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8-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Writing Emotion

It’s been said that good art’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, which raises interesting questions about the emotional power of narrative. How can we craft fiction that feels genuinely moving to readers, rather than sentimental or exploitative? How do we channel emotion from our own lives into writing, and how do we imagine the experiences of others in convincing ways? Emotional engagement with characters and situations is often what keeps us reading. Yet the question of how to get emotion on the page is often not directly addressed in craft workshops. In this one, we’ll put our hearts and our heads together to reflect on how language and form makes us feel.

We’ll look at a range of short fiction that aims to strike readers in various affective registers— from the sharp and spare, to the lush and lyrical, to the strange and haunting. We’ll discuss how psychological complexity, imagery, dialogue, and rhythm contribute to emotional resonance. Craft exercises and workshops will be flexibly structured to fit your needs and interests at this moment. You can work on developing fiction already in progress in order to amp up its emotional power, or you can focus on generating new, passion-driven prose. Whether you hope people will cry or laugh or scream or get a quiet burst of delight from your words, we’ll serve as sympathetic readers and sounding boards for writing you care about.

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.


- Insight into the craft of creating emotionally engaging fiction

- Generative prompts from our readings to help spark emotionally-driven writing

- Detailed feedback on two stories or novel excerpts

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will read two stories for every weekly session and complete a related exercise they can choose to share with the class. Twice during the course, each student will submit a story or novel excerpt for workshop of up to 20 double-spaced pages. They should expect to provide extensive comments on all of their classmates' workshop submissions.


Week 1: Introductions and Flash Fiction

Week 2: The Straightforward Emotionally-Driven Narrative

Week 3: Lyrical Narratives

Week 4: Write it Colder: The Power of Spareness

Week 5: Rants and Dark Fairytales

Week 6: Character Complexity

Week 7: Imagery and Precision

Week 8: Resisting the Emotional Narrative / Writing about Writing Emotion

Polly Rosenwaike

Polly Rosenwaike’s story collection, Look How Happy I’m Making You, was published by Doubleday, and was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Short Story Collections of 2019” and Amazon’s “Best Books of 2019 for Literature and Fiction.” Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, Glimmer Train, New York Magazine’s The Cut, the New York Times Book Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Millions, and Lit Hub. Currently the Fiction Editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, she lives in Ann Arbor.