Online | Fiction | Workshop

4-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Building a Short Story Piece By Piece

Have you ever felt flummoxed by all the different elements that go into a short story? Not sure where to start or how to finish completing a piece? For new and experienced writers, this is a two-for-one course: Not only will you be able to workshop one completed short story, but you will also have the opportunity to generate brand new work.

Over four weeks, we will be reading short stories and essays that exemplify some of the key elements of the short story, including characterization, plot, setting, and point of view. Each week will be dedicated to a specific element with its own story, essay, and writing prompt. In this way, week by week, you will be able to build a brand new short story. Thus, not only will you be able to workshop an existing story, but the course will generate a new story in the process.

Students will leave this course with an understanding of the fundamental elements required to build a short story, including characterization, plot, setting, and point of view, as well and peer and instructor feedback on one workshop submission.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.


- A better understanding of the fundamental elements of the short story, including characterization, plot, setting, and POV

- Creative prompts that will generate a new story

- A generous and insightful workshop experience

- Instructive feedback from students and your instructor on one workshop submission

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Read one published story, one essay, and one workshop story every week. Weekly writing prompts. One story to be turned in for workshop (2000 to 5000 words). Work time outside of class should not exceed 2 hours per week.


Week 1 - Characterization

Prep: "Get Some Young" by Barry Hannah and "Characterization" by Janet Burroway

Hwk: Character Outline

Week 2 - Plot

Prep: "A Good Man is Hard to Find" - by Flannery Oconner and "Plot" by Janet Burroway

Hwk: Plot outline

Week 3 - POV

Prep: "Shhhh" by NoViolet Bulawayo and "POV" by Janet Burroway

Hwk: POV Prompt

Week 4 - Setting

Prep: "A Spoiled Man" by Daniyal Mueenuddin and "Setting" by Janet Burroway

Hwk: Setting Prompt

Jamil Jan Kochai

Jamil Jan Kochai is the author of the novel 99 Nights in Logar, which was shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. He was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, but he originally hails from Logar, Afghanistan. His writing has been published, or is forthcoming, in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, A Public Space, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He was a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he will be a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University this year.


“It’s something more than well crafted; it’s phenomenal. . . . But this is more than a coming-of-age novel. It delves into Afghanistan’s past by retelling its stories, as Marwand’s adventures are punctuated by the tales that extended families tell each other. There are stories branching out of stories. . . . Many of these stories are breathtaking. Some are as scary as waiting for a bomb to fall, or for a lost son to return; others are as tender as a little flower that survives the Daisy Cutters. . . . Kochai’s book has a big heart.”

Mohammed Hanif for THE GUARDIAN

“Imagine a twelve-year-old Don Quixote traversing a world full of absurdities and tragedies. Imagine THE ARABIAN NIGHTS set with America overshadowing an ancient landscape. 99 NIGHTS IN LOGAR is hilariously sad and heartbreakingly funny. Jamil Jan Kochai, a thrilling new writer, achieves in this book that rare quality of a storyteller both ageless and contemporary.”

Yiyun Li author

"This was a really great course. The structure was helpful in that the first half was focused on the different aspects of writing, and then the second half consisted of workshops. I found that the Burroway essays were incredibly helpful in developing my own writing, and I would absolutely take this class again."

former student

"Professor Kochai is one of the best instructors I've had so far at Iowa. His comments and critiques on my work were very helpful and I hope to be able to work with him in the future."

former student

"Mr. Kochai is a very encouraging teacher. This is the first time I have had to write a short story, and this was a very nice experience that I felt I have grown from. I have appreciated this class and feel as though we have all connected through our writing. I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Kochai as he has helped me improve my writing and understanding of short stories. He is a passionate individual that is able to involve every student in our class. Thank you for a wonderful semester!"

former student