Associate Editor Karolina Gajdeczka attends a Writer’s Center program in Leesburg with speaker Leslie Pietrzyk.

Being new to the Leesburg area, I was really excited to find out about the events in Leesburg that The Writer’s Center puts on every First Friday.  This past Friday, November 1st, I attended one of these events when I found out that a friend, writer Leslie Pietrzyk, was speaking.

Leslie Pietrzyk is a local writer whose work includes novels Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day and short fiction and essays featured in places including The Iowa Review, New England Review, Washington Post Magazine, The Sun, Gettysburg Review, River Styx, TriQuarterly, and Shenandoah. She is also the founder and editor of Redux Literary Journal.  She also teaches in the graduate fiction program at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC as well as the Converse College low-residency MFA Program.  Her event was titled “Making the 300-Page Leap: Writing Stories vs. Writing a Novel.”

The event took place in the lower level of the Leesburg Town Hall, where writers and organizers mingled around coffee and refreshments before the event.  I was excited because, as a short story writer who has sometimes wondered about foraying into novel territory, I was interested in learning about the differences in these types of writing, the expectations and strategies.

Pietrzyk was well-prepared with notes and thoughtful examples, connecting each point to The Great Gatsby (because it is widely read and thus an easy example, also a personal favorite of hers), as well as other books, including her own novels.  Some of the thoughtful points she covered include:

  • ·         Time: A novelist vs. a short story writer should be more mindful of time (the time span in which the story takes place) and time management.  Having an idea of the time of the beginning and the time of the ending will serve as a guideline for how much time it takes to “get there” through the story.
  • ·         Setting: Settings help create the “mood” of the book, and often act as their own characters.  Settings should be inseparable from the characters and plot.
  • ·         More plot: In a novel, readers read to find out what happens next, so the plot is even more important (whereas in a story, the writer might get by enticing the reader with pretty language or interesting dialogue).  A novel is a story about what happens, and what happens should have immense consequences that lead to a deeper meaning in the book.
  • ·         Characters:  Characters should all mean something in a novel, and should have depth so they are capable of something surprising.  Ideally, characters in a novel need to act, and preferably act poorly, so their actions lead to more and more complicated circumstances and more desperation.  What do the characters want? Externally and internally?
  • ·         Ending: A novel should end with huge changes and significant consequences and messages; whereas a short story could end on a subtle shift or realization.

Overall, the experience was enjoyable and informative, and served as a great reminder that there is a writer community available wherever you go, and that the DC metro area is especially chock full of writer events like these.

For information on other events and programs hosted by The Writer’s Center, visit their website and calendar of events.  Check out The Writer’s Center Leesburg on Facebook.

To learn more about Leslie Pietrzyk, visit her website and blog.