University of Iowa

The Balancing Act: Narration, Character and Dialogue in Fiction

Weeklong July 21 to July 26 2019

Telling a story well requires a sure touch with narration, characterization and dialogue. But how do you find the right balance? This is a nuts-and-bolts craft workshop that welcomes fiction writers of all levels. We’ll look at brief samples from contemporary writers (Zadie Smith, George Saunders, et al.) and do several exercises that will allow participants to generate new writing or to experiment with their own work-in-progress. Each writer will also be invited to workshop a short story, novel excerpt, or hybrid text.


We’ll consider characterization techniques and questions like dialogue tags, dialect, idiolect, profanity (yes, swearing is an artful activity!) and slang. We’ll also explore when to give your characters a rest and let your narrator do the talking. The common saying, “Show don’t tell” isn’t always true, but this fact begs the questions: How do I show? When do I tell? We’ll look at options of external narration and internal narration of characters’ actions and thoughts.


Writers will leave this workshop with a keener appreciation of the tools at their disposal and how they might serve their story.


In this workshop we will generate new writing through guided exercises and prompts; provide feedback on writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.     

Hybrid Forms
Short Story