Meet the Teaching Artist: Four Films That Will Help You Write Your Novel with Samantha Mabry
by Writing Workshops Staff
5 months ago
Samantha Mabry, known for her novels "ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD" and "TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS", has a new offering at WritingWorkshops.com. In her 5-week Zoom class, Four Films That Will Help You Write Your Novel, she explores the benefits of analyzing films to improve novel writing, offering a different approach to typical writing courses.
With films like ABOUT ELLY, KNIVES OUT, THE FAREWELL, and MOONLIGHT as examples, Samantha's class will focus on character development, plot refinement, and effective dialogue. It's designed for writers at any stage, from drafting to revising. If you're looking to approach storytelling from a new angle, this course might be the right fit for you.
Hi, Samantha. Please introduce yourself to our audience.
Hey there. My name is Samantha Mabry, and I’m the author of three novels for young adults published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, an imprint of Hachette. One of those novels, ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, was nominated for a National Book Award 2017, which was very exciting. My fourth novel will release in March of 2024 and is called CLEVER CREATURES OF THE NIGHT. In addition to writing, I’m the mother of an energetic kindergarten and teacher of college-level composition in Dallas, Texas. I manage to do all of these things by means of setting strict boundaries and eating a lot of ice cream.
What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft?
A couple of summers ago, I was stuck in the middle of a draft, and just happened to go to the movies to see Jordan Peele’s film NOPE. I know little about the art and craft of filmmaking, but I left the movie in awe of how fantastic it was on a storytelling level. Every detail was clever and necessary. The plot was tight and progressed cleanly the way a plot should —everything was tied together perfectly, and again, all the elements were NECESSARY. It got me to thinking how many good films there are, and how, if I just took the time watch a few, maybe they could help me un-muddle my own story, remove the nonsense, and help get clear on the story elements that really matter. NOPE is also great because it’s a riff on an old trope, the Western, and I’m a big sucker for modern takes on old tropes.
Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?
Starting with the first week, I’ll assign a set of viewing questions regarding characterization, plot, tone, dialogue, and/or symbolism (and/or whatever other storytelling aspects that may be pertinent), and then participants will, over the course of the next week, watch one of the assigned films with those questions in mind. At the next meeting, we’ll discuss findings, and then I’ll introduce the next film and set of questions. Rinse and repeat for a total of five weeks. Of course, there will always be a question about how any storytelling aspect of the film may help participants see their own work more clearly and/or in ways they haven’t yet considered. I’ve taught this class once before, and the discussions have been slam-dunk great. Participants always bring so many wonderful observations to our sessions.
What was your first literary crush?
Dracula —both the character and the book as a whole.
What are you currently reading?
Lone Women by Victor LaValle, which is a Western set in Montana in the early 1900s. There’s also a demon running rampant, killing people and horses. The fusion of Western and horror is totally up my alley.
How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?
This is a funny question to me because I am NOT the kind of writer who is swimming in ideas or who has notebooks full of partially sketched-out stories. There’s only been one time recently when I ditched a draft (at something close to 90 pages), and that was because I couldn’t get the tone to be anything aside from bitter. I want to believe that every story, at its heart, is a love story, and with this one, I just couldn’t find the love.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in the many, many books I have read as an assignment (I have degrees in English) and for fun. I also like old movies a lot. In addition, I draw a lot of inspiration from the young people I teach. They are complicated and interesting and know so much more about the world than I do in a lot of ways.
What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?
I’m unsure where I heard this, but I’ve clung to the idea that there’s sometimes a difference between writing and typing —like, writing can happen when you’re driving, or in bed, unable to sleep, or while you’re out walking the dog. This is so important to me. I’m a pretty busy person, so when I sit down to actually type, I need there to be elements of the story already living in my head. I can’t just sit around waiting for the muse to strike.
What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?
I’m not so big into craft books, but I AM big into Wallace Stegner, and his ON TEACHING AND WRITING FICTION is great. At the end of the book, he dissects his own (amazing) short story “Goin’ to Town.” You could buy the entire book for just that last section —it’s worth its weight in gold.
Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?
More than anything else in the world, I love talking about words and stories and listening to other people talk about words and stories. I hope to build an environment in my creative writing course that’s built on collaborative discussion, where participants can know that, even though I think I’ve gotten semi-good at storytelling, I still have a lot to learn, and I that I love learning from them.
Learn More About Working with Samantha:
You can learn more about Samantha's upcoming class, Four Films That Will Help You Write Your Novel 5-Week Zoom Class, and sign up now!
Join Samantha Mabry in this journey to explore new dimensions in writing and enhance your craft!
Instructor Samantha Mabry is the author of three novels published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, including ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2017, and, most recently, TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS, which has been optioned for film. Her fourth novel, CLEVER CREATURES OF THE NIGHT will release in March of 2024. Her short work has appeared in D MAGAZINE's annual summer fiction issues and has been anthologized. In addition to writing, Samantha teaches courses in college composition at Southern Methodist University.