Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Understanding Point of View

Have you ever been devouring a fantastic short story or novel only to find yourself rudely ejected from its world by a stray adjective, suddenly aware of (and annoyed by) the presence of the piece's author, who apparently wants you to know how hard they dunked on the verbal part of the GRE II? Have readers ever flagged moments in your own writing with a comment like "this takes me out of the flow," leaving you with no clue how to fix or prevent this? Have you ever wondered why it's so jarring to see a character describe the color of their eyes when they wander past a conveniently placed mirror or a pool of water in the first 5 pages of a book?

Lazy point of view is the culprit. In this workshop, we'll discuss masterfully rendered POV by the greats (Jamaica Kincaid, Roberto Bolaño, and Renata Adler, among others) and workshop participants' own stories or novel excerpts, using POV as our primary lens to examine character, diction, and scene structure.

Point of view is important—and more complex than we might imagine. When we typically talk about point of view, writers often take it to mean first-person, second-person, or third-. This is correct, of course, but when used rigorously, POV is the key to producing something beyond those basic designations, the ideal that John Gardner calls the "vivid, continuous dream." This course will help teach you how to recognize and write that vivid dream.

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.


- A greater understanding of how point of view manifests on the level of the word, the sentence, and the scene 

- Feedback from peers and instructor on a short story or novel excerpt through the lens of its POV

- Practical diagnostic tools to discover and adjust POV inconsistencies in one's own writing

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


The first class session will be a 30-minute meeting, which will include introductions and an overview of a “pre-class” assignment. This assignment will be workshopped during the second meeting; thereafter, we’ll workshop two folks per week. Students can submit a short story or a novel excerpt, 25 pp. max. Students will read, notate, and write generous workshop letters (one page, single-spaced) on 50 pp. of peer work each week. We'll also warm up each week with a brief discussion of an assigned reading excerpt.


Week 0: Greetings, introductions, discussing pre-class assignment (30-minute meeting)

Week 1: Informal live workshop of pre-class assignment, overview of economical POV on the level of the word, the sentence, and the scene

Week 2: Brief reading and discussion of POV on the level of the word (Jamaica Kincaid excerpt); two student workshops

Week 3: Reading and discussion of POV on the level of the sentence (excerpt TBA); two student workshops

Week 4: Reading and discussion of POV on the level of the scene (Bolaño excerpt); two student workshops

Week 5: Reading and discussion of POV and the contract of psychological realism (Renata Adler excerpt); two student workshops

Week 6: Reading and discussion of POV breaks as a vehicle for transcendence; final two student workshops

Sarah Elaine Smith

Sarah Elaine Smith was born and raised in Greene County, Pennsylvania. She has studied at the Michener Center for Writers, UT-Austin (MFA, poetry); the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA, fiction); and Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has received support from the MacDowell Colony and the Rona Jaffe Wallace Foundation.

Smith is the author of the novel Marilou Is Everywhere (Riverhead Books, 2019), as well as the poetry collection I Live in a Hut, 2011. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she teaches Here Be Monsters, an online novel-writing and creativity workshop.


“MARILOU IS EVERYWHERE is a novel of stunning emotional intelligence, and Cindy an unforgettable character, but it’s Smith’s writing that’s the real star of the book. . . The book is almost otherworldly in its beauty and power. . .Fiction debuts this accomplished don’t come along very often at all, and MARILOU IS EVERYWHERE proves that Smith is a writer of immense talent and rare imagination."

Michael Schaub NPR

“It’s a book brimming with longing, with heartbreak. It’s a coming-of-age by coming into somebody else. . . . And yet the novel is about more than just adolescent angst, a young girl’s longing to be somewhere else, someone else. Its universality lies in its generosity — its empathy for every character within it, regardless of his or her decisions, no matter how flawed. There is compassion for questionable actions rooted in longing. Reduced to those longings, are any of us so dissimilar?”

New York Times Book Review

“MARILOU IS EVERYWHERE is a breathtakingly empathetic portrayal of a young woman in crisis, and an astonishingly assured debut. With lyrical precision, Ms. Smith writes Cindy with humanity and kindness, bringing her to vivid life. . . Cindy’s hunger to have those miles inside of her be recognized is part of the most human of desires: to be known as a person with an inherent worth—a need that countless hearts everywhere carry inside of them.”

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Sarah is one of those teachers I will think about for a long time. In our workshop, she was always warm and insightful, offering feedback that helped me consider my work from new angles. Class with Sarah was as wonderfully strange as she is. The conversations and materials were fresh, surprising, and productive, whether that meant discussing a short story or receiving a tarot reading for your characters. Without Sarah's encouragement, I would not have taken many of the risks in writing and in life that helped me to where I am as an artist, and I will continue thinking about her kind words moving forward. Sarah is so smart and talented--I am seriously jealous of anyone who gets to take a class with her."

Sophie Paquette Interlochen Arts Academy graduate and current Columbia student

"Sarah created a pedagogy that made the classroom rigorously thoughtful and highly motivated... She set a classroom tone that was inclusive, anti-racist and conscientious, as well as fun, intellectually exciting, and (speech) freeing. It was a joy... I credit Sarah with helping me grow my identity as a writer and as a student from seed to plant. Study with her if you can!"

Ben Perkins University of Iowa graduate and current Florida State MFA candidate