Unlocking the Craft of Writing Engaging Fiction: An Interview with Pingmei Lan
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
Are you a writer looking to improve your storytelling skills and fully engage with the craft elements of writing memorable and engaging fiction? If so, you're going to love our new class with Pingmei Lan, an accomplished writer and experienced instructor. Pingmei's work has graced the pages of well-known publications like The Florida Review, Blackbird, and Epiphany, and she's received prestigious awards such as the 2019 PEN/DAU Best Debut Short Stories prize.
In our interview, Pingmei Lan offers a sneak peek into her upcoming 8-week Zoom workshop, Pacing, Structure, and Timelines in Fiction.
This workshop isn't just for beginners; it's for writers of all levels. Whether you're a meticulous planner or a writer who goes with the flow, Pingmei's course is designed to help you improve your storytelling. You'll learn how to create effective timelines, build engaging scenes, and master pacing. Pingmei draws from her own experiences and examples from well-known authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Charles Yu to enrich the course. If you're looking to unlock your creativity and turn anecdotes into compelling stories, this workshop is for you. Join us as we chat with Pingmei Lan and discover how her expertise can enhance your storytelling journey.
Now, on to our interview with Pingmei.
WW: What inspired you to create a course focused specifically on Pacing, Structure, and Timelines in Fiction? How did your personal experiences as a writer and your research in the field contribute to the development of this class?
PL: Honestly, I have struggled with some of these concepts myself. I led workshops for several years when I realized I was not alone in that. There are books or classes out there on how to structure your novels a certain way (e.g., Hero's Journey) but I think structure goes beyond that and needs to be studied alongside other core elements of craft, such as pacing, dialogues and characterization. I tend to write my first draft without worrying much about how structure works, but I've found once I delved deeper into these concepts, what I learned improved both my rough drafts and my revision work. What I hope to share in this course include both the process of discovering exemplary structures from published works and the craft elements themselves.
WW: Your course promises to benefit writers of all levels, from seasoned authors to those who are just starting out. How do you plan to tailor your teaching approach to cater to such a diverse group of writers with varying levels of scene-writing experience?
PL: First of all, I’d call this a foundational class. So it’s particularly good for newer writers who have written some fiction but want to learn more about craft. That said, I’ve seen seasoned writers benefit from the course and I've always found reviewing these aspects of crafts to benefit my own writing. The course also offers a number of close reading sessions to build and support on the concepts being taught, which can provide yet another way to inspire new writing or a new way to approach an existing project. Finally, one of the core elements of the class, the workshop, allows writers of all levels to receive individualized feedback on their current writing project, whether it’s something new, their first piece of fiction or an excerpt of their novel. And we would have specific discussions on what their experiences and issues are and tailor the workshop discussions toward these specifics in their writing projects.
Further, I offer a 30 minute one-on-one zoom session for each writer taking the class. And those who take advantage of this opportunity to share their specific questions and concerns in writing tend to get the most out of their course.
WW: The course outline suggests that you'll cover a wide range of topics, from characterization to storytelling secrets. Could you share a sneak peek into one of the weeks you're particularly excited about teaching and explain why it's crucial for writers to grasp the concepts covered during that week?
PL: Each of the sessions are important and exciting for me to teach! I tend to celebrate the first and final class the most because I get to know the writers in the first session, learn who they are, their specific issues and questions, and by the end, I get to hear what they have learned and built in the class and watch their confidence and excitement grow so it's super rewarding.
WW: Literary works by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, Charles Yu, and Kirstin Valdez Quade will be explored during the course. How do these specific authors and their works exemplify the principles you aim to teach?
PL: One student mentioned she really enjoyed all the reading offered in the course because not only did she find the texts engaging and useful in illustrating the concepts we studied, she had not read any of them prior to the class. I thought that was a good thing. I tend to advocate that literary writing should both entertain and evoke empathy. The pieces you mentioned (and others I chose) are some of the best examples I've found that have achieved both. While literary fiction tends to delve into complex characters set in a rich, imperfect world, I hope they also are a joy to read. The readings selected for the class are the kind of stories I aspire to write and what I hope for each writer taking the class.
WW: The class involves workshops where students will receive feedback from peers and yourself. Could you elaborate on how these workshops will be structured to ensure a constructive and supportive environment for writers to exchange ideas and critiques?
PL: In general, my workshops are interactive over zoom sessions. But I supplement that with offline discussions and material posted weekly to help writers stay engaged. Submissions are also shared in advance so there is time to prepare for discussions and create minor line edits. Everyone is encouraged to share both specific and positive aspects they found in these submissions as well as articulate any questions, confusions or critiques on craft (especially the aspects discussed during lectures/readings).
I usually would review the workshop procedure and guidelines in the first session, so students could have a shared understanding for the session. It's important to know that the class offers an opportunity to workshop if a writer would find the feedback useful or helpful but this is not required.
WW: Pacing, Structure, and Timelines are fundamental elements of fiction writing. As a successful writer yourself, could you share an example from your own writing journey where honing your understanding of these elements transformed a piece from a draft into a compelling story?
PL: As mentioned, the tools and lessons I share in class have since become a fundamental part of my writing process. The class structure somewhat mirrors how I approach a project. One specific example is that I tend to write long in my early drafts. That is, I tend to overstate rather than understate things. The longer drafts give me room to play with structure or character movement that may otherwise be hidden. And it's often easier to suggest cuts in a workshop because it's hard to imagine what's not on the page. At the same time, I use these tools I offer in class to keep myself on track (or understand how a story's structure has changed) through the revision process.
Pingmei's Pacing, Structure and Timelines in Fiction 8-Week Zoom Workshop starts soon!
Instructor Pingmei Lan holds an MFA in creative writing. Her work has appeared in The Florida Review, Blackbird, Epiphany, Smokelong Quarterly, Tahoma Literary Review and others. She is a winner of the 2019 PEN/DAU Best Debut Short Stories prize, a finalist in the Atlanta Review's 2019 International Poetry Competition and a 2021 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the 2022 Nancy Zafris Memorial Scholar at the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop.