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Rebecca Makkai

Advanced Fiction for Novelists: What Makes the Story "Go"?

Rebecca Makkai, photo by Brett Simison
Rebecca Makkai, photo by Brett Simison
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This workshop is now FULL. You may apply for the waitlist.


In narrative fiction, it’s plot—cause and effect, development, change, suspense—that propels us forward. In less narrative fiction, we have to rely on other propulsions: lyricism, innovation, surprise, rhythm, revelation.

In this workshop we’ll look at the structure of traditional narrative fiction (referring to the wisdom of Aristotle, Freytag, and others), as well as formal experimentation. We’ll workshop student fiction in this light—focusing on arc, shape, plot (or the lack thereof)—and ask, in every case, what moves the story along and how to make it impossible to put down.

Students will read each other’s work in advance and make notes in preparation for in-depth workshop discussions. You’ll also be required to read five short published pieces that we’ll use as reference points in the workshop. Everyone will have the opportunity to schedule an individual meeting with the instructor outside of class, either to discuss their work or any other aspects of writing.

Accepted participants will submit up to twelve contiguous double-spaced pages of their fiction (3,000 words max).


  • This is an advanced-level workshop.
  • Please submit a cover letter that states your interest in this workshop and gives an overview of your prior workshop experience, if any. Also submit a writing sample of up to ten double-spaced pages. (Please prepare your submission as a .pdf or .doc file.)
  • The cost is $675. If you are selected to participate in the workshop, a deposit of $300 is required to register, with the balance due by September 30.
  • If you are accepted, you have the option of attending the Keynote on Thursday, January 11, at a reduced price of $150 (we will send you a link upon confirmation). Alternately, you may purchase a ticket to attend the Seminar in full, as it runs after the workshops (January 11 – 14).
  • Financial Assistance is available to those who would not otherwise be able to attend—click here for guidelines and/or to apply for a Workshop Fellowship Award. (Do not submit a regular application if you are requesting financial aid.)
  • Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the class is full.



Rebecca Makkai is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel I Have Some Questions For You, named a most anticipated book of 2023 by TIME, NPR, USA Today, Elle, Newsweek, Salon, Bustle, AARP the Magazine, the MillionsGood Housekeeping, and others.

Her previous novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was named one of  “The 10 Best Books of 2018″ by the New York Times. The novel won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in fiction and a Stonewall Book Award. She is also author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred Year House and the story collection Music for Wartime.

A 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Makkai is on the faculty of Northwestern University and the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe low-residency MFA in creative writing. She is artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago.