Does a story’s form emerge organically during composition, or can it be planned from the beginning? In this class, we will investigate how form is so much more than the organization of paragraphs and information. Form can be used to solve problems when a writer is “stuck,” and it can even be a source of inspiration in and of itself.
Students will read and analyze structurally innovative stories by such accomplished writers as Lucia Berlin, Amy Hempel, Adam Johnson, Miranda July, Carmen Maria Machado, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Xuan Juliana Wang, with the goal of learning a wide variety of clever, helpful formal techniques that they can use in their own work. The topics we cover will include: the “twist” ending, the temporal leap, the epistolary story, the frame story, the story in dialogue, and alternating points-of-view. We will then devote the second portion of each class to workshop. Through peer critique and discussion, we will also examine more traditional elements of craft, including pacing, characterization, voice, and how to write compelling sentences. The focus on both advanced and rudimentary aspects of fiction should make this class accessible to writers of all levels. Near the end of our time together, we will also discuss the process of submitting to literary journals and how to stand out when querying agents.
Each student will leave the class with written feedback on at least one workshopped story and the option to meet for a personal conference with the instructor. It is my hope that students will also leave invigorated with new possibilities to explore in their writing.
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.
- Written instructor and peer feedback on at least one workshopped story
- Option to meet with instructor for one personal conference about their writing
- Expanded knowledge of the possibilities for how to structure fiction and new ideas to explore in your work
- Refresher in the fundamentals of crafting stories
- Insight into how best to submit to literary journals and agents
- Access to a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will need to read stories outside of class and consider their formal elements; they will need to submit at least one story they have written (5-20 pages in length) for workshop; they will need to provide a one-page critique of each workshop submission by their fellow classmates. Students should expect to spend a few hours outside class each week working on their course.
Mary South is a graduate of the MFA program in fiction at Columbia University, where she was chosen for a Henfield scholarship. For many years, she has worked with Diane Williams as an editor at the literary journal NOON. She is also a former intern in The New Yorker’s fiction department and a Bread Loaf work-study fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, The Collagist, Conjunctions, Electric Literature, NewYorker.com, NOON, and Words Without Borders. You Will Never Be Forgotten, her debut short story collection, was published in 2020 from FSG Originals and Picador in the UK.
"Mary South's wisdom and wit shine in her fiction and in her editorial acumen. Her vision is distinct and unmatched. She is a patient and attentive reader who can find the center of any story and make sure that it will pulse."
"Mary’s feedback is as insightful, razor-sharp, and compassionate as her writing—which is to say, she’s got a special talent for opening up a story and showing me its beating heart. She hits the nail on the head every time."
"Mary South's prose is outlandish, riotous, and deeply poignant, a missive on humanity sent from the future by way of a time bomb wrapped in a comic book. She is an incisive critic who will double the wallop of your sentences and hot-wire your creative engines. This is the pair of eyes you want on your manuscript."
"It's not enough to say that Mary South has an uncanny gift for storytelling—which is true enough—because what sets her apart is finding the most perfect language for every story she tells. Her subjects are both personal and unusual, familiar yet strange, and as intuitively devised as a dream. Alive to the possibilities of page, sentence, and word, she is a brilliant guide through the corridors of fiction, who knows better than to fear the untrammeled path."
"Mary South is a wise and compassionate reader and editor who deftly meets stories on their own terms. She effortlessly unravels the intentions and ambitions of my stories, and her editorial insights help me see my own work in ways I never could on my own. Mary’s skillful engagement with the structure, sentences, and character development of my writing has given me the tools needed to not only improve the stories she has critiqued, but to bring new life to all of my work."