University of Iowa

How Do I Start This Thing?: Openings in Prose Narrative

Weeklong June 24 to June 29 2018

In our workshop, we will look at some effective ways to begin a short story, novel, or personal essay. It is often the case that a single sentence in the opening paragraph of a story contains the seeds of the whole. This is because narrative is a reiterative form where the themes contained in a core sentence are repeated time and again throughout the work. We will see how an effective opening lends importance to other key elements of prose narrative, namely setting, conflict, physical detail (image and symbol), and the ending. As well, we will consider the ways in which the opening of a short story differs from the opening of a novel and an essay. Towards that end, we will do close readings of a wide sampling of representative texts by such authors as Anton Chekov, Flannery O’Connor, Mavis Gallant, Edward P. Jones, Junot Diaz, Harold Brodkey, Deb Olin Unferth, Don DeLillo, and John Edgar Wideman, along with lesser known but equally important authors. The readings will serve as the basis for exercises that will generate new work. We will also critique one of your own existing stories or essays or the first chapter of your novel.

Short Story