How to Write Compelling Fiction II

Expand your skill crafting fiction while building dramatic tension that compels your writing forward. You won't just construct characters, you'll work to inspire empathy. You'll do more than complicate conflict, you'll force your characters to face dilemmas. And you'll structure suspenseful plots designed to provoke lasting character change. Apply these techniques directly to a work-in-progress or new work (short story or novel). Option 1 writers receive instructor feedback on four submissions of up to 2000 words; Option 2 offers feedback on six 2000 word submissions (complete stories or pages from a longer work).

At a glance

What: How to Write Compelling Fiction II

When: Start anytime, complete within 1 year

Where: Online

Cost: Option 1: 3.0 CEUs, $200 | Option 2: 5.0 CEUs, $300

Instructor: Angela Rydell

Register Online
or register by phone at
608-262-2451
Register anytime

For additional information, contact Angela Rydell: 608-262-3982


In this workshop, you will receive feedback on 8,000-12,000 words while taking your fiction to the next level. Through a series of exercises and thoughtful scrutiny of examples, you’ll find solutions to challenges that arise in developing characters, constructing conflict, and writing complete plot arcs, whether you’re writing short fiction or novels. Over four units, develop techniques to help sustain your writing practice for years to come.

Who this course is for

This course picks up where “How to Write Compelling Fiction” leaves off, but it’s also for intermediate to advanced writers looking to draft novels or short stories while strengthening craft, prospective MFA candidates who want to tighten up their fiction and produce stronger application portfolios, and students ready to take the next step after completing beginning level online classes.

Prerequisites: One or more of the following: How to Write Compelling Fiction I; Take Your Characters to Dinner; From Notebook to New Work; Fiction in a Flash; Deepening Fiction; Writing the Short Story; permission of the instructor.

Course syllabus

Unit 1. Constructing characters: Empathy and vulnerably.
Characters can make or break your story. How do you invent people on the page so complicated, willful, eccentric, and flawed they seem more human than the real deal? By becoming intimately familiar with your main character, inside and out. Topics: empathy versus sympathy; fatal flaw; supercharged desire; redeeming qualities; ghost and backstory.

Unit 2. Escalating conflict: Dilemma and obstacles.
Strong plots tackle conflict head on. They thrive on detours and complications. The situations your characters are up against must force hard choices. And the harder the choices, the greater the conflict, the better the payoff for the character — and your story. Topics: dilemma, escalating and reinforcing conflict; inner versus outer obstacles; foreshadowing; setup/payoff.

Unit 3. Complicating plot: Friends, foes, and foils.
Characters, like ourselves, don’t find it easy to take difficult paths. That’s why good plots strategically deploy antagonists, the external environment, family, and friends, and use them as obstacles designed to spur characters into action. Shrewd character complications can provide just the right pressure to provoke character change – and make your story matter more. Topics: mentors and allies; developing antagonists; character reveals; subplot characters.

Unit 4. Building structure: Plans and turning points.
How do you convey ideas that matter to you and your readers without creating characters who sound like mouthpieces, or plots that scream “predictable”? The deepest revelations come to light when conflicted characters face a series of turning points that build from inciting incident to climax. And not just any turn will do. By crafting decision points in which your protagonist abandons the familiar and moves on into the unknown, you raise stakes and heighten tension all the way to the bittersweet end. Topics: inciting incident; points of no return; midpoint; climax; resolution; major turning point outline.