Who are these people and what is happening to them?: Character and Plot in Short Fiction (with Alexander MacLeod)

May 4 – 25, 7 – 9pm >>

Character and plot. For many readers and writers, these are the two most important narrative elements in any short story. Some people read and/or write primarily for characters. They feel that a story, at its core, has to be about someone or about a collection of figures. A family saga, for example. Others prefer plot. For them, narrative is what happens, and, in the end, a good story—a mystery for example—is essentially a sequence of unfolding scenes or events. What is a writer to do with this back-and-forth, chicken-and-egg kind of problem? We’ve been talking about it since at least the year 4 (in Horace’s Ars Poetica) and the issue doesn’t seem to be getting much closer to resolution. 

Rather than trying to quiet these tensions, this workshop explores the vital interdependence of plot and character and asks us to think deeply about the way characters are produced and/or revealed by what happens to them. Using some key exercises and working with examples selected from the participants own work, we will try to reflect on the way these two narrative elements can be strategically combined to produce powerful and memorable scenes. We will also try to branch out a bit to see how, especially in short fiction,  good characters and good plotting absolutely require key contributions from the more poetic elements of our writing such as pacing, tone, rhythm, diction, imagery and sentence structure. Who are these people and what is happening to them? What does their story sound like? How does it “go”? These are just a few of the questions we will try to answer in this sequence of workshops.


Alexander MacLeod teaches English, Atlantic Canada Studies, and Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s University. His first book of short stories, Light Lifting, won an Atlantic Book Award and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The collection was also long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal Award for Excellence in Fiction and was named a “Book of the year” by the American Library Association, the Globe and Mail, The Irish Times, Amazon.ca, and Quill and Quire. In 2019, his story “Lagomorph,” first published in Granta, won the 100th O. Henry Prize, an international award recognizing excellence in short fiction. He lives in Dartmouth.

Location: Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (online with Zoom)

Dates of 4-week workshop: Tuesdays, May 4 + May 11 + May 18 + May 25 (7:00pm to 9:00pm)

Price: $214 (incl. 1-year WFNS membership for 2021)

Member Price: $149

Registration for this workshop is closed.

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