As writers, our goal is always the same: we want to hook our readers’ attention from the first line. Then we want to keep our readers transfixed. This class will analyze the work of several masters of the short story form to glean craft lessons you can apply to your own work. Through close readings, you will learn how to “read like writers” and how to figure out why (or why not) fiction sinks or swims.
Each week, we will discuss two or three contemporary short stories to examine strategies you can borrow to make your fiction sing. We will talk about what makes a great opening; how to use voice, mystery, and details to keep your readers engaged; how to make sure the way you reveal information builds momentum, rather than slowing the pace of your story down; and how to create complex, three-dimensional characters.
This class is not a workshop and will not include formal feedback on student work, but there will be occasional writing prompts that allow you to test out some of the narrative strategies we discuss in class. Specific craft topics to be examined will include: point of view, narrative distance, use of time, narrative arc, character development, use of compelling details, world building, voice, and dialogue. Readings will be drawn from authors such as Alice Munro, William Trevor, Edward P. Jones, Lorrie Moore, Mavis Gallant, Justin Torres, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Jhumpa Lahiri, Douglas Stuart, and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.
The class is open to everyone, including those who are just learning to write fiction as well as experienced writers. Class discussions will be recorded for non-public use.
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 Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- An improved understanding of what makes a short story succeed
- Specific tools to help you tackle challenges in your own work and revise your own fiction
- Access to a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
We will do close readings of 50 - 80 pages of fiction per week. Because the format will be interactive, students will be expected to read each of the assigned stories carefully in advance of class. Our goal in each instance will be to think about how the authors have constructed their stories and to examine the narrative decisions they’ve made.
Week 1: What makes a good story? Mystery and Suspense. How to Parcel Out Information Effectively.
Week 2: World Building. Using Compelling Details. Beginnings, Middles and Ends. Story Arcs.
Week 3: Building Complex Characters. Point of View. Voice and Tone.
Matthew Lansburgh's collection of linked stories, Outside Is the Ocean, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award and the 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as One Story, New England Review, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, Alaska Quarterly Review, Guernica, and Epoch, and has been shortlisted in the Best American Short Stories series. Recent honors include fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and MacDowell. Visit him here.
"Matthew Lansburgh has a keen eye and ear, and he puts them to great use in this lovely and, frankly, mesmerizing linked collection. OUTSIDE IS THE OCEAN is a gem."
"Not for the faint of heart, this collection is relentless and intense, but Lansburgh’s prose offers stunning moments of tenderness amid its stark depictions of loneliness. Arresting and pointed."
"Matthew Lansburgh's OUTSIDE IS THE OCEAN is one of the best short story collections I've read in years. It's sharp and funny and it sweeps the reader along through the lives of a cast of difficult and damaged characters. But there are no villains here; the joy of reading Lansburgh's stories is that he keeps spinning his characters around, finding tenderness alongside their abjection, compassion alongside hurt, until finally the people in this book feel as human and real as anyone you've known."
“Matthew is my go-to for manuscript consults. He is thoughtful, supportive, generous, and kind, but also rigorous and astute—his expectations are high. As a published author, he understands the creative process inside and out, and has a keen sense of structural development. Matthew has the rare ability to advise on both big-picture, developmental edits as well as detailed line edits that will elevate your work and help you find the story you want to tell. He is also a helpful resource for navigating the publishing industry, and has given me practical advice on query letters, finding an agent, submitting work to literary magazines, writing workshops and conferences. I am absolutely convinced that working with Matthew has made me a better writer.”
"Matthew's care, concern, perceptive comments, helpful insights and friendly personality, along with his considerable knowledge, was impressive and a joy to experience every Thursday night."
"This course has been the most valuable writing class I've ever taken. Matthew Lansburgh is a positive, generous, and open-minded instructor who encourages deep conversations and welcomes varying opinions. He keeps class discussions rooted in specific craft elements, and the published works he selects are varied and unexpected. Instead of spending class time celebrating the assigned works from a birds-eye view, he digs in on a sentence level and asks the question, "How?" How is the writer achieving this? What craft decisions are they making that we can learn from? I felt like I was getting a look behind the curtain in a way that actually brought me closer to being an effective writer in a concrete way. Through this in-depth study, Matthew encourages students to become better readers, to read as writers--with insight and always asking why and how--and also to look at published works with a critical and honest eye. The feedback he provides on student work is detailed and insightful--always looking at a piece from the perspective of what the writer was trying to achieve. His feedback is never prescriptive, but provides students with a clear view of how their work has been experienced and specific ways in which they could better achieve what they were out to accomplish. I am leaving Matthew's class with a whole new set of tools--sharper than the ones I came in with--tools to be a stronger writer, and, just as importantly, a smarter reader. "
"Matthew is an outstanding teacher. His class offers the rare combination of intense craft and technical rigor, coupled with enormous generosity and support for each writer. Every workshop left me feeling inspired, motivated, and appreciated as a writer. "