No one really thinks of life as a chronology.

It’s almost an artificial construct to say that I was born on this date

and then these things happened in order.

When we think of things,

memory is more a function of importance, of meaning in our life.

The memories come and tap us on the shoulder and say, “Pay attention to me.”

Stephen Tobolowsky

Finding the Unexpected, our 2015 Dartbrook Writers Retreat in the mountains of upstate New York, will feature five days of workshops with actor-writer-director and master storyteller, Stephen Tobolowsky.

We’re delighted to bring this generous and funny raconteur to our exquisite Dartbrook location, continuing our tradition of hosting a master writer at our retreat in Keene, NY.

In keeping with the unique setting, Stephen is going to guide your writing with some refreshing and unexpected techniques on such topics as:


Me at the factory

Stephen teaching actors and writers improv at The Factory in Dublin, Ireland

As writers, we often rely on one source for inspiration: content. It’s understandable. Content is the price of admission for a reader’s time. But most stories don’t arrive fully formed. We can get stuck. We need ways to keep working, even if we haven’t yet visualized all the pieces of the puzzle.

Stephen will help you uncover tools that move your writing forward. He’ll show you how to work through a story’s problems via outside inspirations.

Improvisation for Writers

Stephen uses improvisation to see a story through new eyes, to find unexpected solutions. Improv has a way of helping writers find truths they may have been avoiding.

It gives us permission to reach things in our lives that are true, rather than reach things that are clever. If you tell the truth, or the truth as far as you know it, as opposed to trying to craft a clever truth, your story will be more universal and appeal to more people.

Stephen will share and teach some favorite improv exercises that set him free.

Listen as Stephen explains more about this in an NPR interview.

Story Construction


Stephen at 2014 Woodstock Writers Festival, photo by Phil Mansfield

Stephen teaches story construction based on the ideas of three Greek philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. Their work offers a great deal of insight for creating narrative.

Even though Aristotle wrote over two thousand years ago, his ideas from the Poetics are still very much with us today. Stories are unified by time, place, and action. We’ll identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of these in our writing.

Comedy Theory

When it comes to comedy writing, Stephen presents some simple ways to find humor in stories, using the theories of Aristotle, Henri Bergson, and even Sigmund Freud.

In writing, a lot of mileage is gained by riding the edge. We’ll find the themes that depict balance in a piece. You’ll see if your character is emotionally limited in a certain area. If so, that can be a source of comedy, according to Aristotle.

We’ll uncover these elements in our writing, and learn to create tension and release it, for unexpected comedy. This kind of exploration is vital for character development in comedy, as well as in dramatic writing.


Morning workshop sessions will include class with Stephen, sharing writing and feedback with the whole group. We’ll have class, write, have one-on-one meetings with Stephen and share meals in the rustically luxurious Dartbrook House.

Afternoons are your time. Read, write, reflect, hike and enjoy the tranquil setting.

In the evenings, after dinner, you’re free again to explore the area, work or relax in your private cottage at Dartbrook Lodge.

Some highlights of the retreat include:

  •     Five days of intensive writing workshops
  •     Intimate group of eight invited writers
  •     One-on-one scheduled times for each student with Stephen
  •     Group farewell dinner, including reading by Stephen
  •     Healthy meals, prepared by our chef, with local ingredients
  •     The pristine elegance of Dartbrook Lodge, in the Adirondack High Peaks

We’d love to have you join us.


photo by Kitty Sheehan