This course is based on a brilliant essay by Charles Baxter published in 1996 in the Michigan Quarterly Review, titled "Rhyming Action" wherein he looks to poetry to help articulate certain effects fiction makes use of but doesn't usually give a name to, one of which is rhyming action, where something from a previous point in time seems to recur in a slightly different form. These narrative rhymes are often so subtle as to be almost subconscious for the reader but are part of the magic that makes our hair stand on end in a truly great story.
In this class you will learn how to do that. We will read the Charles Baxter essay along with several examples of narrative rhyming, and you will have the chance to try out echo for yourself. This is a short and intense class: each week you will read a story and turn in a writing exercise that I will provide commentary on. This is not a traditional workshop, more of a writer's room where we will all share our experiences and wisdom. Designed for both published writers and those just starting out, by the end of this course you will have a much more nuanced understanding of some of the levers and toggles available to you in the author's cockpit.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- Discover story structures that are not just character arc
- Learn how to use narrative rhyming and echo in your own work
- Leave the course with two new pieces of written work with instructor feedback that can be stand alone pieces or jumping off points for longer work
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each week you will be reading about 30-40 pages of essays or stories, and you will be writing three to ten double-spaced pages. You will not be responsible for commentary on your fellow student's writing, but you will be able to read them and provide commentary or encouragement if you wish.
Week 1: Baxter and McBridge
Week 2: Kawabata and Jakobson
Week 3: Le and Berlin
Rufi Thorpe is the author of The Girls from Corona del Mar, which was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and Dear Fang, With Love, which Publishers Weekly called, “tremendous...an absolute winner.” Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, and The Huffington Post, among others. She writes a bi-monthly humor column, “Listicles For People Exactly Like You," for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia, and currently lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons.
"Rufi Thorpe is a national treasure."
"In Thorpe's Technicolor world, everyone is an innocent and everyone is culpable and no one is absolved, and the result is a novel both nauseatingly brutal and radically kind. Brilliantly off-kilter and vibrating with life."
"Thorpe is a major talent, and reading her work will bring to mind other writers who deftly control their universes with such clarity and acuity, like Donna Tartt or Ann Patchett."
"As reader and editor, Rufi is fiercely loyal. I don't mean so much to the writer—though I've known few teachers who are so generous as Rufi. She understands the struggle that goes into getting something into the right words, the persistence (or, as she says, the 'perversity of spirit') that it takes to be a writer, and the feedback that she gives—and I say this from personal experience—somehow manages to be both acutely honest and dangerously encouraging at the same time. Rufi has a keen eye for what's on the page, a honed sense for the unfolding machinery of story, the mechanics of plot and character. But even more, she has a sense of what's not on the page, an understanding not just of the work as written, but the work as it wants to be. And this is truly a special sort of reader and editor, one who sees a piece of writing purely on its own terms, with its own particular vision and integrity. I guess that's what I mean by 'fiercely loyal': not just to the writer, but to the story, becoming just the champion it needs to flourish.”
“Rufi Thorpe has an uncanny ability to sniff out what’s working and not working in any piece of text. In music, some people are said to possess perfect pitch. In the world of perfumery they talk of special “noses” that can discern even the faintest of base notes and overtones in a scent. Neuroscientists at Newcastle University think they might have just found the first documented case of a 'tetrachromat'—a person with an extra cone in the eye, enabling her to see a hundred million colors. You get the idea: Rufi Thorpe’s editorial eye and ear is arguably one of the top two or three I’ve ever encountered (and I know a heckuva lot of editors and writers). What separates Rufi as the best, however, is her unequalled ability to then convey what needs to be conveyed back to the author, so that they, too, can discern what she’s noticed, and approach their own work with fresh eyes. That takes a very special kind of creative writing. That’s because Rufi’s a great writer in her own right. And a first-rate college instructor and mentor. And a lover of ideas and of people. She’s full of grace and positive spirit in all she does and, mercy, I’m sure glad I know her and can call her a colleague and friend.”
"Rufi Thorpe is a badass editor, one of these legends a writer of any rank prays to come across. She has an uncanny talent for sharpening sentences, shaping paragraphs, and bringing together the larger structures of a book-length narrative. Her comments are clear, funny and always helpful. If you get the chance to work with her, do it. You’ll become a better writer.”