“Occasionally a date with a face blank as a sheet of paper asks you whether writers often become discouraged. Say that sometimes they do and sometimes they do. Say it's a lot like having polio.” –Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer”
In this course, we will examine how fiction is constructed, focusing primarily on contemporary short stories. We will especially focus on those points which seem so often to snag a writer: How to begin a story, and how to end it. What are some methods for opening a story? What pulls a reader in? We'll think about strong voices, bad behavior, and curious language. What are some strategies and tricks for how to close a story up? For this, we'll talk about shifts in perspective and avoiding sentimentality.
To this end, we will read and discuss a range of work, and in the process discover tools that help us to write (or simply strengthen) stories of our own. We will learn about plot, characterization, voice, dialogue, sentence construction, and each week we'll read stories with killer beginnings and endings. Likely authors will include Shirley Jackson, Charles D'Ambrosio, Joy Williams, Amy Hempel, George Saunders, ZZ Packer, Tobias Wolff, David Hoon Kim, Carmen Maria Machado, and more. You will be encouraged to bring in favorite stories of your own.
Each student will have the opportunity to workshop two stories. The class will read and re-read them carefully, and the following week we will discuss the story in a supportive workshop environment. Students can expect to walk away with two polished stories, along with extensive feedback from peers and the instructor. Students will also end up with concrete strategies for beginning and ending stories that will serve them long after the class is finished.
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 desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- Constructive, detailed feedback from your peers and instructor on two short stories
- Concrete, reproducible strategies for how to begin and end a short story
- One private conference with the instructor to discuss your work, areas of strength and weaknesses, career goals, and next steps
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Week 1: Beginnings. What are strategies for opening a story? How do we know when is the right time to enter a scene? We'll look at some great first sentences and paragraphs, too.
Week 2: Plot. What does a story need to be a story? What makes a story interesting? What do we know about how to drive a story forward?
Week 3: Character. Discussion of character, point of view, and point of telling. How do you know a person? We'll practice effective ways of revealing a person.
Week 4: Scene vs. summary. Here we get into that old adage of show vs. tell. What does that actually mean on paper? How do we know when we're in scene and when we're summarizing?
Week 5: Voice. How to get into the rhythm of your language. Playing around with different tones and voices.
Week 6: Endings. How do we close a story? Many writers, especially early-career writers, struggle with this part, so we'll look at specific approaches and break them down.
Delaney Nolan is a Pushcart Prize-winning Fulbright Fellow whose fiction has appeared in Electric Literature, Guernica, Oxford American, Tin House, and elsewhere. She was a Rona Jaffe Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received recognition from Yaddo, Bread Loaf, Vermont Studio Center, Academy of American Poets, and others, and her fiction has been translated into four languages. Her stories have been adapted into a radio play by NPR’s Snap Judgment and into a short film by Emmy award winner Caitlyn Greene: AUGUST. Her chapbook Shotgun Style won the Ropewalk Press Editor’s Prize.
"I cannot express enough gratitude for Delaney's willingness to speak with my students. She is so very generous with her time and knowledge. Some of my students who are pessimists find something negative to say about any assignment or activity. But, I was pleasantly surprised that there was not a single negative word to be heard about her class. They were honestly engaged and excited. They asked if we would be able to speak to any other authors this year. Unfortunately, so many of the authors we read are gone or would charge us thousands of dollars for the opportunity to speak with them. What a rare learning opportunity for them: to get to pick the brain of an author firsthand. I can honestly say that this was one of my most rewarding days as an educator."
"Delaney's writing class absolutely upped my game. Before I liked writing but didn't really know how to take the extra step to make my stories as powerful as I wanted, but after being in class with her I understood short story writing in an entirely new way. She is thoughtful, supportive, funny, and honest; her critiques came from a place of real understanding and I feel like she was personally invested in the writing of each one of her students. Take her class if you ever get the chance."
"Delaney Nolan is a wonderfully talented writer—clear precise language and a stunning bright-eyed vision that is all her own. The characters who populate Louisiana Maps: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans, are loners, seekers, pilgrims—often as worn and scarred as the post Katrina landscape—the stark reality of their existence shot through with vibrant streaks of hope."
"Delaney Nolan's spare, heartbreaking stories are set in the wastelands of New Orleans both before and after Katrina, and it's truly a testament to the power of her talent that something so amazingly beautiful as LOUSIANA MAPS: A DIAGRAM OF THE TERRITORY OF NEW ORLEANS could come out of all that misery and devastation."
"There is so much that could be said about the eight stories in Delaney Nolan's LOUISIANA MAPS--there is grit in these stories and there is wildness and wit. There is a man in prison and the woman who loves to make him burn for her and there is a man who burns fire in the deep of the ocean and the woman who falls asleep with his arm beneath her and there is the woman who films people talking about the parts of themselves they are willing to sell, the woman who, like all of us, desperately needs to hear that she is needed. All eight stories are about desire and how so often desire goes unfulfilled. Here you will find beauty, strength, and the raw ache of what it means to live in what remains of New Orleans."