Fiction | Master Class

1-Day Fiction Master Class: The Three Layers of Character

In his book How Fiction Works, critic James Wood describes the modern character in fiction as having three layers: conscious motive, unconscious motive, and the deepest, most ephemeral, motive... to be known. 

This one-day master class will jump off from this thesis and, through a series of collaborative writing exercises, help students develop original, three-layered characters to use in their fiction. We'll look at short texts by Sherwood Anderson, Flannery O'Connor, and Virginia Woolf that will help us get to the bottom of great, complex character development.


- Develop a more nuanced understanding of the three layers of character

- Create an original, layered character through a series of useful writing exercises that can be easily repeated at home

- Produce several written sketches that can be used in a later story or novel

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes

Kristopher Jansma

Kristopher Jansma is the author of the novel Why We Came to the City and the winner of the 2014 Sherwood Anderson Award for Fiction. His first novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, received an Honorable Mention for the 2014 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has written for The New York Times, Salon, Story, ZYZZVA, Slice, The Believer, and Real Simple Magazine. He is an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz College and a graduate instructor at Sarah Lawrence College. Find more at


“A tremendous accomplishment: an elegant and deeply moving meditation on friendship and mortality, both fearless and finely wrought. I believe this book will stay with me for a very long time.”

Emily St. John Mandel author of STATION ELEVEN

“Stunning . . . A beautiful, sprawling, and generous book. Jansma is a brilliantly talented writer, but he also has a unique insight into what friends mean to one another, and what it means to be part of a city in which you never quite belong, but can’t quite bring yourself to leave. It’s a heartfelt novel, tender and painful and cathartic all at once, and even if the characters belong to New York, the story belongs to us all.”


“Jansma’s novel is a love letter to Manhattan, the letter so many of us who moved here in our 20s have written. . . . Like the rest of us, his characters learn that things don’t always work out the way we plan, but if we stick with our city, our city delivers.”


"Like A LITTLE LIFE and THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHAN P., Jansma's WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY shows us, with beauty and insight, what it's like to be young and smart in this time, and in this place. It's a major achievement."

Darin Strauss author of HALF A LIFE

“Why did we come to the city, anyway? And why on earth would we ever leave? In Jansma's able hands, these are and are not metaphors. We came because we are more ourselves as part of a collective. We came to learn our limits. We came so that we might know when to leave. This is a lively, addictive party of a book, and you're invited."

Elisa Albert author of AFTER BIRTH

"During my semester with Kristopher Jansma, I always felt comfortable sharing my work with the class; Kristopher’s own feedback on my writing was always detailed and astute, and class discussions were lively, focused, and amicable. He managed to guide discussions without imposing his own views, always making sure every side in a debate was heard. Kristopher has seemingly infinite reserves of energy and focus. I look to him as a model of the kind of teacher I’d like to be someday."

former student

"Kristopher is an empathetic reader with a sharp eye. He goes beyond simple comments and line edits by digging to the heart of what motivates your work. I could not have gotten through a very personal writing project without that openness and encouragement."

former student

"Kristopher's teaching style is encouraging and enthusiastic, he's the sort of teacher who makes you work hard without it feeling hard. The lessons I learned in his classes have stuck with me for years, and continue to affect how I read, write and think about the world. He is passionate about his subject, and this genuine enthusiasm becomes contagious in his classes. He inspires you to read, write and even think in new and different ways."

former student