The University of Massachusetts Amherst
Workshop and Field Trip/Craft Session Selection

Writing Labs

At the heart of the online program are Writing Labs, where participants explore creative styles, forms, subjects, and modes of writing. These lab sessions meet daily from 1:30-3:30pm EDT, for a total of ten hours of live, interactive instruction with a cohort of 10 passionate young writers from around the world. Labs are synchronous, dynamic, and participatory. The work is complex and at a college level, allowing participants to dive deep into developing their own work and exchanging feedback with one another on their creative writing projects.

Following the completion of the Writing Lab, Instructors provide each participant with a written summary of their work, evaluation of their progression toward writing goals, and future considerations for their writing.

Writing Labs are offered in Week One of the 1 and 2 week programs, and during the Winter Workshops. 

Below are the sessions that will be offered in Summer 2022. Participants will choose one lab from the options below.

Screenwriting: The Foundation to Visual Storytelling 

Taught by: Mark Bias

“To make a great film you need three things—the script, the script, the script.”
-Alfred Hitchcock

In this lab, we will focus on writing scripts for television and films. We will watch clips from both mediums to adore the writing and to critique the writing to answer two questions: Where does a screenplay succeed? Where does the screenplay fail? Each writer will work towards writing a pilot episode of a TV show or writing a segment of a full-length film. We will read each other’s scripts, watch scenes from movies and shows, and talk about what it means to tell a story using only dialogue. Whether you are a poet, a prose writer, or anything in between, we will take what we know from each literary genre, and apply it to one of the most underappreciated artforms in the world of writing. I will challenge your stories to resist genre tropes, to get weird, to break rules, to leave your readers in shock. 

Movies and shows we will be engaging with include (but are certainly not limited to) Breaking Bad, The Queen’s Gambit, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Archer, SpongeBob SquarePants, Kim’s Convenience, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Office, Moonlight, The Big Lebowski, Shaun of the Dead, Shrek, Game of Thrones, Steve Jobs, Rick and Morty, etc.

Narrators You Love To Hate 

Taught by: Rutendo Chidzodzo

From Shadow and Bone’s The Darkling to Six of Crows’ Kaz Brekker to Harry Potter’s Severus Snape, we can’t help but (kind of) root for the villain. Have you ever read a character so bad you want them to win? In this lab, we will focus on what makes a villain so likeable. How do we create narrators we love to hate? What qualities do we pay attention to when crafting a villain? We will look at characters from tv shows, movies and short stories to find the answer to that. We will create our own unlikeable-likeable characters in this lab and see how they fare against other characters. 

Remembering to Write, Writing to Remember.

Taught by: Levi Pulford

Haruki Murakami writes, “Memory is like fiction; or else it's fiction that's like memory.” In this lab, we will consider the relationship between time and language; how storytelling often requires us to (mis)remember a sequence of events, punctuated with flashbacks, omissions, and manipulations; and how the poem occupies a physical and temporal space. In a way, this lab will be a time capsule: what we write will be an act of preservation. As we sift through past and present work, we will consider our own relationship to history and develop work that we hope will find its place in the future. In our reflections, we will ask: how does writing fiction and poetry fix something within our memory? How do novels, short stories, and poems encapsulate moments in time and preserve them? We will write to remember truths, halftruths, and falsehoods, and in doing so, we will remember to write during what has been a seismic shift in the busy-ness of our everyday lives. Students will have the option to store select works within a digital time capsule.  

Fables and Fabulism

Taught by: Kim Ravold

The Tower of Babel. The Greek Myths. The Hero’s Journey. There are some stories that show up, again and again, retold across time. Why are there some stories that we just can’t seem to let go? How can the stories of the past inform our present moment and help us to articulate our future? What does a modern retelling of a favorite fairy tale or fable look like, and how can we change these well-known stories to better reflect our present-day contexts? What are the tricks that we can borrow from these fanciful narratives to inform our own original work?
Together, we’ll explore the adaptation process and use it to enlighten our own original material. We’ll look at how authors like Ted Chaing, Kelly Link, Charles Yu, Richard Siken, and Franny Choi have created new meaning from old stories. We’ll look at the way these narratives borrow fantastic elements from their ancestors. We’ll participate in the adaptation process, generative writing exercises, and workshop. We’ll experiment with structure and form while writing prose, poetry, and hybrid pieces. By the end of the week, we’ll be better able to understand the stories that make up our cultural tradition and better enabled to add our own work to the conversation.

Whose Point of View is it Anyway?

Taught by: Ashley Ruiz-Robles

“That is the strangest thing about the world: how it looks so different from every point of view.”—Lauren Oliver
In this lab, we will focus on developing our narrative skills by examining point of view. We will explore questions such as: What is point of view? How does the point of view impact the narrative? How does the narrative shift when we change the perspective?
We will read excerpts from novels, novellas and short stories in order to examine how point of view operates within fiction. We will explore the complexities of perspective and discuss how it influences the narrative. By the end of our time together, participants will have developed writing through the exploration of a variety of perspectives. Writers will also have the opportunity to workshop their writing within a community of writers also focused in exchanging ideas and providing valuable feedback.
The texts we will be interacting with include but are not limited to: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, We the Animals by Justin Torres, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, In the Name of Salomé by Julia Alvarez, etc.

