Online | Fiction | Workshop

8-Week Fiction Workshop: Hostile Worlds

The land is sick. The plants are poison. Disasters and illness roll unevenly over the populace. Animals vanish, or else bite. Ancient gods fight the new.

Together we will read and write in multiple genres—from fantasy to sci-fi and climate fiction—to examine what it is to live in a drastically changing world. Expect ecological threats, mythological beasts, dystopian cities, and bespoke planets. Expect the strange in forms dramatic and subtle. This course is both for alumni of the Speculative Workshop and for people who have never written these kinds of stories before (but want to try). Your workshop stories can fall anywhere on the speculative map, from fairy tale to "hard" science fiction, from uncanny to out-of-this-world, from far-future to cli-fi grounded in the current research. The one constant is, in this class, the setting wants blood.

This workshop will develop the skills that are important to writing in any genre: characterization, plot structure, strong sentences, and point of view. We will also investigate the special challenges and thrills of creating dangerous environments—like how to pace exposition, use tropes and allegory, introduce complex ideas, get readers to suspend their sense of disbelief, and build convincing worlds. More broadly: How do we tackle subjects so much larger than the human scale? How do we dramatize the effects of change on not only individuals, but also groups and institutions? How do we make these stories feel real and necessary? And finally: How to find room for hope?

Selection of readings (subject to change): Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, "The Incorruptible World" by Anjali Sachdeva, excerpts from Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and The Overstory by Richard Powers, as well as the film Princess Mononoke directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Students will leave the course with a deeper understanding of the skills required to craft original, engaging worlds, as well as feedback from the instructor and students on one story (or novel excerpt) and informal feedback on shorter, generative writing excerpts.

*No class on Nov. 22

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. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- You'll receive workshop feedback on your speculative story (or novel excerpt) as well as informal feedback on your weekly writing exercises.

- By the end of the class, you will also have the makings of at least one new story with a unique world all your own.

- You'll learn how to dramatize ideas and draw on emotions with a speculative toolkit, to let the world shape your characters, and your characters act on the world.

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Expect to read 1-2 short stories/novel excerpts per week from fantastic speculative fiction writers. There will be brief related assignments that will emphasize how to read fiction as a writer, and in particular, as a speculative fiction writer.

-You will receive weekly writing prompts and exercises with the option to share your work.

- Participants are expected to provide brief written feedback and to participate in online workshops for each other.

- You will submit for workshop one story or novel excerpt (maximum 30 double spaced pages).


Week 1: The Dark Forest School of Worldbuilding

Introductions. Writing exposition and atmosphere. How to lure the reader along. Generative exercises for the creation of hostile worlds.

Week 2: Beyond the Human Scale

Fiction tends to privilege the individual, yet hostile worlds require us to think beyond ourselves. A week of time jumps, sublime encounters, and creating character webs to dramatize ideas. Generative exercises for POV’s into hostile worlds.

Week 3: The Fisher King and the Boar God

Using myths and fey logics to structure your story and develop your characters. The translation-power of metaphor. On avoiding the misuse of tropes.


Week 4: Survival is Insufficient

What drives your story? The pitfalls of mystery as the primary goal, and how to avoid them.


Week 5: Dystopias, Of Course

A day for the classic premise and why it has such staying power. Structuring with ideas.


Week 6: Make it Weird

Slanting analogies and tropes. Considering the trauma plot.


Week 7: Make it Weirder

Precisely what it sounds like.


Week 8: Hope and Revisions

On editing. What makes an ending satisfying?


Amanda Kallis

Amanda Kallis is a writer from Los Angeles living in Brooklyn. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her writing appears in Catapult, the Bare Life Review, the Black Warrior Review (2018 nonfiction contest winner), McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. She's been awarded fellowships from the Edward Albee Foundation and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Currently she's working on a speculative novel.

Twitter: @amandaleekallis / 


"An elegant, pained mosaic of fracture and fragments meditating on a face recently and mysteriously partially paralyzed. This essay reminds me of my favorite writing on illness and the body, from Virginia Woolf’s “On Illness,” to Susan Sontag’s ILLNESS AS METAPHOR to Eula Biss’s “The Pain Scale” to Claudia Rankine’s DON'T LET ME BE LONELY. And like these thinkers, this writer is searching for something deep and profound at the limits of experience. This is not (just) an essay on an experience of bodily affliction, but also thinking through photography, perception, beauty, and form through the lens of symmetry. What does it mean, to be fragmented? What does it mean to be perceived as coherent, or whole?"

Kate Zambreno on selecting "Social Body" as winner of the 2018 Black Warrior Review Nonfiction Contest

"I highly recommend Amanda's workshops to anyone who needs a jumpstart to their writing process or just an additional community to keep you learning and motivated."

former student

"I appreciated the readings you curated and your constructive guidance and insight, and the general candor and warmth of the group. It also brought me back to my days of taking creative writing workshops in undergrad, and was exactly the spur I needed to start writing again!"

former student