Online | Nonfiction | Workshop

8-week Online Nonfiction Workshop: Creating Complex Characters

The job of a writer is not just to create interesting, compelling, and unique characters, but to weave those characters into the prose in a way that engages readers and connects them to a larger story. In this class, open writers of all experience levels, you’ll learn how to create fully fleshed-out, dynamic characters, but also how to reveal them—and all of their specific nuances—in a way that captures the reader’s attention, creates tension, and propels the plot. We'll also dive into self characterization and the writer's relationship to the narrator on the page.

We sometimes use “complex” synonymously with “complicated.” But what complex really means is “made up of many working parts.” Complex characters are those who have more than one facet. This class is for those writers looking to balance their narratives with strong characters that are alive on the page. We'll take flat, underdeveloped characters and turn them into relatable, fleshed-out ones. Each student will have the opportunity to submit approximately 50 double-spaced pages to the workshop for verbal and written feedback from the instructor and the rest of the class.

Along the way, you'll also learn how to closely read and analyze a literary work, from taking in the big picture to zooming in on the sentence level, and deconstruct the typical lovable and unlovable character. Long before we learn to write, we learn to read. In this class, we'll take a deeper dive into what it means to "eat our models" and learn from published authors. Topics such as the use of dialogue, the creation of scene, attention to style, and how to craft structure from true events will be discussed. We'll look at Nick Flynn's The Ticking is the Bomb, Meghan Daum's Matricide, JoAnn Beard's The Fourth State of Matter, Chang Rae Lee's Magical Dinners, and at least one excerpt from Vivian Gornick. 

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.


- Separating the writer from the narrator

- Creating fleshed-out, complex characters that drive the plot

- A deeper understanding of the larger themes in your memoir/essays beyond your personal stories

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Students will be expected to read each other’s work, participate in discussions, complete short in-class writing exercises, as well as submit their own work on a deadline

- Each student will have the chance to workshop twice, and over the 8 weeks, we will read approximately 50 pages of each student's work. Writers should be prepared to give thorough feedback on each other’s work in the form of a typed letter of approximately one page. Line edits are not mandatory but encouraged.

- The instructor will also help the writer set a plan in place for the work ahead, as well as to answer more practical querying/publishing concerns.


Week 1: Introduction to Complex Characters

Week 2: Self characterization, and our relationship to our narrator

Week 3: Characters and Plot

Week 4: Capturing Complex Characters through exposition and compression

Week 5: Making unlovable characters lovable

Week 6: Writing around what you don’t know and incorporating research

Week 7: Limits of Creative Nonfiction (How creative can creative nonfiction be?)

Week 8: Looking at revisions

Anna Qu

Anna Qu is a Chinese American writer living in Brooklyn. She writes personal essays about identity and growing up in New York as an immigrant. Her work has appeared in the Threepenny Review, Lumina, Kartika, Kweli, Vol.1 Brooklyn, among others. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and her debut memoir, Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor, is forthcoming August 3rd, 2021.


"Anna masterfully evokes her childhood with a power and grace that speak of an experience that no one should ever have to endure. This moving and unforgettable memoir needs to be read by everyone."

Nicole Dennis-Benn author of PATSY

"Made in China is a sympathetic, brave portrayal of the confusions, difficulties, and hurts that come with growing up between worlds. Anna Qu's writing about her journey as an immigrant deftly shows how our origins—of economic status, of country—have lasting effects on the ways we approach family, work, and self. I was captivated and moved by her story."

Alexandra Chang author of DAYS OF DISTRACTION

"Made in China is an important story told with intelligence and heart, and a study of discipline as a form of devotion—devotion to a mother, to a legacy, to our own dreams and to those of others, to being good. So much of American rhetoric is about what we are owed. This graceful memoir is about the much trickier problem of what we deserve. Which is, in the end, brightest love."

Lacy Crawford author of NOTES ON A SILENCING

"Anna Qu has written a thoroughly engrossing and nuanced memoir about triumph over trauma and the meaning of home. Made in China brings the immigrant experience to life and makes you root for Anna. A must read."


“Anna was a wonderful teacher and I really enjoyed her class. She gave generous and thoughtful feedback on my writing and I appreciated the way she taught the elements of craft so that I could easily recognize and use them in the pieces I was reading and writing throughout the course. She also guided the class discussions with the utmost care and attention, creating a welcoming and fertile space for ideas. And thanks to her balanced approach, I had plenty of room to discover on my own while feeling supported by her expertise and insights. My class with Anna was exactly what I needed to reconnect with my love for writing and begin writing again after a long hiatus.”

Joohee Chung former student

“Anna provided an insightful and inviting workshop experience; one in which I was excited to sign up for another right away which I did. I found the lessons to be a great introduction to the craft. Most of all, I feel more excited and better equipped to go on and continue my writing.”

Charles Mansfield former student