The University of Iowa

The Balancing Act: Narration, Character and Dialogue in Prose Fiction

Weeklong July 19 to July 24 2020

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, Patricia Lockwood et al.) and will do several writing exercises that will allow participants to generate new text 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 exercises and assignments; critique writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.

Short Story