Finding Fiction with Alex Ulloa

How do you become a writer? Practice, practice, practice. As part of our collaboration with Columbia University, we first met Alex Ulloa in 2019 when he led a lab at TUMO Yerevan about characters with dark personalities. In his third lab, Alex taught fiction writing for TUMOians who love the power of stories. In the article below, Alex will walk you through some of the tools and texts that his students analyzed to understand how authors create engaging fiction worlds.

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“A creative writer doesn’t tell anecdotes, a writer crafts stories. They utilize story, plot, character, conflict, dialogue, setting, voice, point of view, tone, motif, revision, and other elements of the craft of fiction. Our lab examined how each bit of craft, each tool, helps create a work of literary art; a work that wrestles with what it is to be human, to create a story that offers questions rather than giving the reader cheap, easy answers.

We read stories, both at home and together in class, and discussed how established writers create fictions that resonate with us, that help us to see the world in a different way, from a different perspective, then we might currently hold.

Our primary focus was on a literary form termed “flash fiction.” These are stories that run from five words to fifteen hundred. A writer needs time to write, but in a two-week period, time is short. With that in mind, we looked at flash fiction so students had the time to read and absorb many stories, to see that great art can be created in a page or even a paragraph if one learns the tools of fiction and practices the craft. 

We read stories written from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, discussed them line by line, often focused on particular word choices. We learned the elements of craft in their most bare-boned form. We read many types of stories, ranging from realist fiction to surrealist fiction and metafiction, including stories told in the rarely seen 2nd person point of view. It also gave us more time to do what writers do: Write.

Each day, we spent at least a single 20 minute period working on a particular exercise—say, taking a character and describing what that character sees and does when confronted by a stranger appearing on a beach the character had thought of as their own. Some days, we spent an additional 20 minutes on a second exercise later in that same class, or on a revision of their earlier exercise. 

The bulk of our work, however, was discussing writing and the writing process. This meant taking a story we read either at home or in class and learning what choices the writer made, what craft elements they employed, to tell their story. We learned from what others wrote, from what classmates wrote, from what we saw within those stories, and from our own experimentation through writing exercises. 

I hope this has given the reader some insight into our fiction writing lab. Fiction is ever-evolving and (hopefully) this will be true of future iterations of this class.”

Alex Ulloa.