Whether you are writing a play, screenplay, teleplay, or adapting a novel or memoir into one of these dramatic forms, riveting scenes are the key to a gripping story that’s intended to be performed by actors.
This workshop will do a deep dive into scene work. Members are invited to submit a scene ahead of time to be entered into the Compelling Scene Contest. Mary Ruth Clarke will select the most compelling submissions to be read by professional actors at the workshop (great prize, right?).
The workshop will begin with a brief overview of what elements make for great scene work, and then we’ll jump right into the actors reading the winning scenes, followed by a discussion and Q&A with the instructor and the professional actors (much can be gleaned from their perspective on how they approach scene work).
You may submit your manuscript just for the contest, or you may submit it for the contest and written critique at $3 per page. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info for details and specify contest only or contest and critique on your manuscript.
Comedy, Drama, Dramedy
Plays, Screenplays, Teleplays
Aim for no more than 3 characters (but no worries if there are more)
Maximum 6 pages, less is better
Don’t fret the formatting – that’s another worry for another session
This workshop is for playwrights, screenwriters, teleplay writers, as well as novelists and memoirists.
Mary Ruth Clarke co-wrote and starred in the original Meet the Parents and co-adapted it into the blockbuster version, starring Robert De Niro. Her play Bonhoeffer’s Cost has been produced at The Agape Actors Co-op in Austin, Texas, Philadelphia's Beacon Theater, and the Provision Theater in Chicago. Agape also produced her farce Suffer The Long Night, co-written with her “Meet The Parents" partner, Greg Glienna, as did the Meta Theater in LA.
Her play Address Unknown was produced in Chicago by 20% Theater Company, and Fury Theater; her solo performance, I Could Kill Him For Dying, ran at Three Cat Productions in Chicago, and her musical, Fay Burns! had a 28 Hour Workshop and two staged readings at Chicago Dramatists, where she is a Resident Playwright and heads up the screenwriting and television classes.
Recent Saturday Series staged readings include Alice and Celia and Whatever It Takes, a comedy screenplay, directed by Second City’s Pat McKenna, and her play Right In Front of Us.
Mary Ruth is a screenplay consultant for clients in LA and Chicago, a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists, where she heads up the screenwriting program, and teaches screenwriting at Story Studio. She lectures regularly at the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network, and has presented workshops for the Off Campus Writer’s Group, the Chicago Independent Film Project, and Renaissance Theaterworks Milwaukee. She is a member of the Writer’s Guide of America East and the Dramatists Guild.
Mary Ruth will accept Comedy, Drama, Dramedy, Plays, Screenplays, and Teleplays up to 6 pages for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on the website: ocww.info.
Since the dawn of the written word, humor has been a tool to tell the truth and target our humanity with brevity and a masterful air of ease. In fact, writing humor is no joke: there are a lot of complex principles and ideas that can make or break a potentially comedic piece of writing. This brief workshop will focus on the nuts and bolts of the ever-expanding genre of humor writing, while allowing participants to practice inside the form. We'll differentiate between satirical writing, deadpan or dry humor, situational comedy, and short-form humor writing for publication.
Sophie Lucido Johnson is a Chicago-based writer, cartoonist, and illustrator whose work has been published in The New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The New York Times. Her first book, Many Love, was released by Simon & Schuster last year. She has worked as a nationally touring comedian, and has had comics published in dozens of places.
Sophie will take manuscripts to give feedback on use of humor. Please see the manuscript guidelines found on our website: ocww.info.
9-9:30 Registration and Socializing
The middle-grade market is always hot, picture book fiction and nonfiction are big sellers, and graphic novels fly off the shelves. Join Chicago children's author Kate Hannigan as she talks about writing, research, catching an editor's eye, and marketing books for young readers. This session is appropriate for experienced children’s authors or those with a children’s book tucked away in their dreams.
Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction, and especially loves mining history for remarkable people whose stories deserve to be told. Kate's newest title is CAPE: The League of Secret Heroes, Book 1, a three-book historical fantasy series with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Her historical fiction The Detective's Assistant, about America's first woman detective, received the Golden Kite Award for best middle-grade novel, was a California Young Reader Medal honoree, a Booklist Editors' Choice selection, Nerdy Book Club Award Winner, Bank Street College Best Children's Book, Chicago Public Library Best Book, and Illinois READS State List selection. Her picture book biography A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women's Rights was a Society of Midland Authors honoree, a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street College pick, and a Chicago Public Library Best Book. When Kate isn't reading, researching, or chasing down her dog, she likes to spend time with her busy family. You can find her online at KateHannigan.com.
Kate will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines found on our website: ocww.info.
