The University of Iowa

Everyone Is Strange: Developing Characters in Fiction & Narrative Nonfiction

Weeklong June 14 to June 19 2020

Characterization—creating believable and interesting people on the page—is an absolutely essential part of successful fiction writing, and it is equally important in narrative nonfiction forms such as memoir and literary journalism. It is also one of the most complex elements of craft, with many different means of achieving it and quite a few ways in which it can fall short. In this weeklong workshop we will examine a variety of successfully realized characters in published fiction and narrative nonfiction, exploring how the authors managed to bring them so richly and intensely and memorably to life. We will place particular emphasis on discovering the uniqueness of each character, whether imagined or drawn directly from life, the individual’s “strangeness,” the distinctiveness that makes a person real to us as well as surprising. Through daily writing exercises, some of which can address excerpts from pieces already drafted and some drawing freshly on memory, observation, and imagination, you will generate and share new and significantly revised scenes that put into practice a wide range of characterization techniques, strengthening your command of those with which you are already familiar and experimenting with those you haven’t used before. This workshop is designed to be useful to writers with all levels of experience.


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.

Short Story