If you'd like to have Kat teach any of these workshops online for your writer's group, send an email with your request to: kat (at) katduncan (dot) net
Kat also welcomes inquiries from students who prefer working one-on-one directly with Kat to cover the course material or who are looking for a writing coach. Please send an email with your interest and goals. All levels, genres and projects are welcome!
All workshops are 4 weeks long unless otherwise noted. All workshops include exercises and personalized, gentle, and practical feedback for participants.
See my current schedule here.
The Startup Novelist Series
Interesting, engaging characters are the backbone of a story. This workshop covers the elements needed to portray well-rounded, dynamic characters who are ripe to change and grow during the course of your story. Topics covered include points of view, main characters, secondary characters, protagonists, antagonists, window characters, and foil characters as well as how to choose character goals and decide on character traits. We will write a character sketch, plan out character arcs for each of our characters and do other exercises to learn how to get the most from each character in our stories. We'll round out our discussion of characters by looking at character archetypes and how you can use them.
Conflict and Tension
Conflict and tension are the elements that keep readers reading your story. The toughest part for many beginning authors is getting the conflict right. We'll begin by looking at the differences between external and internal conflict and how each relates to developing your story premise. We'll do some exercises to practice ways to use conflicts to hook readers, as well as concrete, specific ways to put tension into every scene. We'll learn how to create different kinds of tension, including sexual tension and do some exercises with hooks and pacing to round out our conflict skills.
Story Structure, Plotting and Scenes
The plot of your story is not simply a series of events happening to your characters. Rather, the plot moves a character from one state of thinking to another. The conflict and events that change the character's thinking are typically external, but internal thinking is needed, too. There are many ways to structure plots. We'll cover a few of the most basic types including Three Act Structure, The Hero's Journey and Goal, Motivation and Conflict. We'll do some plot outlining exercises, work with templates that help us plan scenes and sequels, and tie plot into the character's arc. We'll round out our skills by looking at a checklist for story logic so our plots don't get out of hand.
Dialogue is not conversation between characters. There is no such thing as casual conversation between characters. Everything they say should reveal character traits or story secrets, or build tension. If your dialogue is not doing any of these things, then it isn't working. If it's only doing one of these things then is isn't working hard enough. Learn how to put your dialogue to work. After looking at some excellent examples, work or re-work your dialogue to be more than just idle talk. We'll do exercises to help you with ways to give each character a distinctive voice, and exercises that will show you how to connect what characters say with their goals and emotions. We'll round out our discussion of dialogue by looking at how to use dialogue tags and how to blend talking, thinking and action in a scene to make it come alive for readers.
Setting is not just the place where your characters hang out. It is a character itself. Paying attention to the details of setting can highlight the drama and tension of your story and give your readers a full, rich story world they won't want to leave. Learn how to use setting to advantage by avoiding over-description of ordinary things and focusing instead on the unique and unusual. We'll do some exercises to help you learn how to describe settings based on what you want the reader to pay attention to. We'll round out our setting skills by learning how to make characters interact with their settings and make a visual picture come to life for the reader.
Exposition and Introspection
Exposition is information about story circumstances and introspection is the thoughts characters share with readers. Both of these are necessary for good story development and good character development. But each of them can be trouble in the same way: boring. Even a short paragraph of nothing but info can turn readers off and more than a paragraph is referred to as an info dump. But readers need to know some facts and details of the characters' circumstances to understand the story. Readers also need to know what characters are thinking, but loading up your prose with internal thoughts, especially in the middle of conversations can spell disaster, frustrating the reader who wants to get on with the story. We'll do some exercises to show you many ways to deliver exposition and introspection at just the right moment, when readers are eager for it. We’ll round out our exposition and introspection skills by learning ways to gradually reveal story details, blending them with dialogue and action and using them to connect readers to the characters' emotions.
You've read Debra Dixon's book several times and used it to plot out one or more novels or novellas. You understand external and internal goals and their related motivations. You have a good grasp on conflict, and yet your novels either seem weak in the areas of tension and suspense, or agents and editors keep passing on your partials or fulls. What's missing? What are you doing wrong? Goals, motivations and conflicts can be fantastic, but they must also be presented in a way that motivates readers to read. Take a fresh look at GMC with this workshop which will show you how to look at goals, motivations and conflicts from a reader's point of view. We'll explore ways to ensure that your GMCs will work together well as well as investigate how well you have applied them. Come prepared to analyze novels on your bookshelf or e-reader (no TV or movies allowed) the way a literature professor would, and do exercises writing new scenes with instructor-given GMCs. And then apply the lessons learned to your own WIPs so that your GMC charts are not only crystal clear, but those GMCs flood the page with prose that rivets the reader's attention like a bestseller.
