Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Fiction Workshop: Taking on Tropes in Science Fiction & Fantasy

All genres and styles have their mainstays, but science fiction and fantasy in particular often get a bad rap for their tropes: scantily clad women in chains, retellings of Dungeons and Dragons quests, and farm boys destined to save the world. The tropes of SFF have become so embedded in pop culture, it can be incredibly difficult to break free when writing. But that’s what makes the breaking free so vitally important.

Whether you’re just beginning their SFF odyssey, or you’ve been penning alien invasions since you could put pen to paper, this workshop is designed to expand your ideas about what’s possible in speculative fiction.

Close examination of narrative choices and a focus on the “why”s of fiction can help authors write outside the bounds of tired tropes and clichés and create powerful stories about unique experiences and situations. Intensely examined speculative fiction is more diverse, more representative, and more interesting than an elf, a dwarf, and a human fighter meeting at the inn. And in the current moment, it’s also much more marketable.

This workshop is open to authors of novels and short fiction. While previous workshop experience is a plus, it’s certainly not a requirement. This class will be partly a workshop with peers, and partly a craft intensive with some in-class writing exercises and discussion of assigned texts.

We'll learn to ask ourselves why we've made certain choices in our work, turn those choices on their head if need be, and then learn how to prep our newly vital pieces for submission to the appropriate agents and publishers.


- Craft powerful, original speculative fiction that doesn't fall into the traps of cliches and tired SFF tropes

- Build new worlds, characters, plots, and magic systems based on observation, intuition, and inspiration, instead of rehashing the same old stuff we've seen before

- Detailed peer and instructor feedback on two fiction submissions, either short stories or novel excerpts

- Publication strategies for short and long speculative fiction

Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of the vintage-glam spy thriller trilogy The Amberlough Dossier. Her debut novel, Amberlough, was nominated for the Nebula and Lambda awards. Other work has appeared in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Uncanny. She has taught at the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers, and in the graduate writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Follow her exploits online at


"...full of fascinating characters exploring sexuality, music, culture, fascism, nationalism, class wars, revolution, and love."

Shelf Awareness

"Donnelly blends romance and tragedy, evoking gilded-age glamour and the thrill of a spy adventure, in this impressive debut. As heartbreaking as it is satisfying."

Publishers Weekly starred review

"Weirdly elegant, wholly engaging."

Josh Lanyon

"I found Lara's teaching to be completely invaluable to me. I'd wanted to be a writer for years, but it was her advice and pointing me in the right direction that led to my actually being published and recognized for my work."

Andrew mentee and critique partner

"Lara was an amazing instructor both years I had her at Alpha, walking us through essentials like short story structure and how to write a query letter. She can pick apart any story you set in front of her until the pieces are cleanly assembled and you're itching to revise. That overall is her brilliance -- not only is she charming and engaging as a teacher and deeply competent as an editor, she also inspires you to want to improve and motivates you to put in the work to do it."

former student

“In the two years that Lara taught me at the Alpha Workshop, not only did she make me a stronger writer in terms of basic technique and foundational skills, but she also pushed me to improve on the aspects of my work that made me want to produce it in the first place. She pushed me to lean into the little details of my stories that made me the most excited and passionate about them, and to me, that’s what makes a great instructor—someone who not only makes you a better writer technically, but does so while maintaining and supporting your passion for your own work.”

former student