“We’ll talk about how setting can be its own character and learn ways to write about the impact a place has on a character’s dialogue and motivations.”
Stephanie Noll studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.
On October 7, Stephanie will teach “Character as Setting: Make Place More Than a Set Piece in Your Writing” at ACC’s Highland Campus in Austin, TX. This class will use strategies from published works to help writers bring setting to life and make a work of fiction or memoir unforgettable. We asked Stephanie about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.
What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?
Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It’s a stunning novel that relies so much on place and is told from multiple points of view. It’s what some would call a “quiet” book–the plot is not terribly dramatic, but the characters and the space they occupy feel so realized.
In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?
Determining how to move through time–that’s really difficult, especially when you are writing from multiple points of view. Figuring out where the story begins and ends in time and then determining how to structure each character’s story, with that timeline in mind, is definitely a challenge.
Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?
Ha! That feeling lasts until the next time you sit down to write and then you’re sure it’s garbage. But with my novel, I knew the big plot points and characters, but as I wrote, the secondary plots started to unfold, and I could really see the stories within the story.
What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
Set deadlines for yourself. Find places to submit your work, and find a writing group. And keep in mind that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
I want people to see how, in their own work, setting functions more than just scenery. We’ll talk about how setting can be its own character and learn ways to write about the impact a place has on a character’s dialogue and motivations. Most importantly, I want people to leave feeling excited to return to a work-in-progress or ready to start something new.
Click here to learn more about and register for Stephanie’s class.
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