Online | Fiction | Novel | Workshop

8-Week Novel Workshop: How to Start the Epic Novel

Tentatively defined as a “long book or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time,” the epic novel can be recognized in the vast scope of time, place, language, and thematic concerns featured in its plot and prose. This course will guide writers through the methods used to create the opening chapters of an ‘epic’ novel. We will take an examined look at how successful examples first lay the foundation for the four epic elements in their opening moments and thereby set the novel up for success over the long haul. We will also challenge and expand upon the definition of the epic novel itself, with an eye towards contemporary fiction’s themes and preoccupations. The reading and writing of epic stories has been a lifelong fascination of mine, recently culminating in the upcoming debut of my first novel. To that end, we will also share the personal journeys that have led us to take up the pursuit of large-scale storytelling.

Readings will include extended excerpts from One Hundred Years of Solitude, Midnight’s Children, My Brilliant Friend, Anna Karenina, and Fates and Furies. Writers will be tasked to write and workshop novel openings of their own. Previously-generated materials (either a draft or outline) are encouraged.

Writers will leave this class with a deeper understanding of how to establish an early command of authority through handling of time, character, and setting, as well as the interplay of ‘short’ and ‘long’ story threads over the course of a lengthy plot.

To apply, please submit the opening pages (3-5 pages) of a novel or lengthy story. This sample does not have to be what you intend to work on in class. Outlines are also welcome, but should nonetheless be accompanied with a writing sample, so as to provide a sense of ability and style. All materials submitted should be on one document.

*No class Feb. 14

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. 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.  


- The importance of establishing the novel’s authority through an early command of time

- What do we require of our central characters in an epic novel

- The interplay of ‘short’ and ‘long’ story threads in sustaining both immediate and long-term reader interest

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


The course will be split into a half seminar, half workshop format. Student requirements for the first half will be to read assigned texts and prepare discussion notes around a central question. In the second half, student requirements will be to prepare discussion comments and written feedback around peer-submitted writing, or to submit their own writing in time for the assigned workshop day.


Week 1 - What is the epic novel?

Week 2 - Time, Space, Language

Week 3 - The Epic ‘I’

Week 4 - Epic Concerns

Week 5 - Workshop

Week 6 - Workshop

Week 7 - Workshop

Week 8 - Workshop

Eskor Johnson

Eskor David Johnson is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago and USA. His writing has appeared in BOMB Magazine, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and will appear at length in a debut novel from McSweeney's Press in Spring 2023. A graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he currently lives in New York City. 


"In the wild and brilliant PAY AS YOU GO, Eskor David Johnson conjures up extraordinary characters and vivid scenes. I would have followed his narrator Slide anywhere as he makes his way through the shape-changing city of Polis. I thought of Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49, I thought of Zadie Smith’s WHITE TEETH but Johnson is, first and last, himself, a novelist of tremendous imagination and impassioned voice."

Margot Livesey author of THE BOY IN THE FIELD

"PAY AS YOU GO is an achievement of the highest order—a remarkable novel full of heart and blistering commentary and original, acerbic wit. Fans of Salman Rushdie and Marlon James will rejoice at Johnson’s prose, but his vision and voice is entirely his own, a fresh and necessary addition to our reading lives."

Bret Anthony Johnston author of REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS

"Eskor David Johnson has created a rich and textured landscape in PAY AS YOU GO, a vividly surreal debut novel with a hero you won't forget."

Regina Porter author of THE TRAVELERS

"Eskor taught a fiction workshop I took in undergrad, and he was both an incredible teacher and—since then—a supportive, dedicated mentor. In class, Eskor pushed us to consider new possibilities for our writing, to think beyond what we'd previously thought ourselves capable of, and as a result my work and my classmates' work began to take on new depth and richness. I'm grateful to Eskor for not only the technical lessons on structure and dialogue, but also the more nebulous and philosophical conversations about narrative and storytelling. Eskor cares about his students as writers and as people, and I'm lucky to have spent time learning from him. "

Jenny David former student, author of EVERYTHING MUST GO

"Eskor and I were classmates at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where his sharp editorial eye and intellect immediately became evident to me. This was in 2014. Since then, I have sought Eskor’s feedback on everything from short stories, essays, and what, thanks to Eskor’s several years of guidance, is my forthcoming debut novel, WHAT NAPOLEON COULD NOT DO (Riverhead/Penguin Random House)."

Derek Nnuro author of WHAT NAPOLEON COULD NOT DO

"Eskor was the most knowledgeable and compassionate writing instructor I had the privilege of taking a class with during my undergrad years at the University of Iowa. He went above and beyond as our instructor: reading our work with careful attention and feedback, customizing our weekly lessons to address craft issues raised in the workshop stories that week, and always ready and prepared to provide supplemental readings that would be beneficial for our particular projects. He was also an excellent workshop instructor, carefully managing the time of each workshop and ensuring a balance of actionable critique and compliment which left each workshop session feeling positive and productive. As a student, I remember how grateful I was, but when I later became a writing instructor myself, I appreciated it so much more as I understood the amount of time and effort he put in to give us that experience. His class gave me the confidence to apply for my own MFA, and I've always been grateful that I had Eskor as my instructor my senior year."

Danie Shokoohi former student, MFA candidate University of Wisconsin-Madison