Exploiting Plot and Theme
Come to this workshop with a working knowledge of plot and theme. If you understand basic plots and their underlying themes but feel you haven't exploited either one to the fullest, this is the workshop for you. Be prepared to dig into your themes and plots to a deeper level. You may even end up making radical shifts in your plot and/or change your theme. You must understand yourself as a writer to make deep connections with your themes. Each theme must be thoroughly explored to be understood and used by authors. Theme should be woven into every aspect of your story. We will do specific writing exercises based on chosen themes. Through lessons and exercises we will explore common themes in stories and connect them with our own personal outlooks on life. We will learn how to present themes in multiple ways in the same story as well as ways to broaden your theme so that it will appeal to the many different readers who will interpret your theme as they read.
Get Grammar and Style Beginner 3 Weeks
What's a style or a voice and where do I get one? Whether you "get" grammar or not, your style and voice come from how you use grammar. This grammar-based style-enhancing workshop is for writers who don't "get" grammar or for those who think they don't want to get it. Proper use of grammar and style makes a story flow smoothly, page after page. Poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs ruin the pace of your novel and make editors and agents pass up your manuscript. Let me guide you through a review of basic grammar terms, punctuation and capitalization and show you sentence pattern techniques you can put right to use the day you learn them.
Get Grammar and Style Intermediate 3 Weeks
Looking for ways to improve your style without losing your unique voice? This style-enhancing workshop is for writers who want to learn more ways to show off their style. Proper use of complex grammar constructions such as phrases and clauses can pack a wallop of tension, emotion or information without knocking the reader out of the story. Poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs can slow down or confuse readers. Let me guide you through higher level grammar constructions including phrases, clauses, auxiliary verbs, and sentence modifiers, and show you the related sentence pattern techniques so you can put them right to use. Includes a review of "no nos" such as run-on sentences and misplaced modifiers.
Get Grammar and Style Advanced 3 Weeks
Take charge of your style and make your voice shout! This workshop is for writers who want to learn advanced grammar and style techniques to use in developing their unique style. Lectures will post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to guide you through higher level grammar concepts including parallel structures, the use of subtext, colloquial and vernacular phrases, and idioms. Includes practice with complex grammatical "no nos" such as adjective-adverb errors, idiom and coordination errors. Explores a variety of style choices such as head-hopping, talking heads in dialogue, showing versus telling, slipping into omniscient point-of-view, revealing too much and too little information, and examines the pros and cons of each.
Advanced Plot Techniques
You've heard about plot devices and literary techniques but you're not sure exactly what they are or how you could use them. This workshop explores more than a baker's dozen literary devices and plot techniques in simple, easy-to-grasp terms. After looking at examples from modern novels and doing exercises to give you practice with some of the techniques, you will walk away from this workshop with a raft of ways to move your next plot along into new dimensions. Includes lessons on alternate plot structures, genre-specific structures that work, subplots, exploiting plot twists, and applying motifs and symbolism. Every lesson emphasizes how to move your plot along for a fast-paced read.
You Are What You Say
This workshop examines the elements needed to reveal character through dialogue. Using character development techniques you already know such as goals, motivations, and backstory, learn how to reveal strong characters through their words and connect those words to other elements in your story. Successful novels have an increasing amount of dialogue over narration, forcing dialogue sequences to do more and more of the work of telling the story. Learn how to reveal important information about characters, turning thoughts, appearances, and actions into spoken words. Workshop includes lessons on using dialogue to build tension and anticipation, reveal story secrets, enhance setting and hit readers in the gut with emotion. Includes lessons on dialogue tags, and blending dialogue with narration. Examples from bestselling novels offered as models.
