Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Fiction Workshop: How to Break Hearts

“You need to be open to not knowing where you are going during the long, mysterious process of creation.” —Rebecca Brown

In this online course, open to writers with some workshop experience, we’ll explore a variety of writing methods and approaches to create your most heartbreaking works of fiction. You will learn how to draw the reader in and make them fall in love with your characters and what tangible things you can do to make your story turn on a necessary dime. Together, we will make your fiction a living, breathing thing, expanding our understanding of where narrative may go, and what rules we can break to unlock the truth of things.

Students will read and discuss recent compelling contemporary prose, such as Lorrie Moore, Jesse Ball, Mary Robison, Renee Gladman, and Katherine Faw, and we will write original work sparked by these readings and discussions.

Class meetings will begin in a craft talk lecture, highlighting suggested reading and suggested viewing of movie and TV scenes, before moving into group discussion/workshop of student work. Students are expected to come to class fully prepared, having done both the assigned reading of both their peer’s work and what the instructor provides. Suggested viewing of movies and TV scenes are always optional, but recommended. Classes earlier in the curriculum will be based more on craft and method, and classes later on, after more work has been produced, will be more focused on how we can hone in, cut down, and use the tools we learned to polish our prose for perfect impact.

Students will learn how to mine their traumatic real life experiences for their fiction using a variety of writing prompts and methods of approach. We will look at and examine the tension between what the reader knows versus what the characters know versus what you, the writer, knows. Students can expect very generative writing exercises, learning how to break down a scene, and the opportunity to be workshopped twice. You will come away from this workshop with a stronger sense of character and narrative, designed to your vision.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.


- Intensive and thorough instructor feedback on two fiction submissions, or one longer project started in class, with a chance to be workshopped by peers as well

- An introduction into the world of independent literature, small press, and contemporary fiction, including suggested transgressive fiction, especially what is the new "weird"

- One-on-one private conference w/ the instructor (on the phone or via Google Hangouts) to talk more in depth about the piece made within class, writing goals, and best practice and approaches for next steps

- Better strategies on how to build a whole narrative and how to nail a scene

- A wealth of new suggestions of authors, schools of thought, and films to explore after class has concluded

- Stimulating prompts

- Tips for better organizing and finding structure to write longer dream projects


Week 1: Introductions, scheduling, class policies; First Craft Lecture (Self-Help by Lorrie Moore and the 2nd Person POV); writing assignment (trauma & Lorrie Moore)

Week 2: Second Craft Lecture (Jesse Ball & the Art of Walking); discussion on the 2nd POV; workshop #1. Writing assignment #2

Week 3: Third Craft Talk (Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, Renee Gladman, & Cadence Transcendence); workshop #2. Writing assignment #3

Week 4: Fourth Craft Talk (Katherine Faw, Devastation, Drive (2011), Chelsea Hodson); workshop #3

Week 5: Fifth Craft Talk (4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days & How to Destroy The Reader); Everything is Everything; workshop #4

Week 6: Readings; Final discussion and next steps

Richard Chiem

Richard Chiem is the author of You Private Person (Sorry House Classics, 2017), and the novel, King of Joy (Soft Skull, 2019), which was long listed for the 2020 PEN Open Book Award. He was named a 2019 Writer to Watch by the Los Angeles Times. He has taught at Hugo House and Catapult. He lives in Seattle.


“Richard Chiem writes of all the weirdness and ooziness and tenderness of young love, with such lucid specificity. Like some beautiful film from the 70s, but also distinctly now. Because I also love how in this book he documents the tremors of contemporary existence, of living and working in a city, measuring days not in coffee spoons but in cigarettes and Simpsons episodes.”

Kate Zambreno

“Considering how much I love Richard Chiem's writing, and given how its uncanny snare and sweep of life's especially agile, prompt, messed, lithe, sharp, and heartbreaking things leaves me stiffed of summarizing words, I think I'll just nominate his work for immortality.”

Dennis Cooper

“Richard Chiem's YOU PRIVATE PERSON is a bustling prism of a thing, full of passages that actually lead somewhere off of the paper. His words have brains that have bodies that wake you up in the way waking can be the best thing, like into a warm room full of good calm remembered things that feel both like relics and new inside the day. Here rings a wise and bravely sculpted book packed full of stunning thankful color.”

Blake Butler