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8-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Writing the Polyphonic Novel

Fiction is always a many-voiced enterprise: Regardless of whom the camera lens is pointing at (or who's pointing the lens), perspectives abound. Every scene—every detail of every scene, even—constitutes the revelation of a perspective, of a character's subjectivity. And the novel with many perspectives is more than just subjective: it's intersubjective, a rich interplay of voices and minds. There are only two requirements for participation in this class: 1) the desire to begin writing a novel, and 2) the desire to explore the emotional lives of your characters. Whether you have an MFA, have taken a few classes, or are just starting out, this class is for you.

According to literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, the polyphonic novel is a novel in which the character’s voice is not submerged by the narrator’s: in other words, the character is allowed to have the final word. For our purposes, the polyphonic novel is a novel in which more than one psychological reality gets narrative play without authorial judgment. The diversity of those realities may be fairly limited (one character besides the author) or quite wide (seven characters bantering and bickering). And the ways to describe the characters’ realities are as varied as the characters themselves: through diction, through physicality, through dialogue, through what is included and left out of a scene. In whatever case, the polyphonic novel is a chance to step outside yourself and your voice and explore the voices of your characters without judgment.

In this class, we’ll lay the groundwork for a polyphonic novel by reading polyphonic works and drafting chapters of our own. Whether you don’t have an idea for a novel but want to brainstorm one, have an idea for a novel and want to get started on it, have a few pages drafted, or are deep in a near-completed draft, this class will be just what you need. At the end of our eight weeks together, you will at the very least walk away with an understanding of polyphony, a blueprint for a novel, and one chapter (if not more) completed.

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 Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


- Good fiction is capable of representing the world as a plurality of voices

- Perspectives may contradict, but that doesn't mean both can't be true

- Writing across difference is possible as long as you do your research and write like a human being

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


There are no page requirements for students' workshops. Students will have readings and writing prompts designed to further engage their writing every week. Outside of those requirements, students will 1) be expected to have a non-zero amount of pages to turn in when it comes time for their workshop (you will be expected to workshop at least once), and 2) be writing as much as they possibly can every week.


Week 1: Voice as Diction

Week 2: Voice as Seeing

Week 3: Voice as Physicality

Week 4: The Scene

Week 5: Dialogue

Week 6: Getting at the Truth

Week 7: Stitching Things Together

Week 8: The Resolution   

Rebekah Frumkin

Rebekah Frumkin is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Medill School of Journalism. Their fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and criticism have been featured or are forthcoming in Granta, The Paris Review, Guernica, The Washington Post, The Baffler, Catapult, In These Times, LitHub, McSweeney’s, Outside, Pacific Standard, Poetry Magazine, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. They wrote a novel, The Comedown, which was published by Henry Holt in 2018 to critical acclaim. They are an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.  


"So good, so fully realized and meticulously, skillfully rendered. . . .Rebekah Frumkin can write.”


"Devastatingly smart...That this is Frumkin's debut makes the ambition of this story all the more remarkable."

NYLON 50 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018

"It’s rare that a novel this smart is such an engrossing read...Frumkin is whip-smart and funny. The writing is compulsively readable without being pedestrian. Sentences seem to vibrate. . . A reminder of what good old-fashioned fiction can do."


"Rebekah was a dynamic and deeply thoughtful writing teacher. Her comments were always thorough and insightful, as though she understood the written word from within the text. I was an older student when I took her class, and was always humbled by the depth of wisdom she exhibited. Indeed, I never felt anything but complete trust for her judgement when it came to my writing. She didn’t push her perspective or taste onto us, simply gave us the space--and encouragement—we needed to grow."

former student

"This class inspired and informed who I would later become. I found a love for writing within myself because of this fiction class. The class eventually lead me to try to seek out more of your writing. I was so struck by the clarity and craft. It's something I still aspire to anytime I write something. I had a conversation with someone recently and told them how much this class meant to me and they told me if I truly felt that way I should express my gratitude. I guess ultimately, I just want to say thank you for being awesome and thank you for being an inspiration."

former student