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 is for writers of short stories and novels who want to revise their works-in-progress to make them as compelling as possible. 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.
Each week we will workshop students’ work and suggest ways it can be improved. We will also discuss several published stories and novel excerpts to glean craft lessons from literary masters. Our discussions will focus on close readings of published work and student work to learn how to “read like writers” and how to figure out why (or why not) fiction sinks or swims. This class is best-suited for advanced students who have had prior workshop experience and have already written short stories and/or have already begun writing a novel.
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 (or the first chapter of a novel) work well
- Detailed peer and instructor feedback on at least one submission of up to 20 (double-spaced) pages in length
- One-on-one meeting/call with instructor to discuss your work and chart a path forward
- Advice on how to approach the publishing process with confidence
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Submit writing for workshop at least once over the course of the class (each submission may be up to 20 pages in length, double spaced). This submission may be a short story or the opening pages of a novel-in-progress. Depending on class size, students may be allowed to submit a second story or novel excerpt to be workshopped.
Read and comment on manuscripts by your peers in advance of each class
Read one or two published stories / novel excerpts per week for class discussion
Week 1: Introduction, Workshop scheduling, In-class writing exercise, What makes a good story?
Week 2: Mystery and Suspense / How to Parcel Out Information Effectively. Workshop 1
Week 3: World Building / Using Compelling Details. Workshop 2
Week 4: Building Complex Characters. Workshop 3
Week 5: Beginnings, Middles and Ends / Story Arcs. Workshop 4
Week 6: Voice and Tone. Workshop 5
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'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."
“In addition to his honest, thoughtful feedback on each of my stories, Matthew always encouraged us to meet with him after class to discuss our stories or our thoughts on the pieces we'd read for class. This made me feel as though my thoughts and ideas were important; his teaching was instrumental in my confidence and growth as a writer."
“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 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."
"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 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."