Writing Character-Driven Short Stories

Yiyun Li, Writer

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8 Lessons (47m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Assignment: Write a Short Story

    • 3. What Is a Short Story?

    • 4. Developing Characters

    • 5. Transforming Situations into Stories

    • 6. Writing Your Story

    • 7. Revising and Workshopping

    • 8. Final Thoughts: Publishing and Inspiration

167 students are watching this class

Project Description

Write a short story inspired by an online comment or review.


You'll write a 3-5 page short story. Remember that fiction is about real people — not puppets performing plots. A great story is a teased reveal of a character's internal landscape, not a dramatic retelling of an event. Creative writers must write characters first!

At least 1 character should be inspired by an online comment or review. This will help you create a truly fictional character that is a bit mysterious to you. Working to figure him or her out will lead you to a richer understanding of that person and their world. Use one of the prompts below, or pick your own.

Along the way, consider writing an online dating profile to help flesh out your understanding of your character(s). Use your insights to develop your story's situation.

I can't wait to read your stories.


Upload a 3-5 page fictional short story to the class Project Gallery. Include:

  • inspiration: comment, review, or obituary
  • pre-writing: online dating profile
  • short story: drafts and final



Develop your first character with one of these prompts, or find your own:

  • #1 Yelp Comment for a Dog Groomer

First, I have to preface this by letting you know up front that my dog is an asshole. Not to me, of course. To me, he is sweet as pie and a tiny, fluffy cuddle bug. To everyone else, however, he is an asshole.

That did not deter the wonderful staff at ___, who took him in and got him prettier than he's ever been before in his little tiny life, despite the fact that he was a total asshole throughout the entire process.

Want to give particular kudos to whoever trimmed up his "area." He got what we have since described as the "doggie Brazilian," and it did the trick beautifully.

  • #2 Obituary Excerpt

Jane Doe was only 42 when the stroke hit. From the hospital, the doctors warned us she might not make it through the night. They would just have to try their best to stop the bleed in her brain. Turns out, God had already tended to that. In surgery they discovered the aneurism had dried itself up.
That was some 21 years ago….

  • #3 NYTimes Online Comment

I wonder how many members of the United States Congress or The New York Times Editorial Board know what the cosine of pi over two is?



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