Fourth Lake Writing Retreat: Workshops

"A workshop like this makes the writing life real. From the instructors to the other writers, the group shared their stories and often received on-the-spot remedies for problems. My critique group was a gift. Laurie was wonderful in guiding us through a thoughtful and rich discussion of strengths in our opening pages. We all left ready to finish our drafts with renewed energy."

Past participant

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Fourth Lake Writing Retreat Workshops

2019 workshops left here for your reference. 2020 information coming soon!
Select one workshop and spend the weekend working with the author of your choice in a small group. Each workshop limited to 10 writers.

Character Development and Arc with Michelle Wildgen

In storytelling, character is everything. A vivid, intriguing characterization grabs readers and persuades them to stick with you. A complicated character makes unexpected choices, which generate plot. A complex nonfiction story can be made clear and compelling when you focus on the right person’s experience. In this workshop we will examine brilliant characters in literature for inspiration, and use exercises, discussion and revision to make your characters earn every moment on the page.


Great Beginnings with Susanna Daniel

The start of a story, novel, essay, or memoir pulls the reader from open water and offers a life raft. Often, the first paragraph grounds the reader in time, place, and character. In some cases, the writer provides much information up front — who, what, when, where — and in some cases, the writer provides just enough. In our time together, we’ll look at examples of strong beginnings and discuss what makes them work, then evaluate and rewrite a few beginnings — new or existing — to make sure our readers can’t wait to turn the page. For our first meeting, please bring the starting paragraph of a published story or essay to share.


Getting Your Story On the Page: The Intersection Between Life & Art with Christine Rice

Your life (or parts of it) could be a book. But should they be written as fiction or creative nonfiction? You won’t know until you start writing. A writer’s primary medium is the imagination, but it often straddles fiction and nonfiction, leaving us to struggle with what to leave in or omit. We’ll examine the similarities and differences between fiction and creative nonfiction. We’ll also consider when and how to cross-pollinate genres or implement hybrid forms. This class will develop hard skills for fictionalizing lived experiences to produce a compelling narrative. We will study straight-forward creative nonfiction (Jesmyn Ward), those who toe the line between fiction and creative nonfiction (Pam Houston), writers who fearlessly fictionalize elements of their life (James Baldwin), and writers whose fictional scenes are so close to reality we see right through the author’s thin veil (Tim O’Brien). Using prompts and discussions, you’ll learn to identify your most compelling material. In this generative workshop, we’ll experiment with point of view, structure and form, while pushing new work or work in progress in useful directions, with the goal of discovery and pages to take home and keep working with.


Novel Basics with Shawn Shifflet

If scene is the backbone form of the novel, other essential narrative forms commonly lumped into the category of exposition can be thought of as the novel’s connective tissue. In this generative workshop, we will explore the many building blocks essential to writing a novel. Topics such as chapter placement, timeline management, character development, point-of-view, plot, and more will be discussed.  Classes will include Story Workshop® method word exercises, in-class writing activities, and the out loud reading of writing started in class.  Note: This is not a critique workshop, and an engaging, supportive environment for exploring narrative possibilities on the page will be the goal of each class.


Conjuring New Reality: Bringing Fantasy to Life in Fiction with Alex Bledsoe

Fantasy, in its purest sense, means anything can happen. But that doesn’t make writing fantasy fiction simple. Far from being easy, working with fantasy elements can require even more thought and care than writing realism. In this workshop we will discuss common fantasy elements (kingdoms, dragons, swords, etc.) and how to make them come alive for readers. The emphasis will be on the reality of fantasy, and writing exercises will be used to practice bringing standard fantasy tropes to new life and imbuing them with concrete existence in made-up worlds, past eras, and our own times. For all writers and fans of fantasy and other kinds of speculative fiction.


Novel Approaches to Short Fiction and Memoir with Christopher Chambers

Beginning a novel can be daunting, and getting started is often one of the most difficult parts. One way to get started is to start tart short. Short stories provide an opportunity to practice craft on a scale more manageable and easier to sustain than the long-form demands of a novel. Short forms are a way to explore story ideas and characters for a novel and can not only be publishable as short stories, they can be compiled into a longer form like the novel-in-stories. Short form narratives have proliferated in recent decades, and the short-short story, or flash fiction, and short forms of memoir have become increasingly popular. We will be reading, writing, and discussing a wide range of approaches to short-form fiction and memoir. We will look at ways of combining these short pieces to form longer works of fiction and memoir. We’ll write and read and discuss new work from the group as well as published examples of the forms. No experience with the short forms is necessary. This is a chance to explore new approaches in your writing, and to begin on a small scale, to experiment with ways of structuring a work-in-progress, for developing close reading skills necessary in the revision process. For beginning writers looking for inspiration and ways to get started, and for experienced writers who want to experiment with new approaches and forms. The workshop will address fiction writing and memoir writing, and strategies for publishing short form writing. This is a generative and supportive workshop, and you’ll come away with new ideas, new strategies, and new writing.