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"Form Follows Function: Narrative Design for Fiction" with Nan Cuba

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St. Edward's University, Trustee Hall 303
3001 S. Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704

5/18/2019 From 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM


$98 for members (sign in for member pricing)

Registration for this class has closed. Walk-ins will be accepted as space allows at the member walk-in rate of $109 and non-member rate of $169.

Is your novel or story chafing at the restrictions of linear narratives?

Conventional story structure, or linear design, is a chronological movement forward from exposition to climax to resolution.  Like all craft elements, overreliance on convention risks predictability: characters become stereotypes, setting obviously reflects atmosphere, a climactic moment is foretold. Instead of automatically writing a usual chronological narrative, try considering other options.

Madison Smartt Bell, in his craft text, Narrative Design, says, “[T]he form of a work is its skeleton, if not its heart…The reader who wants to write as well has got to go beyond the intuitive grasp of form to the deliberate construction of form.” Why not vary linear design by structuring your story with spirals that repeat key moments; or rather than causally connected events, structure chronological events with associative images or answers to questions? Or try using a different structure entirely, such as modular design. Rather than conceiving your story as a process of forward motion, you disassemble it into component parts like bricks that can be reassembled, as Bell writes, “to show relationships between events or people or motifs or themes."

When constructing your fiction using one of these deliberate structures, form follows function, meaning the design manifests the story’s meaning. In this class, students will analyze examples of these techniques and practice as many as time will allow.



  • You're writing fiction of any kind.
  • You're early in a draft and want to explore the structural possibilities for the story.
  • You've hit a dead end with your novel/story and want to consider other ways to write it.



  • "Nan was well prepared, very knowledgeable, made the workshop very interesting. She made us feel very welcome and included every one in participating."
  • "The class was so much more than a lecture and handout!"
  • "I actually went home and put the info to work in a short story I'm working on and it worked wonderfully!"



Nan Cuba is the author of Body and Bread, winner of the PEN Southwest Award in Fiction and the Texas Institute of Letters Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction, and co-editor of Art at our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists. Her work has appeared in Antioch Review, Harvard Review, Columbia, Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row, LIFE, Third Coast, and D Magazine. She has received a Dobie Paisano Fellowship, an artist residency at Fundación Valparaiso in Spain, and was a finalist for theHumanities Texas Award for Individual Achievement. She is the founder and executive director emeritus of Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary center, and teaches in the MA/MFA Program in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where she is writer-in-residence.



St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, Trustee Hall 303. You can find a St. Edward's University campus map here.



$99 members (sign in for member pricing)

$159 nonmembers


Before purchasing, please read all policies as noted below and on our Classes page.

Online registration will close at the end of Thursday, May 16. After that you can pay admission at the door with a check for the walk up rate - $59 for members and $119 for nonmembers - as long as seats are available. If your browser has difficulty with our website store, or if you prefer to mail in a check, click here for a class registration form. The document provides instructions on where to mail it.

Once a purchase has been made, tickets are not refundable and registration cannot be transferred to a different class or event. No exceptions will be made. If you purchase a ticket and then find you cannot attend, someone else can attend in your stead. Simply contact us at or 512-499-8914 and let us know so that we can update the class roster.



Our classes offer a combination of lecture and practical exercises, determined by the individual instructor, on focused aspects of the craft and business of writing. Your fellow participants will come from a range of writing experience, from beginners to people with MFA degrees and published books. WLT instructors, participants, and administrators all work together to create a welcoming, supportive environment.

If you haven't taken a class with us in recent years, feel free to give us a call at 512-499-8914 if you'd like to discuss whether our programming is the right fit for your needs.


This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. Visit Austin at


Writers' League of Texas classes and workshops are also funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts - Investing in a Creative Texas. For more information, go to


This project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit