past lives and from that, strengthen the heart of your story.

    Pick a letter, pick a feeling, make a song

    Taught by: Ide Thompson

    In this exercise I will ask students to write the lyrics of a short song(3 -6 lines) based on a feeling of their own choice where every line has to start off with a word starting with the same letter of the alphabet. These restrictions in form are not only meant to help students think about the economy of words but also how to connect how the economy of sound plays into the creation of rhythm. This exercise, while suited for shorter pieces, can easily be expanded in size to work for longer pieces such as monologues, pieces of dialogue, or descriptions as seen in longer fiction pieces.

    Breaking the Line

    Taught by: Rachelle Toarmino 

    Every time one line ends and another begins, the poet has the opportunity to enhance and transform the reader’s experience of the poem. Line breaks work by drawing our attention to specific sounds, words, and phrases; inviting us to imagine multiple and alternative readings; allowing us to experience the visual shape of the poem as it works in concert with its content; creating moments of surprise, delight, and reflection; and instructing us to slow down or speed up, to pause and absorb a particular impact or rush with eagerness and curiosity. In this craft talk, we’ll look at some of the most common ways to break the line in free verse and study their effects so that we can use them in poems of our own.

    Writing and Everything Else

    Taught by: Michael Zendejas

    In this craft session, we will explore how the outside world leaves its imprint on us, and what this means for the possibilities of our writing. Poems by Pablo Neruda and Eduardo Galeano, as well as fiction excerpts by Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler will guide our exploration of how our writing, from themes to form, engages with the world around us. Doing so will give writers a new kind of agency with their work by allowing them to be conscious of how we approach the craft, and show how purposeful writing can help spark important conversations.