When talking about our favorite moments in books, movies, or TV shows, we often say “I loved that part because it was so poetic.” What is meant by that and how do we create those poetic moments in our own poems or stories? How do we express our conventional emotions in new and imaginative ways? We will examine the relationship between similes and metaphors, utilizing the two to make certain lyrical moves within our own narratives in order to achieve those moments of transcendence that make great poems and stories memorable. After deep-diving into the imagination quadrant of Gregory Orr’s poetic framework and matrix, we will read and discuss the work of Judy Jordan, Tracy K. Smith, Kim Addonizio, Dorianne Laux, and Ocean Vuong, among others. We will dissect the lyrical devices necessary to incorporate certain transcendent elements into our work by invoking figurative, literal, and emotional connections to the unexpected use of like objects and emotions as well as geographic and temporal landscapes.
John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the Jake Adam York Prize. He is also the author Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. John is the winner of The Pinch Literary Award in Poetry, and his work has appeared in American Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Hayden's Ferry Review, New Ohio Review, Passages North, Sycamore Review, TriQuarterly, Zone 3, and in anthologies such as Best New Poets 2015 and New Poetry from the Midwest 2019. He received his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and currently lives in Evanston, Illinois.
John will accept poetry and prose for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on the OCWW website: ocww.info.
“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry," wrote poet William Butler Yeats.
What does creative non-fiction have to learn from the inward seeking that is poetry? This talk will explore how we may include associative, poetic logic in creative non-fiction. We will look at works of creative non-fiction that are neither performative conversations with the reader nor entirely interior arguments, but, rather, genuine quests that involve the reader in the author’s experiences of uncertainty and change. We will examine the use of conversation in essays, and will explore how including others' voices can help create an echo of metaphor that traces the author's inner life.
Rachel Jamison Webster is the author of the unpublished memoir, Did You See the Sky, several chapters of which have been published as essays in outlets including Tin House, Poetry, Drunken Boat, The Baltimore Review and The Columbia Review. She recently received a Kaplan Fellowship from Northwestern to write her second book of Creative Non-fiction, tentatively titled, Before and Behind Us in Time. Rachel’s book, Mary is a River (Kelsey Books 2018), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2014. She is also the author of September (TriQuarterly 2013); the cross-genre volume, The Endless Unbegun (Twelve Winters 2015); and two chapbooks, The Blue Grotto and Hazel & The Mirror (Dancing Girl Press 2009, 2015). Rachel lives in Evanston, where she is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University.
This workshop is designed to instruct writers of all levels to focus on story development through voice, movement and structure by reading published work, participating in word exercises, in-class writing and read back in small groups. We will also discuss giving and receiving constructive feedback.
The Literary Legos consists of:
See It. What’s happening between characters? Where are they? What’s taking your attention?
Explore It. What else is happening? What is not being said? Who is the surprise character? Discover what you didn’t see the first time.
Move It. Voice, character development, place, dialogue will advance your story on the page.
Finish It. Every writer needs to decide what it means to stick the landing.
Cyn Vargas’ short story collection, On The Way, received positive reviews from Shelf Awareness, Library Journal, Heavy Feather Review and Necessary Fiction, among others. Book accolades include: Book Scrolling's Best Short Story Collections of All Time, Newcity Lit’s Top 5 Fiction Books by Chicago Authors, Chicago Book Review’s Favorite Books of 2015, Bustle’s 11 Short Story Collections Your Book Club Will Love, and Chicago Writers Association 2015 Book of the Year Honorable Mention.
Cyn's prose and essays have been widely published. She received a Top 25 Finalist and Honorable Mention in two of Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers Contests, is the recipient of the Guild Literary Complex Prose Award in Fiction, a company member of the award-winning storytelling organization 2nd story, on the Board of Directors for Hypertext Studio. Cyn was twice selected as artist-in-residence at the Ragdale Foundation and teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently working on her novel. Visit her at cynvargas.com
Cyn will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info.
The poet Paul Valery says, “In the first draft is the talent. In the second is the art.” But what about the fifth draft? Or the twenty-fifth? With a first draft, it’s necessary to banish our internal critics. With each successive draft, however, we must be both creator and editor. How can we balance these two (sometimes conflicting) roles? How can we be effective readers of our own work? How can we find practical ways of seeing our work anew, of re-envisioning it after many drafts? Revision isn’t simply line-editing. In revision, we must confront our evasions in order to continue moving forward. Sometimes we discover that a forward direction isn’t where the work leads us; writing can take a circuitous path. How can we listen to the work, and to our own internal editor, without losing stamina? How can we push through fatigue and doubt in order to continue writing and revising? This can entail soul-searching and a release of old expectations in order for new ideas to arise. Revision is a dialogue with our own work. In this session we will begin the conversation.
