Online | Fiction | Seminar

4-Week Online Fiction Seminar: Characterization

What is characterization? How does it work?

In this four-week course for writers with all levels of experience, we will learn how to make people with words. We will read short stories by Elizabeth Strout, Yaa Gyasi, Elizabeth McCracken, and Kazuo Ishiguro, exploring each author’s distinctive approach to characterization. Through our reading and writing, we’ll also address more specific questions: when should we introduce our characters, and what exactly should we reveal about them? How well should our characters understand their own quirks and motives? And how does characterization affect plot, theme, and narrative structure?

In addition to a weekly reading assignment, students will complete three short writing exercises. In the fourth week, students will submit a completed short story or novel excerpt. I will provide written feedback on everything. Though this seminar won’t take the form of a traditional workshop, students will have the opportunity to comment on each other’s work. During class, we will discuss the assigned reading, prepare for upcoming writing assignments, and respond to prompts that will help us integrate our discussion into our work.

Writers will leave this class with a heightened understanding of how to write characters who feel vibrant, specific, and real. Writers will gain experience incorporating specific writing methods and strategies into their fiction. And writers will have the chance to discuss a diverse collection of short stories in a supportive, relaxed environment.

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.


- Receive written feedback from instructor on three exercises and one story or novel excerpt

- Learn to write characters who feel vibrant, specific, and real

- Participate in supportive discussion with instructor and peers

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students should expect to complete less than an hour of reading each week and be prepared to write three short exercises (under 1,000 words) over the course of the class. Students will also turn in one short story or novel excerpt (up to 3,000 words) at the end of the course and provide feedback on their peers’ submission.


Week 1: Elizabeth Strout; in-class characterization exercise

Week 2: Elizabeth McCracken; in-class characterization exercise

Week 3: Yaa Gyasi; in-class characterization exercise

Week 4: Kazuo Ishiguro; in-class characterization exercise; Q&A with instructor about writing, publishing, finding an agent, working with editors, etc 

Emily Adrian

Emily Adrian is the author of Everything Here Is Under Control and The Second Season, as well as two critically acclaimed novels for young adults. Her work has appeared in Joyland, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Granta. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Emily currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut with her family.


"She writes as engagingly and insightfully about basketball and broadcasting as she does about work, love, friendship, ambition, motherhood, aging, and the power and frailty of the body."

Chris Bachelder author of THE THROWBACK SPECIAL

"I'm a goner; I will read anything she writes.''

Rufi Thorpe author of THE KNOCKOUT QUEEN

"Filled with compelling characters…Full of texture and authentic human ambivalence.”

The New York Times Book Review

"Emily can take any piece of writing from good to great with her ability to hone in on the heart of the story and her deep understanding of what makes a novel engaging and believable."

Kerry Winfrey author of WAITING FOR TOM HANKS

"Emily is a careful reader and a skilled editor. She has been invaluable in turning my writing into the best possible version of itself."

Former Editing Client