This course is intended for writers seeking an introduction to or a refresher in the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. Over six weeks, we’ll study point of view, character, plot structure, pacing, and that ever elusive element we call "voice." Discussions will be motivated by fundamental craft questions: When should we use the first person versus third? What does it mean to set the stakes? Do stories have to have plots?
This class follows the workshop model, though prior workshop experience is not required. Writers will have the opportunity to workshop at least two pieces, each of which will receive detailed feedback from me. Short readings selected from a variety of authors will include Yiyun Li, Karan Mahajan, Grace Paley, ZZ Packer, Muriel Spark, and others. These writers will serve as objects of emulation and help us to build a shared class vocabulary. Brief in-class writing prompts will provide opportunities to generate new work.
My aim is that writers will leave this course with two polished pieces, a stronger understanding of the fundamentals of fiction, and with the skills required to draft and revise future work with purpose, confidence, and intent.
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.
- Gain a foundation in plot, structure, and character
- Develop concrete strategies for diagnosing and revising one’s own work
- Learn craft techniques from the masters
- The opportunity to workshop two pieces of writing and receive feedback from the instructor and peers
This course follows a mixed workshop and seminar model. The first half hour of each class will be devoted to a technical discussion of 1-2 stories. The remaining time will be devoted to workshop. Each writer will have the chance to submit original fiction twice during the course. Writers should expect to provide extensive comments on all of their classmates' workshop submissions. Brief generative exercises will also be assigned. Expect to spend 1-2 hours on preparation between classes. All written work will receive feedback from the instructor.
Week One: Plot & Voice
Week Two: Character
Week Three: First Person & Structure
Week Four: Beginnings
Week Five: Putting It All Together
Week Six: Cliché
Jessi Jezewska Stevens’s debut novel, The Exhibition of Persephone Q., is due out from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux in 2019. Her short stories and essays appear in The Paris Review, Tin House, The Los Angeles Review of Books, BOMB Magazine, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her fiction has received nominations for the PEN/J Dau Short Story Prize and the Henfield Prize, as well as support from the Vermont Studio Center and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She received her BA in Mathematics from Middlebury College and her MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. She lives in New York.
"Jessi Jezewska Stevens is the Muriel Spark of 21st century New York. THE EXHIBITION OF PERSEPHONE Q. is an uninhibited, casually brilliant piece of work."
"THE EXHIBITION OF PERSEPHONE Q. is a triumph of tone and intelligence. Jezewska Stevens knows how to re-locate the mystery, and point our attention toward the profundities latent in the everyday. She has a distinct and mesmerizing voice, whose thinking I would happily follow most anywhere."
"I have known Jessi as a colleague, classmate, and writing partner for more than two years, and she is one of the ablest and most discerning readers I know. Her uncommon attention to language, tone, and structure, amply evident in her own work, is a gift for anyone whose work she reads. What really distinguishes her, though, is her eagerness to move beyond here matters of craft to the intellectual project at the heart of a given work. What is valuable about that project? How can it be better realized? These questions, if asked by and discussed with the right person (which Jessi is), can be transformative."
"Jessi has an extremely strong grasp of the writing skills taught in this class; it is effortless for her to teach students these skills because she has mastered them herself."