Frances de Pontes Peebles is the author of the novels The Seamstress and The Air You Breathe. Her books have been translated into ten languages and won the Elle Grand Prix for fiction, the Friends of American Writers Award, and the James Michener-Copernicus Society of America Fellowship. Her second novel, The Air You Breathe, was a Book of the Month Club pick. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she also served as a Visiting Associate Professor of Fiction in Spring 2019. She has received a Fulbright Grant, Brazil’s Sacatar Foundation Fellowship, and was a Teaching Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her short stories and essays have appeared in O. Henry Prize Stories, Zoetrope: All-Story, Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Catapult, and Real Simple. Her novel, The Seamstress, was adapted for film and mini-series on Brazil’s Globo Network. She is proud to serve on the Board of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
You have to clearly state what genre you've written to successfully pitch and sell your book. But in a publishing world of blended genres, crossover works, and digital shelf space, knowing exactly what genre you've written can be hard! In this session, literary agent Abby Saul will give an overview of the various genres, reveal how genre is discussed amongst publishing professionals, and share tips about the power (and pitfalls) of an important query and pitch tool: comp titles.
Abby Saul founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She's worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. A zealous reader who loves her iPad and the ebooks on it, she still can’t resist the lure of a print book. Abby’s personal library of beloved titles runs the gamut from literary newbies and classics, to cozy mysteries, to sappy women’s fiction, to dark and twisted thrillers. She’s looking for great and engrossing adult commercial (including mysteries/thrillers, women's, and historical) and literary fiction. She's not looking for fantasy, sci-fi, or political thrillers - and no kids' books. A magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, Abby spends her weekends—when she’s not reading—cooking and hiking with her husband and son. Find her @BookySaul on Twitter.
Abby will accept the first 5 pages of your novel or short story for critique. Please specify which it is on the first page.
Every novel or short story, no matter what genre, contains an element of suspense. It's one of the universal "drivers" of fiction. It's also important to know for non-fiction work, such as true crime or investigative journalism. Learn how to incorporate suspense into your writing in a workshop by an award-winning suspense/crime fiction author.
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.
Special Evening Session 6:30-8:30 PM
All writers borrow a little. But when writers take too much, the resulting work can sometimes feel stale, even false. After all, as the writer Katherine Mansfield said, stories ought to “speak to the secret self we all have.” In this session, we’ll explore how to tap into this strange, secret self, how to harvest our own creativity and originality and steer clear of cliché, even as we’re awash in a sea of culture and media. We’ll study published work, considering how these authors push past the mundane and the expected, choosing details that surprise readers. We’ll conclude with exercises to help unlock the potential strangeness in our own writing.
Ben Hoffman's fiction has won the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award and Zoetrope's Short Fiction Contest. His work also appears in Granta, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review and other journals. The recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago and StoryStudio Chicago.
6-6:30 Registration and Socializing
Bio: Jennifer Solheim is a fiction writer and literary critic whose first book, The Performance of Listening in Postcolonial Francophone Culture, was published by Liverpool University Press in 2018. Her short stories have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Confrontation, and The Pinch, and received Honorable Mentions from Glimmer Train. She teaches literature, film, and writing at the University of Illinois—Chicago, and is working on a novel about an indie rock band in family therapy as a BookEnds fellow at Stony Brook Southampton. Jennifer has a PhD in French from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.
Jennifer will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info.
Do you have a backlog of abandoned stories and essays? Have you revised the life out a piece, trying to make it perfect? In this course, we’ll discuss some less common ways of waking up your prose and unlocking narrative energy. Toward this end, we’ll examine thrilling turns in several stories and essays. Some of the strategies we’ll cover include: finding and fanning hotspots; using transitions as transport; modulating register, diction, and rhythm; and making space for rough edges and mischief.
Genre: Fiction and Nonfiction
Optional: Bring a few "unworkable" pages from a work-in-progress.
Rachel Swearingen's stories and essays have appeared in Vice, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Off Assignment, Agni, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Her story collection, How to Walk on Water and Other Stories, winner of the 2018 New American Press Fiction Prize, will be published in 2020. She is the recipient of a Missouri Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award, and a Mississippi Review Prize in Fiction. In 2019, she was named one of 30 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex. She lives in Chicago and teaches at SAIC.
Agents Joanna MacKenzie and Marcy Posner will discuss the role an agent plays in finding a home for your book and their suggestions for landing an agent who would be a good fit for you and your work. They will share tips on writing a quality query letter and at what stage your manuscript should be in before you query.
Joanna MacKenzie joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 and is building a list of adult titles in the areas of mystery, thriller, and commercial women’s fiction as well as select projects for kids in the areas of young adult and chapter books. She loves creepy islands, mysteries set in close-knit communities (if those communities happen to be in the Midwest, all the better), and fierce female heroines. Joanna is looking for smart and timely women’s fiction where the personal intersects with the world at large, think Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted or Camille Perri’s The Assistants; stories about the immigrant experience like Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake; and narratives dealing with the relationships that make us who we are for all ages like I’ll Give You The Sun by Andy Nelson.
