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Off Campus Writers' Workshop - OCWW

John McCarthy - Mess Up Your Sentences (Correctly): Writing Imaginative, Emotive, and Engaging Syntax

  • February 25, 2021
  • 9:30 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Remote


Registration is closed

Remote Session (OCWW may add a live event with separate registration)

Writing that surprises the reader with unexpected or compound-complex formal structure also surprises the reader with unexpected emotions and images, helping them identify and engage with our writing on a much deeper level. What’s the difference between “The rusty old car sat in the neighbor’s yard,” and “The old Grand Am, rust-bitten and cushion-torn, has languished for years in the neighbor’s yard”?

In this seminar, we will examine different ways of writing sentences to appeal to the pathos of our readers, write more fluid and cumulative scenes and descriptions, as well as better writing that editors want to publish. We will look at specific devices, such as apposition, syntactic ordering and clustering, and cumulative layering. We will engage with these devices on their own and in relation to other imaginative and lyric devices, including simile, metaphor, personification, and overall character building. We will talk through how to think more deeply about our own writing processes and how to properly revise our work, making it more engaging, emotive, and lush.  

We will look at examples from award-winning writers, including Judy Jordan, Carl Phillips, Vievee Francis, James Kimbrell, Julia Levine, Louise Gluck, and Shane McCrae in a mix of lecture, discussion, and generative exercises. Handouts will be provided before or during the event. No prior prep work is required. While most examples will be pulled from narrative poems, the examples and lessons are equally applicable to any mode of writing. 
Please bring, or have ready, the first few pages of a piece of prose or a poem that you are working on as we will do an exercise with them. Additional learning resources will also be provided.

Bio: John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent Like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the Jake Adam York Prize; and Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, including 32 Poems, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets 2015, Copper Nickel, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Journal, New Poetry from the Midwest 2017 and 2019, Pleiades, and TriQuarterly. He is the 2016 winner of The Pinch Literary Award in Poetry. John is an Associate Editor at RHINO Magazine and lives in Evanston, Illinois. 

John will accept poetry and prose for critique. Please see the manuscript submission guidelines on our website for details.

We offer free student memberships at a discounted rate of $5.00 per session. You must send verification of your student status. Please contact Claudia Katz at for details.

9:00-9:30 Socializing & Registration

9:30-12:00  Program

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