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Summer Writing Retreat 2023: “Writing the Page-Turner: Building Suspense in Any Genre of Fiction” with Chaitali Sen

July 11, 2023 - August 1, 2023

$269.00 – $389.00


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Level 1 (Class Only): $269 for Members, $329 for Non-Members

Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $329 for Members, $389 for Non-Members*

*WLT Members have an exclusive window to register for the 20 seats available in the Level 2 registration. After May 22, non-members will be able to register for Level 2 if seats remain. To access the member price, please be sure to log in to your account.  

This July, join us for our virtual 2023 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir, fiction, and revision plus lots of special events throughout the month, including Saturday Craft Seminars (July 8 and July 29), meet-ups, and dedicated writing time. Want to know more? Watch our 2023 Summer Writing Retreat Informational Session on YouTube here.

Each class will meet weekly for four weeks, starting the week of July 10, ending the week of July 31. Our fiction class with Chaitali Sen will meet every Tuesday (July 11, 18, 25, August 1) from 6:30 PM CDT to 9:30 PM CDT via Zoom. A recording of each class session will be shared with all class registrants the day after – so you won’t miss anything even if you need to skip a session. Class details are below.

Registration for this class will close at 5:00 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 11.

Every work of fiction requires some level of suspense – a feeling of excitement, anticipation, or uncertainty about what might come next that makes the reader want to turn the page.

Whether we write character-driven stories or fast-paced thrillers or something in between, we want to grip the reader with unanswered questions about what might be gained or lost, with an appropriate dose of wildness and unpredictability. How do writers in various genres achieve this?

Over the course of the four class sessions, we will study and practice narrative strategies to build suspense in our own writing. We will discuss the foundations of story that allow for suspense; examine and experiment with ways to release and withhold information and raise the stakes; and apply various techniques to our own projects.

About each session: 

Week 1 (July 11): Character: The most basic level of suspense is wanting to know what will happen to characters and where they’ll end up, so the first order of business is creating characters your readers will want to follow. Characters are the main drivers of plot. They have strengths and vulnerabilities that influence their choices, actions, and relationships. Is your main character ready to escape, mess up, cross boundaries, fight villains, face their own demons, or reach foolishly for their heart’s desire? Are your secondary characters making things difficult or helping out? In this first session, we’ll get into character development that telescopes potential for suspense.

Week 2 (July 18): Story: Your character needs a story-worthy problem, something thorny enough to require a resolution. This doesn’t mean the stakes have to be death and destruction. What does the character risk losing, and why does it matter? An impulsive girl always getting into trouble creates suspense in a children’s book, but how? In this second session, we’ll look at how problems shape plots and offer potential for suspense. How do we maximize this potential with problems that are both “high stakes” and appropriate for different genres?

Week 3 (July 25): Staging: Inspired by the chapter “The Art of Staging” in Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext, this session will concentrate on scene. Scenes are the building blocks of fiction, and they need to be staged so that characters can act – so they can talk, move, escape, entrap, argue, or whatever it is they need to do to move the story forward. What kinds of details, props, choreography, and dialogue make the reader want to see what comes next? How do we set the stage for scenes that propel the plot toward its resolution, that create dramatic tension, and deepen our questions about characters?

Week 4 (August 1): Narrative Voice: Suspense can arise from how the story is told, and a good storyteller can make even a mundane story sound exciting. In this final session, we’ll look at narrative voice. Who is speaking or narrating; how, when, and from whose point-of-view are they releasing information? Down to the order and structure of sentences, this class will get into the stylistic techniques for building suspense.

Take this class if…:

…you are interested in writing compelling fiction in any genre. This is for all levels of writers, whether you’re just learning about the elements of fiction or have written many stories or novels. Every new project has to teach the writer how to write THAT story. If you are well into a full draft, or just starting a new story, this class will deepen your understanding of how fiction works.

Preparation for the first day of class: 

Throughout the four weeks, the instructor will provide some instructive examples to study and discuss. No specific preparation for the first class is required, but the instructor does encourage everyone to start building their own library of “mentor texts,” books or stories that were page-turners that can be returned to for guidance and inspiration.

Registration details: 

Choose your registration level:

Level 1 (Class Only): $269 for Members, $329 for Non-Members


Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $329 for Members, $389 for Non-Members

The difference: Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation) registrations include one 20-minute meeting with Chaitali Sen sometime during the month (via Zoom). If you’d like, you can also share 10 pages of your work for feedback ahead of the meeting.

You may register online, or download the mail-in registration form here.


Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky and the story collection A New Race of Men from Heaven, chosen by Danielle Evans as the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and one of Kirkus Reviews' 100 Best Fiction Books of 2023. Her stories and essays have been published by American Short Fiction, Boulevard, Catapult, Colorado Review, Ecotone, and many other publications. She holds an MFA from Hunter College - City University of New York, and currently lives in Central Texas.

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

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. If you prefer this option, please email wlt@writersleague.org with a copy of the form as well to ensure we add you to the class roster as soon as possible.

Expecting to see the member price, but it’s not appearing?

Confirm you are logged into your account first and foremost. The member price will only appear when you are logged into your account and have an active membership on file. If you are having trouble accessing your account, please email member@writersleague.org and explain the situation.

Class & Event Registration Policy

Once a purchase has been made, registrations are not refundable and cannot be transferred to a different class or event. No exceptions will be made. If you purchase a registration and then find you cannot attend the class or event, someone else can attend in your stead. Simply contact us at wlt@writersleague.org and let us know the name and contact information for the person who will be using the registration so that we can update the class or event roster.

Accessibility Policy

Closed captioning is available for all online classes and special events.

The WLT is committed to making its programs & services accessible to all writers. Please contact us at wlt@writersleague.org or at 512-499-8914 for more information or to discuss accommodations you may need.

Credit Card Transaction Handling Fee Policy

All credit card transactions will incur a 4% handling fee. If you’d prefer to pay by check for membership, a class, or an event, you can use the provided forms on the membership or event pages and mail to: WLT, P.O. Box 14355, Austin, TX, 78704.


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 email the WLT staff at wlt@writersleague.org if you’d like to discuss whether our programming is the right fit for your needs.


Once you register for the class, you’ll receive an email with detailed instructions no later than 48 hours before the class date. You should expect 2-2.5 hours of direct teaching and 30 minutes of Q&A (for three hours total). If you need to leave the class early or can’t attend the class on that date, all registrants will have access to the recording for one month after the class date. No microphone or camera required, just an Internet connection capable of streaming video. All online classes are hosted on Zoom. To learn more about how Zoom works, click HERE. 

Plan to log in to the online platform an hour before the class so that you can update your software or any other settings required to access the platform. (Updates usually only take a few minutes, but you don’t want to wait until the beginning of class.) Questions? Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

Cultural Arts City of Austin

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

Texas Commission on the Arts

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 www.arts.texas.gov.

National Endowment for the Arts

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 www.arts.gov.

Mid-America Arts Alliance

This project is supported in part by the Mid-America Arts Alliance. For more information, go to www.maaa.org.


July 11, 2023
August 1, 2023
$269.00 – $389.00
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Online via Zoom