Online | Fiction | Intensive

2-Day Fiction Intensive: Character Development

How do you create memorable, complex characters in your stories? During this weekend intensive, we will do a variety of exercises in which you will create your character through their internal worlds and their external presence.

We’ll discuss how to use sensory detail, dialogue, action, and interiority to create a character who will live on the page. We'll also dissect the ways in which published writers create great characters, and after class Saturday, students will develop a character with a one-page exercise and share it with the class the next day for verbal feedback.

By reading examples by published writers and exploring their own characters through generative exercises, students will leave class with fresh ideas for a character they are working on or a new character to continue after the class ends.

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Learn and practice craft techniques important to creating memorable characters

- Develop a character through in-class and take home exercises

- Receive verbal feedback and ideas for the character to continue development after the class.

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


The class will meet Saturday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET/8 a.m. - 2 p.m. PT and Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET/8 a.m. - 2 p.m. PT. (There will be a half hour break where students can have lunch and ask me questions about writing.)

Students should read the assigned stories before class and be prepared to write several generative exercises during class time. Students will work on a one-page, double-spaced character exercise to share with the class on Sunday and should be ready to offer helpful, verbal feedback in response to their peers’ work.


Saturday: Read and discuss the stories assigned, and write in 15 minute blocks, developing characters through a variety of techniques. Writers may share their work with the class, but are not required to.

Saturday night: write one-page character exercise at home.

Sunday: Bring one-page character exercises to class and share them via share screen. Students will discuss each character and ways to develop them in a story for about 20 minutes and there will be time for general questions at the end of class.

Karen E. Bender

Karen E. Bender is the author of two collections; Refund, which was a Finalist for the National Book Award, 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 Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, The Yale Review, The Harvard Review, Guernica, and others, and have won three Pushcart prizes. She has taught for many highly regarded MFA programs. Visit her at


“Karen E. Bender is one of those rare teachers who, despite her incredible success, makes you feel like you are the most important person in her world when she is working with to you. This presence and care inspires her students to create the best work of which they are capable. Her insights into how texts work are incredibly keen; she knows how to dig into a piece of writing and figure out exactly what the writer is up to. She opens up her heart and her mind to her students, molding them not only into better writers but into better humans, into more eloquent, effective, and empathetic versions of themselves.”

Ellen Louise Ray St. Albans Writer in Residence

“Karen is the ideal adviser for an MFA consultation. She is kind, honest, generous, and amazingly insightful. She truly cares about helping aspiring writers, and I could not have asked for a better experience. With her advice on my manuscript and personal statement, I was admitted to my two top choice programs.”

former consulting client

“Karen Bender was an essential guide during my formative writing years. She helped me push my short story characters further than I would have ever pushed them, and she even allowed me to workshop this story two times in class, so I was able to try out different techniques multiple times and see what stuck. A phenomenal writer, reader, and teacher.”

Garrard Conley author of BOY ERASED, Riverhead Books

"'Refund' meets the challenge of the short–story writer — to create a vivid, believable world in which compelling characters pull the reader up and over a taut narrative arc, all within the space of a few pages. Taken separately, each of the "Refund" stories is an impeccably constructed miniature, a ship in a bottle that makes the reader wonder how the author got all that detail, all that craft, into such a small container. Taken as a whole, the collection is a 13–stop journey into some richly imagined worlds."


“Closed spaces—elevators, offices, an airplane, classrooms—amplify the inner dramas of Bender’s watchful, anxious, feverishly expressive narrators in her second short story collection . . . In each of Bender’s emotionally intimate tales, perplexed and traumatized girls and women confront the opacity of the thoughts and feelings of others, even those closest to them . . . With literary virtuosity, psychological authenticity, and breath–catching insight, Bender dramatizes gripping personal dilemmas compounded by a new order of social tyranny.”


"In the very best of fiction, an intimate, spiritual communion momentarily transpires between reader and author. In the case of Bender's novel, these moments occur during these flawless passages of authentic longing and isolation. Like some of today's best contemporary realistic authors, Bender skillfully excavates and animates the human fragilities and missteps of life, transporting the reader deeper into the narrative and the interior lives of her characters. Taken together, "A Town of Empty Rooms" elicits both great pleasure and heartache."