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6-Week Online Novel Workshop: Building Suspense

“Danya Kukafka's Building Suspense in Fiction class is the best thing I have done for my writing self... maybe ever!” - former student

Oscar Wilde once said, “This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.” As writers, we must ask: What makes a novel addictive, or unputdownable? The best fiction has us racing through, breathless, and these books are not always thrillers—some of the most successful literary fiction employs suspense in innovative, intentional ways. This course is for writers who are serious about a novel project; when class starts, you should ideally have a strong idea for a novel and a rough draft of the first chapter (no short stories please!). In class, we will focus specifically on your project’s forward momentum. I believe that suspense consists of a complex combination of stakes, world-building, character arc, and tone, and the goal is for you to leave this class with two beginning chapters of a book that you and your readers will be desperate to finish.

Students can expect weekly reading assignments from contemporary books of literary suspense, two workshops each, and a one-on-one critique of your novel’s outline.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.


- Students will leave class with feedback on two chapters (30-40 pages) of a gripping, suspenseful novel as well as an outline for the rest of the novel

- A one-on-one Skype conference or phone call with the instructor

- An exploration of how different genres employ suspense

- Access to an engaging community environment and supportive, honest workshops

- Tips for how to actually finish your novel, as well as writing advice, and frank discussions about publishing


Week 1: Intro + world-building: what is the universe of the book? Workshop #1

Week 2: Character + arc: who are we following, and why? Workshop #2

Week 3: Stakes: why do we have to keep reading? Workshop #3

Week 4: Tone: what do we give the reader, and what do we withhold? Workshop #4

Week 5: Sentence: how is suspense built on the sentence level? Workshop #5

Week 6: Plotting forward: how are you going to finish this novel? Workshop #6

Danya Kukafka

Danya Kukafka is a graduate of New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. A national bestseller, Girl in Snow is her first novel.


“Danya is one of the best editors that I’ve ever had. She has an incredible eye for detail, and the ability to pull out your strengths as a writer with love and care and compassion—and first and foremost with a commitment to craft. If I could go back in time and be a student again, I would take her class, absolutely, without hesitation.”

Dina Nayeri author of REFUGE and A TEASPOON OF EARTH AND SEA

“Kukafka’s bewitching first novel spins a spell of mournful confessions around a TWIN PEAKS-like centerpiece. In [her] capable hands, villainy turns out to be everywhere and nowhere, a DNA that could be found under the fingernails of everybody’s hands.”


“From its startling opening line right through to its stunning conclusion, GIRL IN SNOW is a perfectly paced and tautly plotted thriller. Danya Kukafka’s misfit characters are richly drawn, her prose is both elegant and eerie—this is an incredibly accomplished debut.”

Paula Hawkins #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and INTO THE WATER

“A sensational debut—great characters, mysteries within mysteries, and page-turning pace. Highly recommended.”

Lee Child author of the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling Jack Reacher novels