In Focus: Writing Short Stories

with Elwin Cotman

writing the short story

August 7, 2024
6 Weeks

Original price was: $445.00.Current price is: $380.00.

Zoom sessions Thursdays from 7:30-9:30 PM Eastern

Original price was: $445.00.Current price is: $380.00.Enroll Now

In this generative short story course, you will write new works of short fiction. You will do so through reading and analyzing contemporary fiction, and leave this course with 5-6 potential new stories.

Traditionally, short stories are the place for writers to zero in on a particular setting, moment in time, theme, or character. They provide an avenue for close focus, unity of effect, and powerful impact in a condensed form. This focused exploration has produced many of literature’s greatest works. Writing short stories can help you explore new ideas freely and keep your creative process constantly evolving.

The primary goal of this course is to inspire you to create new works of short fiction. Each week, you will read two stories from selected writers and respond to a creative response based on their work. We will examine specifically the role that brevity plays in strengthening themes. We will study form to get you thinking about new ways to structure your stories.

For instance, if we read Mary Gaitskill’s “A Romantic Weekend,” the prompt might be to write a piece featuring only two characters, or a piece in which the characters are attempting to be honest with one another (and potentially failing). Prompts will never simply ask you to mirror a writer’s style, as this could be limiting.

We will also read essays around creative writing theory in class. During class meetings, there will be an opportunity for you to read from your homework and receive on-the-spot feedback. You will receive in-class feedback on your drafts from me and your peers, and I will offer perspectives on where you can take your pieces next.

One goal of this class is to break writers away from the typical three-act structure we are taught. There are many different forms in which to write fiction, and short stories provide an opportunity to experiment in those forms. Your homework assignments will revolve around six story forms: kishotenketsu, spiral, map, list, and choice. Each class will provide explanation and examples of these different forms. Every week will require approximately two hours of reading and writing.

Who This Course is For:

This course is for fiction writers interested in exploring new ways to work in the short form. It is open to all levels. 

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

In this course, you will learn: 

  • Different prose forms and how to incorporate them in storytelling.
  • Styles from a variety of writers.
  • How to structure beginnings and endings.
  • How to balance scene and summary in short work.
  • How to begin stories based on prompts and give on-the-spot feedback.
  • A better understanding of writing prose through reading contemporary work.

Writing Goals

In this course, you will: 

  • Begin 5-6 new short stories.

Zoom Schedule

We will meet on Zoom on Thursdays from 7:30-9:30 PM Eastern. 

Weekly Syllabus

Week One: Brevity

We will look at examples of stories that employ brevity effectively. Exercise: write a skeleton plot.

Homework: Read Jhumpa Lahiri, Mary Gaitskill. Begin writing a short story based on a story prompt.

Week Two: Balance

Discussion on homework reading. Lecture on balancing scene and summary. Students share writing from previous week. Exercise: write a scene from different perspectives. Receive feedback on your work. 

Homework: Read Odessa Moshfegh, Helen Oyeyemi. Write a response to a story prompt.

Week Three: Character

Lecture on characterization. Students share writing from last week. Exercise: write a mask/counter-mask for your character. Receive feedback on your work.

Homework: Read Kelly Link, Sally Wen Mao. Write a response to a story prompt. 

Week Four: Beginnings

Lecture on beginning stories. Students share writing from last week. Exercise: experiment with beginnings. Receive feedback on your work.

Homework: Read Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Eileen Myles. Write a response to story prompt. 

Week Five: Endings

Lecture on how different forms can help discover endings. Students share writing from last week. Exercise: start a story in media res. Receive feedback on your work.

Homework: Read Izumi Suzuki, Deesha Philyaw, essay on form. Write a response to a story prompt.

Week Six: Story engines

Lecture on the different engines that can drive a story. Students share writing from last week: Exercise: Develop your own form and start a story based on it. Receive feedback on your work.

Original price was: $445.00.Current price is: $380.00.Enroll Now

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Student Feedback for Elwin Cotman:

Elwin’s approach to finding unusual and innovative angles from which to
generate new work inspired an avalanche of new poems and stories for me. Shoshauna Shy
I’m not usually very keen on online courses. (It’s hard to get any real energy from participants and instructors don’t hold the class together and keep us on track.) Mr. Cotman is the exception. I read poetry. And yet, he introduced me to a wide range of new and classic poetry. He kept the class on track and organized. He provided a variety of types of exercises to encourage us to think outside the box and to do what the course said it was supposed to do – help writers bring poetry to their work. Bravo, Elwin Cotman. Margaret Byrne
Elwin’s course workload, fast-paced lectures, creative prompts and choice of texts have exercised new muscles in me in terms of discipline and of what I’ve imagined possible for the life of my writing. It’s interesting. My poetic tendencies pulled into prose: it’s me, but an expanded me. I can tell I am the one who’s been writing these stories, but it’s very new to experience it and read it all back. I also appreciate him introducing us to works that sit at the intersection of prose and poetry, because it feels as if I’ve got a place in the genre, the intersection makes a lot of sense to me. Dionna Vereen
Elwin’s class was in equal measure academically rigorous and creatively adventurous, challenging us with wildly generative writing exercises and inspiring us with some of the best sci-fi fantasy short stories I’d never heard of (but which I now count among my favorites). Our deep dive into Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn was a sublime capstone to his engaging course of study, and I highly recommend the experience of studying with him to anyone who doesn’t simply enjoy sci-fi-fantasy, but lives it, devours it, breathes it in and out…in waking life and dream. Benjamin Friedman



August 7, 2024
6 Weeks

Original price was: $445.00.Current price is: $380.00.

Zoom sessions Thursdays from 7:30-9:30 PM Eastern

Original price was: $445.00.Current price is: $380.00.Enroll Now


Elwin Cotman is a storyteller from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author of five books: the poetry collection The Wizard’s Homecoming, and the short story collections The Jack Daniels Sessions EP, Hard Times Blues, Dance on Saturday, and Weird Black Girls. His debut novel The Age of Ignorance will be published by Scribner in 2025. He has worked as a video game consultant and writer for Square Enix. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and a MFA from Mills College.