Hunting the Elusive Hook
What is a hook and how can I use it? Whether you've never heard of hooks or have been writing hooks for years, this workshop will take you through the whole gamut of ways to write hooks and use them effectively. Participants will learn how to evaluate and create hooks for all kinds of uses in their writing, with a focus on hooking readers in the crucial story opening. The workshop will go beyond the opening hook, showing ways to hook readers throughout an entire novel. The workshop with cover ways to generate book titles, make the reader care about what happens next in every scene, build tension and micro-tension with internal hooks and tie up hooks in a satisfying way. Includes lessons on hooks for queries and pitches. Practical exercises and personalized feedback for every participant means you'll be able to put your new knowledge right to work.
Pacing Pride versus Pace Robbers
Without proper pace, your stories can sag, drag or just fade away. Proper pace depends on knowing how to make your reader anticipate the next scene, and when to give your reader a moment to take a breath. The workshop will cover in-depth details about the pitfalls of pacing and how to avoid having their pace robbed by certain writing techniques. Participants will learn specific ways to perk up the pace of their novels through grammar styles, setting mood and tone, managing conflict and using point of view subjectively. Includes practical exercises and personalized feedback on participants' works in progress.
Developing an Active Voice for Emotional Impact
Learn exactly how to use active voice to maximize the impact of your writing style. Kat will show you how to identify and fix passive sentences and explain when you should leave them alone and why. Kat will provide plenty of well-explained examples of how to develop an engaging active voice and use it to build tension and control pacing. Bonus: Learn simple techniques to design figurative language and action-emotion word combinations that will liven up your manuscript. Includes optional exercises.
Blending Emotional Arcs and Conflict
This workshop explores the elements needed to show a character's emotional arc from opening page to ending scene. You will learn techniques that enable you to tug at a reader's heartstrings. How and when to launch into emotional introspection and when not to. Blend emotion and story conflict and learn when and how to emphasize each. Manage your characters' emotions by learning how to manipulate your readers' emotions. Entice your readers to follow your characters' emotional upheavals and revelations without giving readers a reason to toss the book aside out of boredom or toss it in the trash out of anger. Workshop includes lessons on showing versus telling, emotional triggers, emotional language and creating emotional phrases. Worksheets, templates and published excerpts and examples will be used to explain the techniques.
Write What You Know
You've heard the old adage "write what you know". But what if you're a housewife with no work experience and your most recent hobby is folding laundry? You know more than you think. You may know how to solve tricky problems, soothe ruffled feathers, keep law and order, monitor sick kids, sympathize over the loss of a pet, or organize a mob of unruly kids at a party. You have goals and aspirations, even if they are just to get through the next holiday dinner. Kat will help you dig deep into your personal skills and pull out every tool you have that can be used in your writing. Not only that, but Kat will help you see how those skills could be applied to every fiction genre from sweet inspirationals to erotic sci-fi. Published examples, plus short exercises and templates support your writing goals for the future.
Scenes and Sequels and Scenes, Oh My! 6 Weeks
Highly recommended and as scary as the flying monkeys of Oz, Swain's and Bickham's books on fiction theory give us the basic concept behind why fiction works: scenes and sequels. This workshop will do more than attempt to simplify the theory with methodical steps. With fresh insights and useful examples and templates learn the essential parts of writing scenes and sequels by understanding their components of goal, conflict, disaster and emotion, reaction, dilemma, and decision. Using examples from bestselling romance novels, Kat will identify and analyze motivation-reaction units and explain why the action-reaction model works. Participants will follow an outline of steps for writing their own scenes and sequels and then move on to learning how to slice, chop, and dice the parts to create their own unique blend of classic fiction.
Make Me Care
Ever hear agents, editors or reviewers say "make me care". How do you make someone care about your story and the characters in it? Kat will show you a variety of ways to get readers to care. This workshop includes lessons on word choices and grammar, ways to use sensory imagery, body language, showing and telling and emotion to connect with readers. Kat explains how to present characters with clear, concise goals that readers will root for and hooks that keep readers on the edges of their seats. Got a story or scene that you can't seem to get readers to care about? Kat's workshop will help you identify what's missing and develop ways to hook those readers into caring as much about your characters as you do.
Psyched In 2 Weeks
Psychologists use many different techniques to understand human nature. Why not learn about some of these techniques with an eye toward using them to hone your characters, goals, conflicts, emotions and action in your story? Knowing a bit about basic psychology can help you write better character motivations and reactions, explore levels of moral development, use the fundamentals of human nature that are cross-cultural and powerful, and understand common mental mistakes characters may make that prevent them from reaching their goals.
Author, Writing Coach, Editor