Online | Fiction | Seminar

4-Week Online Fiction Seminar: Secrets & Taboos in Characterization

In literary fiction, stories are driven by characters’ motives and desires. So a good understanding of techniques in characterization is central to the development of a good story.

In this seminar, students will learn key concepts in characterization, such as motives, desires, secrets, taboos. We’ll also discuss how life differs and overlaps with fiction and how fictional characters both extrapolate and enlarge their real life models. We will read works by writers including Rachel Heng, Venita Blackburn, and Jhumpa Lahiri. to both analyze the characters in these works as well as apply these learning to students' own writing projects.

This class is open to writers of all levels but best for students with some previous workshop experience. Writers will leave the class with techniques that help fully develop characters, round out their characters dimensions and allow students to deepen their overall writing.

Each session will be accompanied by a number of reading and writing assignments and opportunities for sharing and verbal feedback. Each student will have the chance to share their writing with the class and receive verbal critiques from the instructor.

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.


- Learn key elements of characterization in fiction.

- Learn to use secrets and taboos to propel character arcs.

- Develop confidence in building complex and nuanced characters in fiction writing.

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will read one short story per week and will complete a short writing exercise in class. If desired, students will have the option to read additional material recommended during class and extend their writing exercises after each live session. As part of the course, students will have an opportunity to submit a longer piece (<10 pages) for written feedback from the instructor .


1. Character Desire and Staging. Learn how to develop the stage on which characters reveal core motive and desire. "You Know You Want It Ice Cold," Rachel Heng

2. Secrets and Taboos. Examine the use of routines and secrets to both restrain and propel characters forward. "A Temporary Matter," Jhumpa Lihiri

3. Breaking Points. Discuss the forces that push characters toward a breaking point and how they might resist that force. "Easter Egg Surprise," Venita Blackburn

4. Characterization in Genres. Study how literary genre fiction facilitates characterization with the use of myths, magic and other supernatural forces. "Bump," Morgan Thomas

Pingmei Lan

Pingmei Lan holds an MFA in creative writing. Her work has appeared in The Florida Review, Blackbird, Epiphany, Tahoma Literary Review and others. She is a winner of the 2019 PEN/DAU Best Debut Short Stories prize, a finalist in the Atlanta Review's 2019 International Poetry Competition and a 2021 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.


“Lan captures how women who subvert their prescribed roels become in local rumor creaturely, mythological. I read it and was stunned by the wake it left."

Tracy O'Neill author of THE HOPEFUL

"Flash typically doesn’t leave much room for flashbacks and flash forwards, but this example shows how to masterfully use the techniques."

April Bradley editor of SMOKELONG QUARTERLY

"Pingmei Lan ties sexual assault and forced assimilation to a Sweet-n-Low packet and Peking duck in this piece of flash. The alienation of place is so well done here."


"She gives very generous feedback to other writers and her comments are humorous and helpful."

former writing teacher

"Her class unlocked something deep in my memory or subconscious and I wrote a scene that I didn't think I could write. "

former writing student

"Her (critique) notes are very impressive. I shared them with my writing group as well and they were equally impressed. "

former writing student/editing client