Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Building & Sustaining Emotional Suspense

In this six-week online workshop for writers of intermediate experience, we will be looking at a variety of approaches to engage readers' emotions and sustain emotional suspense in fiction.

Emotion is what puts the motion in fiction. It is what propels a literary voice and keeps the reader invested in your characters. But it’s not just feeling that will sustain a narrative, but emotional drive. How do we approach and create this in our own work? In this online course we’ll explore various writing approaches and exercises that center building and sustaining suspense.

Readings and discussions of relevant recent works of contemporary prose will deepen your understanding of narrative technique, voice and methods of integrating emotion into your writing. Discussions will use a different emotional register every week (e.g. bittersweet joy, grief, anger) as a centering springboard to analyze the assigned readings and lead us into relevant writing exercises. This course syllabus features short stories by writers such as Rachel Khong, Kevin Barry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Miranda July and Alexia Arthurs.

Class meetings will start off with a craft talk and group analysis of the week’s reading before moving into group discussion/workshop of a student’s work. Students are expected to come to class fully prepared, having done both the assigned reading of both their peer’s work and reading material provided. By the end of this course, writers will leave with two workshopped submissions and a productive and individualised sense of how to generate and sustain feeling and emotional suspense in their own work.

This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.


- Specific techniques to elicit and sustain emotion in fiction

- Detailed instructor and peer feedback on two fiction submissions (either short stories or novel chapters)

- Craft lessons with relevant readings and prompts/exercises tailored to the weekly topic and the feel of the group

- Critical analysis of contemporary works of fiction that effectively employ emotional suspense.

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


Week 1: Introductions, class policies, overview. What is emotional suspense? “White hot centres”. “Spooky art”. “Big magic”.

Week 2: Anger. Types of anger. What’s generative. Writing anger/writing past anger/ writing through anger/ anger as catalyst.

Week 3: Joy and humour. Bittersweet joy. Joyful sadness. Humour and joy. “The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.” - Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Week 4: Grief. “Grief is the thing with feathers”. Sadness as catharsis. Types of sadness. Mourning and melancholia, oblique and overt. Grief and hope.

Week 5: Love. The big one. “All stories are love stories.” - Robert McLiam Wilson, Eureka Street

Fighting cliché. How have writers done it? Complex love. Rotten love. Fresh or first love. Endings and beginnings. Hatred as the flipside of love; the continuum of emotions.

Week 6: Final discussions and next steps. On revision, editing, summing up. 

Sharlene Teo

Sharlene Teo was born in Singapore and lives in London. She was awarded the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship to complete a Master's in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she won the David T.K Wong Creative Writing Award. She is a 2014 Sozopol Fiction Fellow, a 2017 University of Iowa International Writing Fellow and was shortlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize and the 2018 Hearst Big Book Award. Her debut novel Ponti won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award and was chosen by Ali Smith as one of the best debut works of fiction published in 2018.


"Sharlene is a keenly observant and sensitive editor whose feedback has been both extremely useful and encouraging for my manuscript preparation."

writing group member

"Sharlene is a tremendously engaging and dedicated workshop tutor who offers incisive and relevant reading recommendations and sharp editorial insights."

former student

"A triumph: a nuanced examination of betrayal and grief, memory and the corrupting effects of beauty."


"Wonderfully bizarre and at times risky with its narrative choices, Ponti pays off with a satisfying kind of hungry glory."


This haunting debut hopscotches between decades and cultures, eschewing the usual moves of the coming-of-age story for something truer to the desperate, surreal stakes of adolescence. Sharlene Teo is a daring and genuinely original novelist.

Garth Greenwell author of WHAT BELONGS TO YOU

"Witty, moving and richly evocative, PONTI paints a portrait of a country and a people negotiating the throes of modernity. It also announces a major talent ― Sharlene Teo has produced not just a singular debut, but a milestone in South East Asian literature. "

Tash Aw writer

"Too many first novels coast along on a fad-like buzz rather than the promise of a genuine upward trajectory, but everything about PONTI suggests it’s the rare, real deal and Teo’s a writer we’ll be reading for many years to come."


"Remarkable . . . With brilliant descriptive power and human warmth, Sharlene Teo summons the darker currents of modernity . . . her characters glow with life and humour and minutely observed desperation."

Ian McEwan author of ATONEMENT