This course is for anybody currently writing prose that wants to have their first or second workshop experience, or their fifth or sixth. I’ve taught a variety of introductory and advanced level workshops at universities and at other nonprofit organizations. Regardless of how experienced you might be in the workshop, I will work one-on-one with each of you to address your unique needs and intentions, while also reinforcing our common goals in the actual workshop environment.
To me, a short story needs to be efficient, loaded, and urgent. By the time I finish the first sentence, I need to be hooked into the characters and their world, and I need that care and investment to be sustained and uninterrupted until the end.
Writers in my course will leave with two workshopped stories, a clearer sense of how to develop compelling and urgent fictional worlds, and an enhanced ability to tell stories that readers actually want to read. We'll discuss common elements of craft like characterization, dialogue, setting, voice, "world building," but we'll also talk about what makes a story urgent, why it's important that we are with your characters at this particular moment in their lives.
All of our assigned readings also will be shared for the class to comment on together, a lot like workshop submissions. We'll read work by Junot Díaz, ZZ Packer, Alice Sola Kim, and George Saunders, among others.
- intensive peer and instructor critiques on two workshop submissions
- regular assigned readings of work by contemporary short story writers
- at least one private conference with the instructor to discuss your work (either via video chat or phone)
- increased familiarity with the skills and craft necessary to hook your reader and keep them hooked by making the world of your story urgent, engrossing, and real
Week 1: Welcome; introduction to workshop best practices and course goals; establish submission and workshop schedule.
Week 2: Why short stories? Workshop 1.
Week 3: How voice serves the writer and the reader. Workshop 2.
Week 4: Urgency. Why are we with these characters now? Workshop 3.
Week 5: Efficient characterization. Workshop 4.
Week 6: How to use the mundane. Workshop 5.
Week 7: How to use the exceptional and surreal. Workshop 6.
Week 8: Dialogue. Workshop 7.
Peyton Burgess is the author of the short story collection The Fry Pans Aren’t Sufficing. He is working on a novel and has published excerpts at The Paris Review, Tin House online, Joyland Magazine, Autre, and The Catamaran Literary Reader. Other work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Paris Review Daily, New Orleans Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and 7x7. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and is pursuing his PhD in Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he also works as an instructional designer and creative writing instructor. You can find more about him here.
“THE FRY PANS AREN'T SUFFICING is funny, but this collection also defines an elemental loneliness. I know these people, their voices, their lives caught between earthy double-entendres in the fun-loving Crescent City. The hard-edged comedy of Burgess's narrative is shaped and honed, always merciful, and is peppered with dialogue that's reliable and masterfully executed. Personal and surreal, these poignant survival stories coax the reader into moments of shared feeling, into truth, reflection, and simple beauty.”
“Peyton Burgess is an original. These stories have style, heart, brains and a sense of humor, and I can't imagine a reader who wouldn't want to put this at the heart of the bookshelf. Just read it.”
“In these stories of physical and emotional dislocation, Peyton Burgess brings us one wonderfully blighted hero after another--hapless but not hopeless, pummeled by the ills of our society but lucid and funny and soldiering on. Burgess is a profoundly gifted writer who understands that for art to exist, there must be scars.”
“In his debut collection, Burgess explores both the tragic and mundane in the small moments of everyday life…Sometimes shocking and often strange, [THE FRY PANS AREN'T SUFFICING] is a fine debut from a striking new voice.”
“Peyton Burgess, or ‘PB’ as he is affectionately known by many of his students, is the best writing teacher I have ever had. With humility, wit, and grace, he approaches his students as fellow writers, treating their work with love and respect. I wish I could take his class again. But I’m broke right now.”
“Taking Peyton's class, I felt recognized not only as a writer but also as a person. He was the first teacher who really saw a spark in my voice as a writer and encouraged me to follow that voice kindly and fearlessly. Unlike many teachers, he never has an agenda about how a story should look, but instead asks the right questions to help you understand how the story should look to you. The sense of camaraderie and respect I found in my first workshop with Peyton had me writing 'Let's get coffee' and eventually 'Love you' at the end of my peer reviews. These same people remain my closest friends today, the ones I'm sending my work to and trying to start lit mags with. Peyton showed me that being a writer comes down to being a person—and the more willing you are to have an honest dialogue with that person, the better a writer you will be. I'm now a graduate and we live thousands of miles away from each other, but he's still the first person I send my writing to when I need an honest opinion.”
“Peyton was a supportive but critical eye for my work early on. I never left a workshop expecting anything less than specific and individualized feedback on my stories, and I knew going into every class that the assigned readings were pertinent and useful to my own writing. His workshops were always constructive, comfortable spaces for critique and feedback, and they motivated me to push my writing past my comfort level.”