University of Iowa

Transforming Moments of Consequence into Captivating Scenes in Fiction & Nonfiction

Weekend July 14 to July 15 2018

In his book, Making Shapely Fiction, author Jerome Stern advises: “Remember the wisdom of the child: make a scene when we really want everyone’s full attention … Create an event so your readers can feel the drama of the moment.” Smith Magazine defined “The Moment” as the key experience, “a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity or chaos”—whose effect was revelatory, profound and life-changing. Subtle or dramatic, significant, fixed moments can be positive, joyful, difficult or heart-wrenching. They impact us in some way, and create a chain of cascading events for us in real life, or for the characters on our pages: the time you defied workplace policy; heard music for the first time through cochlear ear implants; made a copy of the key to the evidence room; discovered a list of your mother’s most cherished memories (most or none of which included you); found your father’s true identity; signed papers to bring home the emaciated puppy after it managed to lick your palm; turned away from a child with outstretched hands; stood up to hate speech; picked up on that shifty expression that confirmed you’d been duped.


Come write these experiences—your real ones or those from the life of a character in your short story or novel. During our weekend, plan to generate and flesh out several of your key moments in a way that captivates readers from the start. At a future point, you can incorporate each scene into a longer piece or use them to jumpstart new pieces. Our tools: stellar examples, assignments, discussions and a guided in-class writing technique to help you capture the vitality of these defining moments. This technique is a valuable take-away for new or seasoned writers. Expect to draft two to three new scenes and to rework one to share.