Plot is the architecture stories stand on, yet all too often literary folks seem almost embarrassed to talk about it. Sometimes it feels like the only advice we are given for plotting our new novel is to either stick to the depressingly prescriptive rulebooks of Hollywood, or wait for the Muses to grant us their blessing. But what if we’re trying to write neither Captain America nor Ulysses?
This class is meant for writers who want to tell meaningful stories readers will want to read. We will investigate together how to structure a narrative, how to build scenes that move the plot forward, and how to create characters our readers will care about. We’ll do this by looking at a variety of strategies suggested or modeled by novelists, scholars, and screenwriters, including Zadie Smith, Kurt Vonnegut, Donna Tartt, Ling Ma, Charlie Kaufman, and Ottessa Moshfegh—but more importantly by learning how to digest all this unwieldy stuff and turn it into something we can actually use. Our goal will be to find good, practical advice on how to tell a story, without locking ourselves into fixed formulas or losing ourselves in pointless theory.
Whether you’re just starting out writing a novel, or you have a finished manuscript and are looking to tighten your narrative, this class will give you ideas, questions, and answers about plot and the craft of telling stories.
Each meeting will begin with a craft lecture and discussion, followed by a workshop. Each person will be workshopped twice: In the first round we will read the beginning (up to 40 double-spaced pages) of your novel project, discussing how the story is set up and the characters are introduced. For the second round, students will be free to submit any piece of fiction they want: You can give us more chapters from your novel, pages from a different project, a short story, or even re-submit the pages from the first round, revised in light of what you’ve learned in class.
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.
- In-depth feedback on your novel project from the instructor and classmates, emphasizing structural critique over line edits
- A one-on-one private conference with the instructor (via phone, Skype, Zoom, Messenger Pigeon) to discuss your novel project, addressing any difficulties or doubts you might have re: plot, characters, structure, or anything else
- A ton of useful ideas and strategies on how to build stories and make them fun to read.
- Essays, articles, excerpts and videos that offer actual craft advice, not vague, indecipherable theory
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will be workshopped twice, submitting up to 40 double-spaced pages in the first round and up to 20 in the second round. Because of the story-structure focus of this class, students are asked to come in ready to submit the beginning section of a novel project on their first round of workshop. The second round is free-form.
On top of workshop reading and feedback, students will receive short essays or fiction excerpts to read every week for the craft portion of the meeting
Week 0: Class housekeeping and first craft talk (models of story structure; a look at the Three Act Structure; what can we actually learn from models)
Week 1: Managing expectations: what are we reading for? — workshop #1
Week 2: Character: motivation, backstory and exposition — workshop #2
Week 3: Prologues: hooking the reader — workshop #3
Week 4: Scene: telling stories with scenes; experimenting beyond the scene — workshop #4
Week 5: Words: using language, POV, and form to tell our stories — workshop #5
Week 6: Turning points: complications, reversals, keeping stuff interesting — workshop #6
Week 7: Resolution: what are arcs and do we need them? — workshop #7
Week 8: Workshop #8 — final class discussion
“PARADISE, NEVADA is a superbly energetic novel of Las Vegas, a place teeming with glittering wins and crushing losses. When the bright lights go out, Dario Diofebi proves himself to have a great eye for the cards different people are dealt, and a great ear for laughter in the dark.”
"Dario Diofebi is a wonder--a brilliant comic voice telling a thrilling compassionate story. People have talked about the complete writing package, the full boat that's aces over kings, and that's Diofebi: piercingly funny about modern life, compassionately human about his characters. This is the rare comedy that makes you want to be nicer to people after."