Online | Fiction | Workshop

8-Week Fiction Workshop: The World of the Story

The world of the story is where the characters and conflicts come alive. Rather than being a static background against which a story unfolds, the world is a dynamic force that touches and affects every part of a story. To characters, it can apply pressure or give grace. It is the external engine that facilitates a plot. In this class, we will focus on understanding the effective building blocks of a world, from the physical spaces that characters occupy and the objects inside them, to the norms and culture that govern behavior.

The goal of this class is to learn how to create worlds that make our fiction richer. This is a workshop-based class, and each student will have the opportunity to workshop one short story or novel excerpt. In the first two weeks of class, we will do craft exercises and look at the work of writers like Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, Elizabeth Strout, Kazuo Ishiguro, and NoViolet Bulawayo, for what they can teach us about world building. The following weeks will be devoted to student workshops and mini-craft lectures.

This class is intended for all writers at any stage of their projects. Whether you are just starting a piece from the bottom up or looking for concrete ways to enrich the world of your narrative as you revise an existing piece, this course will leave you with practical skills for your project.

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.  


- A better understanding of both the physical and figurative dimensions that make a fictional world cohesive and complex

- A short story or novel excerpt that will receive written and verbal workshop feedback from the instructor and classmates

- One 1-on-1 session with instructor with detailed feedback on the student's writing

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


In the early weeks, students will read about 30 pages of published writing, consisting of short stories and novel excerpts. In the following weeks, students will be expected to be active participants of workshop. When it is their turn, submissions should run about 20-35 double-spaced pages. As workshop participants, students are expected to actively listen and provide feedback to their fellow writers. Throughout the duration of the course, there will be opportunities for in-class generative craft exercises.


Week 1 — Introductions + Objects in a World

Week 2 — The Culture of a World

Week 3 — Character in the World; Workshop 1

Week 4 — Conflict in the World; Workshop 2

Week 5 — Dialogue in the World; Workshop 3

Week 6 — Using the World to Generate Plot; Workshop 4

Week 7 — Workshop 5 + 6

Week 8 — Workshop 6 + 7 

Belinda Huijuan Tang

Belinda Huijuan Tang is a 2021 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow and recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. She holds a BA from Stanford University and was a 2019 work-study fellow at the Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She lived in China from 2016 to 2018 and, while there, she received an MA from Peking University in Beijing. She currently lives in Los Angeles.


“Belinda Huijuan Tang’s debut novel is a beautifully drawn, sensitively rendered portrait of a man desperately searching for his father—and for reconnection to the past and people he once knew and loved. Both rich in historical detail and timeless in scope, A MAP FOR THE MISSING explores the costs of choosing your own path, whether what’s left behind can ever be retrieved, and whether it is possible to forgive the wounds we inevitably inflict on each other.”

Celeste Ng #1 New York Times bestselling author of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

“A MAP FOR THE MISSING is a sure-footed, deeply-considered novel that pulls the reader in with its urgency from the outset. Through this narrative of love, familial duty, the costs of charting one’s own path and the enduring allure of paths not taken, Belinda Huijuan Tang proves herself to be the best kind of storyteller: one who writes with heart and courage.”

Angela Flournoy author of THE TURNER HOUSE, finalist for the National Book Award

“A stunning debut full of vivid writing, A MAP FOR THE MISSING reminds you of exactly why we read in the first place. Through the expertly drawn and utterly original characters of Yitian and Hanwen, Belinda Huijuan Tang confronts how history, mobility, memory, and desire all intertwine in our perpetual search for peace. From the campus of an elite American university to the countryside of Cultural Revolutionary China, Tang confidently and artfully paints a complex and vast world that is both ethereal and familiar, characters concurrently exacting and reckless. The result is a novel that explores the bittersweetness of returns and the ultimate healing behind coming home.”

Xochitl Gonzalez author of OLGA DIES DREAMING

"I really enjoyed this course. I really developed as a writer and Professor Tang was really nice and easy to work with"

Former UIowa Student

"Easily my favorite class! I enjoyed being more creative with writing and stepping out of my comfort zone writing different pieces!"

Former UIowa Student