Rules of Engagement by Felicia Schneiderhan

Last spring I was walking Skyline Parkway (closed to traffic, pedestrians only), six feet from my close friend, Mary Mathews. Mary is a quilt artist. The lines and colors of her work remind me of Miles Davis’s “On the Corner,” or sailboats on a Lake Superior July morning. We walk together often, our topics ranging from family to food to pandemic to working as artists. We often talk about creativity, technique, and perseverance (when we’re not talking about the pandemic or food, that is). That morning, Mary shared with me that her quilting teacher (an internationally-renowned artist who sounds like she would scare the hell out of me) will find a design, and then make 40 quilts with that design, exploring all its nuances.

The idea caught my attention. I wondered what would happen if I tried this with a short story – using a set pattern – instead of having to invent the wheel every time I start something new. 

I had a novel in progress, short stories and essays in progress, and for two months I hadn’t been able to move a single creative muscle . . .

I went home that afternoon and decided to try a new game, “The Rules of Engagement,” to jar me from my pandemic-induced paralysis. I had a novel in progress, short stories and essays in progress, and for two months I hadn’t been able to move a single creative muscle. I came up with the short story equivalent of a quilt pattern. I chose a point of view, time period, motivation, object, word count. The task: write a short story to fit the design in one week. (The rough draft, anyway.) The next week, I’d use the same design to write a completely different story. And so on.

I ended up with three quality stories – one will be published by The Bookends Review this summer, and the other two are making the rounds with editors at literary journals. 

The experiment proved so fulfilling and fun that I wanted to share it with other writers. Lake Superior Writers was willing to give this a try. So this winter, as the dark and cold start to get to us (just a little), we’re going to meet for a month of Thursdays via Zoom to try this game. Every writer will come up with their own design and hone their own stories. Along the way, participants will learn about fiction techniques including point of view, time, structure, and characterization. We’ll also look at revision techniques and publication. By the end of the workshop, everyone will have a quality short story design, two story drafts, some rewritten work, and a network of writers to connect with. 

It’ll be work – but fun work!

Are you game? Come join us!

Felicia’s workshop, “The Rules of Engagement: Writing a short story from beginning to end,” will be held on four consecutive Thursdays: January 14, 21, 28, and February 4 from 6:30-8 p.m. via Zoom.
The cost is $100 for LSW members and $135 for non-members (fee includes a 1-year membership). Participants can add an optional private 30 minute 10-page critique with Felicia for $35. (Critique session will be held via Zoom or telephone.) Register here.

Instructor Felicia Schneiderhan is a Duluth-based award-winning writer and instructor. Her work appears in many literary journals and national magazines, and she hosts “Drawn to Write,” a new show on WDSE about writers and artists.

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