Writing Character-Driven Short Stories

Yiyun Li, Writer

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8 Videos (47m)
    • Introduction

    • Your Assignment: Write a Short Story

    • What Is a Short Story?

    • Developing Characters

    • Transforming Situations into Stories

    • Writing Your Story

    • Revising and Workshopping

    • Final Thoughts: Publishing and Inspiration


About This Class

How do you write a great short story? In this 45-minute class, Yiyun Li walks us through prompts, strategies, and advice for writing compelling characters, turning situations into stories, and revising work into a polished piece.

Li is a professor at UC Davis, a MacArthur Fellow, and has been named a "20 Under 40" writer by The New Yorker. In addition to the class video lessons, Li shares her 4 favorite short stories, and every student will write their own 3-5 page short story inspired by an online comment, review, or obituary. (She provides a few favorites, or you can choose your own.)

Beginning writers can take this class to get started writing fiction, and experienced writers can take this class to try out new writing styles and get feedback on their work. It's perfect for writers, bloggers, literature lovers, and everyone who loves a compelling story.

130 of 133 students recommendSee All

very insteresting! And a pleasure to hear her!
Short, but sweet. This course will certainly give you food for thought. Without good characters, what have you got in your short story? Useful topic + Good teacher = recipe for success.
Really helped me to think more about the characters, and how they might think and act. Great course





Yiyun Li


Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. She has received fellowships and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction.

Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction, and was shortlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, her second collection, was a finalist of Story Prize and shortlisted for Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. The MacArthur Foundation named her a 2010 fellow. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space.

She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.


  • "Kinder Than Solitude", March 2014
  • "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl", September 2010
  • "The Vagrants", February 2009
  • "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers", September 2005