Marcy Posner has spent a lifetime in books. After a brief stint as a librarian and fifteen years in publishing, Marcy made the transition to agenting and spent twelve years at the William Morris Agency as an agent and as Vice President and Director of Foreign Rights; five years as president of her own agency; five years at Sterling Lord Literistic as an agent and Director of Foreign Rights. Marcy is currently very happy at Folio. Her editorial skill and a deep knowledge of the publishing industry set her apart from many of her colleagues. When she works with her authors, she focuses editorially on how to make their books as strong as possible. Her extensive experience and connections are invaluable. Marcy knows the editors and publishing houses that are looking for a certain subject, or a different voice, or a particular kind of author. Her clients include Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestseller Jacqueline Kelly, New York Times bestseller Sheri Reynolds, literary writer Christine Sneed, along with debut authors Lexie Elliott and Christi Clancy. She is seeking women’s fiction, thrillers, historical fiction, history, psychology, narrative non-fiction, YA and middle grade, fiction and non-fiction. She is not interested in genre fiction for any age especially sci-fi and fantasy.
How to submit to Marcy Posner: Query letter plus the first 50 pages by email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna MacKenzie and Marcy Posner will accept query letters for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info for details.
Often our work crosses boundaries, blurs the lines. Today many writers are publishing hybrids. Examples of metafiction and autofiction that blur the lines are The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, winner of the National Book Award for fiction, and History of Violence by Edouard Louis.
Jane Hertenstein will talk about what constitutes a hybrid, the freedom to color outside the lines, and also some practical and ethical questions that pop up when considering how to evaluate and place work that blends memoir and fiction. Come prepared to explore all the many directions your writing may take you.
Jane Hertenstein is a repeat instructor at OCWW having presented on topics such as memoir and flash. She is the author of over 80 published stories both macro and micro: fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. Her latest book is Cloud of Witnesses from Golden Alley Press. She can be found blogging at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/@memoirjane.
Special Bonus! Jane, our resident flash expert, will accept 500 word flash manuscripts from members for a free flash contest. Write about a special memory, a moment you witnessed under a streetlight, write flash romance, flash mystery, or a flash of anger. Condense a darling you had to cut from a longer work or write whatever flashes into your mind. You choose your own writing adventure! Submission deadline is April 23. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info. First Prize: 20 page manuscript critique Second Prize: 10 page manuscript critique. Third Prize: Speaker's's book. All will be selected by the winners during our 2020-2021 program year.
9-9:30 Registration and Socializing
SPECIAL OFF-SITE EVENING SESSION
To write a novel is to invite readers on a quest: both the writing and the reading processes are voyages of discovery. In this session we will talk about the ways in which novels contain mysteries for both writer and reader, whether we are writing actual mysteries or not. We'll first discuss the mysteries of the writing process, including how we discover what our books are really about, and then we'll talk about how all novels are mysteries in some ways, in that we need to provide questions for readers to answer, whether through the text itself or outside of it. We'll include discussion of your own work and some writing exercises as well.
Michelle Falkoff is the author of Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, and Questions I Want to Ask You. Her fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVA, DoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern University School of Law.
6:30-8:30 PM Program
What is voice, exactly, and how do you find yours? You have a voice already; we all do. Finding your literary voice is a process of discovery, a matter of listening closely to yourself, paring away the noise of the many voices that engulf each of us every day, and then pressing that genuine natural voice you have through the form of language. Together, we'll discuss how this works, looking at various voices and what makes them unique, and practicing with our own.
Amy Hassinger is the author of three novels: Nina: Adolescence, The Priest's Madonna , and After the Dam. Her writing has been translated into Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Indonesian and has won awards from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), Creative Nonfiction, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Illinois Arts Council. She's placed work in many publications, including The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Writers’ Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She earned her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois. She grew up in Massachusetts, but now lives in Urbana, Illinois, where she sings in a band, The Jaybirds, and bothers her children.
The first chapter of any book has to do a thousand things at once: interest and engage the reader, kick off the plot, introduce the characters, set the tone, and establish the world of the story. In this class, award-winning author Abby Geni will share her insights about the daunting task of writing a powerful, compelling first chapter. We will talk about inciting incidents, strong first sentences and paragraphs, the idea of stasis and intrusion, the onset of tension, and the nature of voice. We will talk, too, about the revision process and how to know when your first chapter is done.
Abby Geni is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Wildlands and The Lightkeepers, as well as a short story collection, The Last Animal. Her books have been translated into seven languages and have won the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Chicago Review of Books Awards, among other honors. Her latest novel, The Wildlands, was named one of the best books of 2018 by Kirkus and Buzzfeed and was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Geni is a core faculty member at StoryStudio Chicago and recently served as Visiting Associate Professor of Fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her website is www.abbygeni.com.
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