Narrative suspense is an essential aspect of fiction across all genres and is at the heart of why we read: to find out more about our characters and discover what happens to them. As readers, we have all encountered books that absorb us so fully we miss our subway stop and stay up too late turning the pages. However, when it comes to our own novels many writers find that developing organic suspense can be one of the more difficult aspects of the writing process.
In this course we will break down what actually creates tension on the page with the goal of writing and revising to find the most vital, engaging versions of the stories we want to tell through weekly craft talks and peer workshops.
Our weekly craft sessions will consist of close readings and discussions of assigned texts, including both fiction and craft essays by writers such as Margaret Atwood, Emily Ruskovich, Shruti Swamy, and Colson Whitehead, as well as writing and revision exercises inspired by each week’s class topic. We’ll work together to fortify our understanding of novel elements like dialogue, rhythm, voice, opening pages, pacing, use of scene, and point of view to get at what creates that seemingly elusive can’t-put-it-down quality for our readers. We’ll also look at the risks and rewards of how information is presented or withheld throughout a work through the use of backstory, scene, dialogue, and exposition, and what we “owe” our readers when it comes to how we approach telling a story.
Writers of all levels and backgrounds are welcome, though students will get the most out of this course if they come prepared with part of a novel in progress or finished draft.
*No class on Nov. 24
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 deeper understanding of craft elements as they relate to building suspense and tension in a work of fiction
- Guided writing and revision opportunities during our weekly craft exercises
- Instructor and peer feedback on two submissions of a novel in progress (up to 15 pages each) as well as a one-on-one meeting with the instructor
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students should expect to complete a short reading assignment of either fiction or a craft essay, as well as each week’s student workshop submissions. Students will provide written feedback analyzing their peers’ submissions for the week. Each student will submit excerpts (up to 15 pages maximum each time) to the workshop twice for written and verbal feedback from peers and the instructor.
Week 1: Introductions, First lines and First pages
Week 2: Scene Building: Amplification, Compression, and Omission
Week 3: Interior and Exterior Drama
Week 4: The Ticking Clock
Week 5: Active Settings
Week 6: Word Choice, Sentence Structure, Prose Rhythms
Week 7: Plotting and Productive Trouble
Week 8: Revising for Tension and Pacing
Caitlin Mullen received her MA in English from NYU and an MFA in fiction from Stony Brook University, where she also taught undergraduate creative writing. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Saltonstall Foundation and the Vermont Studio Center. Her debut novel, PLEASE SEE US, was the winner of the 2021 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Author photo: Sylvie Rosokoff
"Exceptional… Readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages of this heartbreaking story as it touches on prostitution, drug abuse, and the fates of women who go unseen. Mullen is definitely an author to watch.”
"Please See Us is so good I don’t even know where to start – it’s brilliant and it’s dark; it’s heartbreaking and it’s defiant; it’s a riveting thriller and it’s a literary gem. Here are true, beautiful portraits of girls and women whose lives might well otherwise pass by without notice, without proper human value. Caitlin Mullen brings us those lives magnificently– with subtlety, compassion, and utter dignity. This book is a stunner."
"PLEASE SEE US is riveting, the rare book that unpacks and deplores violence against women even as it depicts it. In Caitlin Mullen’s hands, everyone has a voice, and the dead speak as loudly as the living. PLEASE SEE US is a beautifully written, thoughtful page-turner, as well as a tribute to the women— not just victims, but full human beings—who so frequently go unseen."