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April 23-25, 2021. Finding Your Story: A Weekend Intensive with Karen Bender

Time limit: 60 days

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Full course description

Iowa Summer Writing Festival

Finding Your Story: A Weekend Intensive with Karen Bender (Weekend Workshop)


Friday, April 23–Sunday, April 25, 2021

Friday on Zoom, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Central Time (8:00–9:00 Eastern; 5:00–6:00 Pacific; 6:00–7:00 Mountain)

Saturday and Sunday on Zoom, 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. Central Time (11:00–4:00 Eastern; 8:00–1:00 Pacific; 9:00–2:00 Mountain)

Fee: $300

Course Description

Do you want to write a short story but don’t know where to start? In this weekend, we’ll learn the building blocks for a short story and practice using them. We’ll read and do guided, in-class exercises, focusing on different elements of fictional craft: sensory detail, dialogue, scene, characterization, and plot. Before we meet, students will read model stories I’ll post on Canvas. We’ll discuss these and look at the different strategies great writers use to tell stories. We’ll practice these techniques through in-class exercises that we’ll share. This class is designed for beginning writers who want to start building a short story. The goal of the class is to give you new insights into the craft of writing a story, and by the end of the weekend, you will be well on your way to a draft of a short story.

Saturday we’ll focus on the elements of craft. That evening, you’ll write the first page of a story. On Sunday, you’ll bring your first page to class to share. We’ll give you ideas for continuing, and together we’ll do exercises to develop our stories.

Our schedule for the weekend will look like this:

Friday: 7:00–8:00 p.m.: Introductions and overview of class mechanics 


10:00 a.m.–12:00 noon: Sensory detail & dialogue. Readings, discussion, in-class exercises

Noon–1:00: Break for lunch and optional exercises

1:00–3:00: Scene, plot, creating questions in a story. Write first two lines of a story.

Overnight assignment: Write the first page of a story, creating a question for the reader.


10:00 a.m.–12:00 noon: Story openings and characterization; gesture and thought in story

Noon–1:00: Break for lunch and continue story opening using characterization

1:00–3:00: Share work and ideas for continuing stories. Final thoughts on developing stories.


Karen E. Bender is the author of the story collections Refund, which was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 2015, shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Story prize and Longlisted for the Story prize; and The New Order, which was Longlisted for the Story prize. Her novels are A Town of Empty Rooms and Like Normal People, which was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. Her fiction has appeared in magazines including The New YorkerGrantaPloughsharesZoetropeThe Yale ReviewThe Harvard ReviewGuernica, and Story, and reprinted in Best American Short StoriesBest American Mystery StoriesNew Stories from the South: The Year's Best, and have won three Pushcart prizes. She has taught at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and also in the M.F.A. programs at Hollins University, Warren Wilson College, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Chatham University. She has recently joined the Core Faculty at the Alma College M.F.A. in creative writing. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rona Jaffe Foundation. Visit Karen at

Registration & FeesThe fee for this course is $300. Payment in full is required to register.

Registration for this course opens at 10:00 a.m. Central Time, Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Registrations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Class size is limited to 12.

Note: Your credit card payment will be processed by an external provider and will appear on your credit card statement as “UI Writing—Magid Center.” 

Cancellation Policy

A $100 cancellation fee will be applied to refunds for cancellations received by Friday, April 16, 2021. Thereafter, no refunds are available. 

Terms & Community Policy

The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is a community built on an assumption of shared enterprise, in the spirit of mutual respect. We reserve the right to a) revoke the registration of or b) dismiss from the program any person who disrupts the learning/working environment of others.

Participants in the Festival are subject to all University of Iowa policies governing conduct in our community, whether online or in person.


Contact the Iowa Summer Writing Festival: Phone: (319) 335-4160.

Our tiny staff is working remotely. If you phone and we miss you, please leave a message!