Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Fiction Workshop: 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 workshop, students will learn key concepts in characterization, such as motives, desires, secrets, breaking points and transformations. We’ll also learn to use voice, structure and pacing in fiction to create larger than (real) life characters. We will engage in close readings of literary fiction by writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Carmen Maria Machado, Yiyun Li, and Charles Yu and discuss how to apply craft techniques found in their works to our own writing. We will learn to channel social taboos into fiction as an effective force of resistance and examine and reevaluate the systems of permissions programmed into our psyche in and through our writing.

Class discussions will weave crafts talks from recommended readings among discussions of workshop submissions. Each student will submit a draft of a short story, or an excerpt from a novel, and each will also give and receive close readings, encouragement, and constructive feedback on their peers’ submitted works. Students will work on developing their narrative and applying characterization techniques throughout the course, and writers will leave the class with a polished draft as well as a set of writing goals and tools for their future projects. Each session will be accompanied by a number of readings and small writing prompts to further enhance student learning.

This class is open to writers of all levels but best for students with some previous workshop experience.

*No class April 26th

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.  


- Peer and instructor feedback on a draft and full revision of one story or novel excerpt

- Learn to apply craft techniques to create a stronger character, structure and voice

- One on One conference with the instructor on submitted story or chapter

- A set of tools with which to examine and critique literary fiction and apply revision techniques to your own work

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will be expected to complete weekly readings of published stories and writing exercises. Each student will submit one 20-page story or excerpt (double space, 12 pt times font, 1” margin all around) for peer and instructor feedback, and students will be expected to provide written feedback on peer workshop submissions each week.


1- Introduction, Staging of Desires, Workshop Expectations

2- Secrets and Taboos, Workshop 1

3- The Older Woman in Sex and Power, Workshop 2

4- Myths and Legends, Workshop 3

5- Literary Devices, Workshop 4

6- Alternatives and Genres, Workshop 5, and Q&A

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