Read and write fiction that doesn’t follow the rules of our world. Expect the likes of alien encounters, imagined technologies, mind-bending time narratives, hauntings, and witchcraft. Expect the strange in forms dramatic and subtle. The Speculative Workshop is both for people who live for this sort of stuff and for people who have never written these kinds of stories before (but want to try). This course will develop the skills that are important to writing in any genre: characterization, plot, setting, strong sentences, and point of view. We will also investigate the special challenges and thrills of writing science fiction and fantasy—like how to get readers to suspend their sense of disbelief, and how to build convincing worlds.
We tend to think of worldbuilding in terms of content, but worldbuilding is also a matter of style; well-chosen verbs are as central to evoking a new world as lengthy descriptions of place, history, or lore. Worldbuilding, too, is a matter of narrative structure: how much do we tell, and when? How do different stories pace out the reveal of information? Some speculative stories present clear rules, stakes, costs and consequences. Others leave the ground unsteady beneath your feet. Together we'll uncover the methods behind both "hard" and "soft" worldbuilding, the storytelling opportunities that are available—as well as the dangers that lurk—in the process. What makes these stories feel real and necessary? How does the story shape the world, and the world shape its inhabitants?
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 speculative story (or novel excerpt) and informal feedback on shorter, generative writing excerpts.
*No class 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.
- 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 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: Window into the Unknown
Introductions. Point of view and writing towards wonder. Character and idea webs. Structure as scene selection. Generative writing time.
Week 2: The Hard and Soft of It
From robots to fairies—how to know when to tell, how much, and examples of when it goes wrong. Structure as style. Generative writing time.
Week 3: The Traffic Jam, Not the Automobile
On costs and consequences. Analogs, theme, and scene selection.
Week 4: Moving Accidents and Mighty Mutations and Strange Encounters
The primacy of reactions. Crafting layers, or thresholds, to make your world feel real.
Week 5: Maps, Footnotes, Ephemera
Texturing your environments. Experiments, names, and tangents.
Week 6: Dialogue in the Genre of Estrangement
Power. Rhythms and reversals. Thwarting Expectations.
Week 7: Letting Go
Maintaining the unexplained. Writing towards your strengths.
Week 8: Arriving at the Beginning
On editing. What makes an ending satisfying?
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 / amandakallis.com
"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?"
"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."
"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!"