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Porter Shreve

The Essence of Character and the Driver of Plot

Porter Shreve, photo by George Willard
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(This workshop is closed)

Michael Cunningham has said there are three questions fiction writers should ask of their characters: “What do they want?,” “What are they afraid of?,” and “What are they trying to hide?” Of these questions, perhaps the most essential is the first, because if your characters have desire, if they want something—perhaps even to the point of obsession—you’ve not only identified something essential about who they are, you’ve also likely set the plot in motion.

In this workshop we’ll look primarily at desire—but also at fear and secrecy—as accelerators of story. Participants are welcome to do generative work or to turn in a short story or stand-alone novel excerpt in advance.


  • This is an advanced workshop for novelists and short story writers. Please submit a writing sample of up to ten pages of your work in progress.
  • Please submit a cover letter that states your interest in this workshop and gives an overview of your writing background and prior workshop experience, if any.
  • The cost is $600. If you are selected to participate in the workshop, a deposit of $200 is required to register, with the balance due by September 30.
  • Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the class is full.

Financial Assistance is available to those who would not otherwise be able to attend—click here for guidelines and application.


Porter Shreve‘s four novels — The Obituary WriterDrives Like a DreamWhen the White House Was Ours, and The End of the Book — have been on numerous best of the year lists, including the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times. Co-editor of six anthologies, he has published fiction, nonfiction, op-eds, and book reviews in Salon, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is a professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.