Many writers make it seem effortless, but in reality, nailing the opening of your short story or novel is one of the most difficult and crucial things you can do to “sell” your creative vision and voice. (Ask submissions editors, MFA committees, or just about anyone browsing new titles at a bookstore.) Beginnings are so much more than a tease: They are a thoughtfully crafted, relentlessly revised promise that what unfolds will be worth the reader’s investment of time and emotion.
In this eight-week course, we will workshop your stories and/or novel excerpts with a special focus on how and where they start. By critiquing each other’s work and studying strong examples from literary fiction (including work by Toni Morrison, Adam Haslett, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, and others), we will seek to answer the questions:
- Where does the heat of the story lie, and how is it accessed through characterization, setting, and other tools of craft?
- What does the reader need to know right away, and what can be deployed later?
- What is the line between sparking curiosity and creating confusion?
- What are the expectations set for the rest of the story, based on its first few paragraphs or pages? And what elements make us as readers most excited to keep turning pages?
Both completed short stories and novel openings, at a maximum of 25 pages, will be accepted for workshop submissions (though if submitting the latter, students might want to have some sense of the shape of the story past Chapter 1). Previous workshop experience is highly recommended.
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.
- At least one workshopped short story/novel excerpt (with the possibility to submit a revision on that piece for later in the class)
- A better understanding of different techniques, both quiet and loud, for commanding a reader's attention
- An opportunity to meet one-on-one with the instructor.
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
In addition to reading and critiquing (via letters) up to two workshop submissions each week, there will be published fiction to read -- either a short story or a novel's opening chapter; this should not require more than an hour of the students' time. Workshop submissions should be fewer than 25 double-spaced pages.
Dawnie Walton is a fiction writer and journalist whose work explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture. Her debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, is forthcoming from 37 Ink/Atria (April 2021)). She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow (2015) and a Tin House Scholar (2017), and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (MFA, 2018). Previously, she has worked as an editor for magazine and multimedia brands including Essence, Entertainment Weekly, Getty Images, and LIFE.
"Taking a class from Dawnie made me feel as though I had experienced the peak of what workshop is supposed to be. She guided discussion on the principles of both kindness and intellect; no matter the style or genre, she took it all seriously. It gave me the impression that what I brought to the table was worth writing, but also worth other people reading. That’s why I’m certain I wouldn’t be able to see myself confidently if not for her guidance and critique. "
"Dawnie was wonderful. I am so thankful for the time, thought, and kindness she gave. It was rewarding to be a part of her class and learn from her observations, facilitation of discussion, and experience as a fiction writer."
"I really cannot say enough good things about Dawnie. She’s so sharp and specific in both her praise and her critique. I would leave class with a clear roadmap of new things to try in my own work. She’s also supremely down to earth and unpretentious, especially about genre, material and inspiration. I felt supported and motivated throughout. In short, she’s awesome."