Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Fiction Workshop: The Real & the Unreal

A man wakes up as a giant bug. A woman marries an ogre. A strange visitor confesses that he burns barns, furnishing no further explanation. A woman heads into the Land of the Dead to find her missing sister. A nose earns a promotion, landing a great government job. Americans outsource their difficult emotions to a dingy office in Bangalore, where workers feel the pain of dentist appointments, breakups, and funerals.

In fiction, anything can happen, including these seemingly ‘unreal’ events. When we write fiction, how much should the material world constrain us? When does hewing to the world we live in every day—a world concerned with relationships, money, death, race, disappointment, and joy—help us create richer fiction? When does departing from the strict rules of this world—adding vampires, zombies, ghosts, magical moon cycles, and metamorphoses; subtracting death, gender, even time—make for a more real literary experience?

Each week, students will complete an exercise to practice reading for craft and carefully review two workshop submissions from peers. Class time for the first two weeks will consist of craft lectures and discussions; the following four weeks will be devoted to workshop. Every student will be workshopped once and will have the opportunity to submit one additional piece for non-workshop peer and instructor feedback. This class is ideal for writers who have taken a workshop before, but is open to all levels. Writers need not feel locked into writing primarily realism, science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism, and should feel free to use the course to experiment in genre.

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.


- Understand the key craft tools underlying any piece of fiction, but especially speculative fiction

- Have one piece of short fiction/one novel excerpt verbally workshopped by the instructor and students, and receive written feedback on that piece

- Receive written (non-workshop) feedback on a second piece of short fiction/one novel excerpt from instructor and peers

- Get peer and instructor feedback on two pieces of short fiction or novel excerpts, one of which will be workshopped

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Each week students should read the one to two published short stories posted on the class portal and contribute to a conversation on the class portal outside of class time about the readings. Instructor will post a mini-lecture on each week's reading to work in tandem.

- Each week students will also read 2 peers' pieces twice, writing feedback letters drawing on craft vocabulary and marking up classmates' manuscripts.

- Students will turn in pieces for workshop once. Workshop pieces can be short stories or novel openings (no middle chapters, please). Submissions should be no longer than 25 pages double spaced in Times New Roman, 12 pt font.

- Students will have the opportunity to turn in an additional piece at any point during the class, which they will receive feedback on before the end of class from peers and instructors.

- Each week the instructor will post an optional writing prompt to the class portal.


Week 1: Introduction & craft day 1

Speculative conceits & defamiliarization

Lectures on the Shklovskyan underpinnings of the course

Brief writing prompts to get juices flowing

Week 2: Craft day 2

Mysteries of character, from magical thinking to revelations

Week 3: Workshop 1

conversations about plot as escalation; plot as character in action

Week 4: Workshop 2

conversations about world building

Week 5: Workshop 3

conversations about horror

Week 6: Workshop 4

conversations about voice & form

Sanjena Sathian

Sanjena Sathian's debut novel, GOLD DIGGERS, is forthcoming from Penguin Press. She is a 2019 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was supported by the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Her award-winning short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in ConjunctionsBoulevard, Joyland, Salt Hill, and the Master’s Review. She has also worked as a reporter in Mumbai and San Francisco, with nonfiction bylines for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, and more.