Word of Mouth: Folklore and the Fantastic

Taught by: Nadia Saleh

Folklore (/foklɔɹ/): the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community.
From stories of the Fae to the vampire to the onryō, folklore swirls all around us, old tales passed down and reintegrated into the kaleidoscope of pop culture. In this multi-genre lab, we will unspool the works of Holly Black and Rin Chupeco, authors who have respectfully integrated folklore into fresh narratives, before turning inwards to our own cultures and experiences. Where folklore lives, we will venture. Class activities will involve, but are not limited to: explorations of world cultures, ten-minute writing sprints, class-wide workshopping, genre-play, and reflections.
The goal of this writing lab is to explore, reclaim, and remake folklore, making old stories into something new.

Story Generator

Taught by: Christina Sun

Have you been feeling stuck? Do you feel like you could use some fresh ideas for your next project? We know the saying, “every story has been told,” but that’s not necessarily true. Think about it: there are infinite different combinations or angles you can take on existing stories. In this lab, we’ll brainstorm different plot lines and integrate components that don’t usually go together.
Does your chemistry teacher protagonist need money? Make him a meth cook! Are you writing about a small rural town where everyone knows each other? Drop in an ex-wealthy family who recently lost all their money! Combining factors that wouldn’t normally co-exist in the same realm will not only seem “fresh” to your audience, but could also be really fun to world-build for you!
We’ll also review examples of TV shows that use these techniques and discuss why their premises are not only enticing, but why they’re able to keep generating material for multiple episodes and seasons. These shows will include (but not be limited to) Breaking Bad, Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Queen’s Gambit, and more.

Writing In The Rhythm

Taught by: Ide Thompson

What does it mean to be in rhythm? Is it simply the act of staying “in time” to music? Is it about the ways we move through, rather than to time? Is rhythm something intrinsic? Is rhythm something learned, or is it a marker of identity, culture, and self? In this course on the stylistic approaches to writing rhythm we will examine the work of a variety of writers to “pick up” the beats of their rhythms, learn to move in them, and then learn to make them our own. Intrinsically, this class asks us all to step beyond “traditional-western” ideas of poetic rhythms and explore unfamiliar ways of writing the beat.
The exercises in this lab will focus on the two fold skills of seeing and hearing rhythm. Our ways of seeing rhythm, the ability to feel and contextual movement on the page will be problematized and reconstituted to allow us to come to appreciate a variety of ways to work rhythm on the page as well as hopefully opening up new ways of expressing our own rhythms. Moreover, our ways of hearing rhythm, the ability to categorize movement as it appears in the ear, the sounds of the words, morphemes, and punctuation units will be troubled to reveal how we use sound as a primary tool to shape and re-shape meaning.

The Poem Is a House I Build Then Live In

Taught by: Rachelle Toarmino

Whether you’re looking at a blank page or full draft that just isn’t working, it might be worthwhile to play around with form. The Italians called the building blocks of poems stanzas, their word for rooms. William Carlos Williams imagined the poem as a field of action—more simply put, a space where something happens. But whether we imagine poems as rooms, fields, or universes, to get to the happening we need to understand the space. Is it the size of a postage stamp, or does it seem to yearn outward forever? Does it have nooks, crannies, and hideaways, or is it something spare, cool, and illuminated, where no syllable will go unnoticed? This writing lab focuses on the forms of poems and the ways form sets expectations—and opens up new possibilities—for rhythm, breath, diction, punctuation, and, ultimately, meaning. Our method will be both tactile and imaginative: How might a poem function if it were a shopping mall, a hand mirror, a basketball game, a cul de sac? We’ll return to traditional forms like the sonnet, ghazal, haibun, and villanelle—including the exciting ways poets have disrupted, reimagined, and subverted them—and look at contemporary innovations like Jericho Brown’s duplex and Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s marble run. We’ll study what makes these forms work—how they look, move, and tick—and discuss the room their various constraints make for wildness and surprise. Participants will learn how to build poems in these forms; will be encouraged to break their rules and make them their own; and, drawing on the various objects, activities, and buildings around us, will be invited to try inventing forms of their own.

Five Days of Form

Taught by: Michael Zendejas

There are usually a lot of rules when it comes to form, but this can sometimes be a real burden on the writer. The possibilities of a blank page can’t be fully explored if we aren’t willing to try new things. In this lab, we will break free of all limits by writing one short piece per day to discover how different aspects of craft—such as time, setting, voice, structure and perspective—affect and help shape our written worlds. Some meetings will include different types of writing—historical, automatic, co-authorship, etc. The goal of these experiments is to show that rules are meant to be broken, and that nothing is set in stone when it comes to language. Each class will have a portion of time set aside for those who enjoy sharing their work to do so, and we will end the week with a workshop where everyone leaves with notes on at least one piece of writing! This lab is created for students to gain plenty of new material, inspiration, notes and a new view around how different formal mechanics operate in their work overall. Writers of all levels are encouraged to join!