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College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

The Art of Narrative: Fiction Writing

This course will help you develop your narrative writing abilities through the short story form.  What makes a good short story?  We’ll spend some time figuring that out, studying a few examples for their approaches to character development, endings and even the use of sentences.  We’ll focus on character-driven short stories.  We’ll do various short writing exercises aimed at helping you discover potential subject matter; develop an awareness of character and point of view; and imagine various kinds of complications for a character in a story you’re just beginning, including complications that work against the grain of where you thought your story was going when you started it.  You'll write frequently!  In class, in addition to discussing some published short stories and occasionally doing a short writing exercise, we'll have peer review sessions for class members' writing (usually in groups of two or three) to identify strategies for revising and building on the potential in a story you’re working on and we’ll share strategies for inventing characters and obstacles that effectively draw out something singular about them.

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  • Dates: TBD
  • Instructor: James O'Laughlin, Associate Professor of Instruction, Writing Program; Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Weinberg College Adviser
  • Enrollment Capacity: 18


At the end of the seminar, students should have learned the following:
  • Development:  strategies for creating/finding and developing material into a short story.
  • Use of concrete details:  An ability to identify the role of details and to create concrete details in the service of realistic characters.
  • Reading, revision:  An ability to effectively read other writers' work in progress and identify specific strengths as well as areas for possible improvement.
  • Narrative Structure:  An understanding of narrative structure, and of how to build complications into a narrative structure.
  • Character: how to shape a story through character development.

A Typical Classroom Session

The seminar will be a mixture of half days and full days. On the full days, there may be a field trip or other seminar activities that will require attendance beyond the typical classroom


Discussion of some aspect of fiction writing through the example of a published short story; goals for workshop discussion.


Workshop of current writing exercises/drafts (usually in small groups, sometimes in pairs).




Large group synthesis of workshop insights and specific challenges and strategies for stories in progress; discussion of new writing exercise/assignment and possible approaches to it.