ARCHIVE FOR Ellen Litman

The Question of Greatness

Back when I was an MFA student, my classmate and friend Keith Gessen wrote a fascinating article for The Boston Globe. It was about William Dean Howells and a little bit about Henry James. In 1912, William Dean Howells was declared “the greatest living American writer and novelist.” Ninety years later, he was expelled from "The Norton Anthology of American Literature." How could such a thing happen

November 4, 2014 | Ellen Litman

Different ways to learn to be a better writer Inspiration The Writing Life

Against Innocence

It happens every semester in my undergraduate classes: We’d be discussing a student’s story, usually something featuring a child protagonist, and someone would say, “It’s about the loss of innocence.” The phrase is always uttered in a sad, wistful tone that implies that the loss of innocence is a terrible thing. I usually ask what’s so wonderful about the damn innocence. Or I just wince. Or threaten to veto the silly expression altogether, except I keep forgetting to add this particular prohibition to my syllabus.

October 7, 2014 | Ellen Litman

Craft Advice

Talk Like a Vampire

Vampires aren’t going anywhere – I am convinced of that. Every year there seems to be a new crop of them – in movies, TV shows, books. Also, in the stories my Creative Writing students bring to class. Take last spring, for example. I had a student who was writing a novel about a teenage vampire. A rich, petulant, British vampire, a bit of a misanthrope, understandably frustrated with his inability to transcend his physical age (who would want to be stuck in a teenage phase forever?)

September 2, 2014 | Ellen Litman

Craft Advice

Woke Up This Morning

We’ve heard this one before: Avoid at all costs the alarm-clock opening. Never begin with a character who’s just waking up. At first glance, it seems like such an arbitrary rule, akin to one of those edicts made by a bad-tempered magazine editor: No cancer stories, ever! No stories featuring children. Or gardening. Or children and gardening. But on second glance, the rule begins to make sense

July 29, 2014 | Ellen Litman

Craft Advice