Fiction | Novel | Workshop

6-Week Fiction Workshop: Writing the Literary Thriller

Literary thrillers combine the elegant prose and thematic richness of literary fiction with the propulsive plots of thrillers. Using Donna Tartt’s The Secret History as a touchstone, this class will examine all elements of literary thrillers, including plots and subplots, suspense, timelines, plot twists, character, voice, style, and tone. We will also discuss Raymond Chandler’s “Ten Commandments for the Detective Novel” and what we can learn from traditional mysteries and thrillers.

We will workshop both the outlines of students’ novels as well as excerpts of those novels. We will focus on building tension and suspense without sacrificing the quality of the prose. Previous workshop experience is not a requirement.

Students can walk away from the class ready to write their own full-length literary thriller. In addition to a workable outline, they will have a stronger sense of the character, setting, and voice that will distinguish their work as a “literary” thriller. We will also discuss the challenges of writing a plot-centric novel, and brainstorm ways that students can meet these challenges. They will also be given a list of examples of literary thrillers that they can use as references throughout their writing process.


- A useable outline for a book-length literary thriller

- A workshopped excerpt focusing on style, voice, and character

- A strong understanding of what makes a thriller “literary”

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


Students will be expected to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt during the course of the class. They will be expected to turn in both an outline of their novel and an excerpt from it. They will also be expected to read and critique their classmates’ outlines and excerpts.

Nicola Maye Goldberg

Nicola Maye Goldberg is the author of Other Women (Sad Spell Press, 2016) and The Doll Factory (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). Her literary thriller, Nothing Can Hurt You, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury. She holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.


"The whole book unfolds as a tiny, perfect, feminine horror story. The continual threat of violence is Other Women’s most omnipresent danger. It lingers like a storm cloud or jagged violins in a low-budget slasher flick... but it’s in Goldberg’s talent for provoking visceral emotional responses with quiet, understated imagery that her horror aesthetic is most clear. Each page unfolds cinematically, like a new scene with something waiting to jump out."

Mikaella Clements THE LIFTED BROW

"It has for me the quality of a loaded gun—still and threatening. Not a word wasted, yet maximum impact."

Callie Garnett Bloomsbury

"I read it in one sitting and I cannot stop thinking about it, or telling people about it. I thought it was such a layered, haunting, incredibly moving read."

Alison Hennessey Raven Books