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Review of “Writing Character-Driven Short Stories” by Yiyun Li on Skillshare

Have you ever wondered how to bring characters to life and turn everyday situations into extraordinary narratives? In this course, Yiyun Li shares her secret techniques for writing captivating short stories.

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"Writing Character-Driven Short Stories" by Yiyun Li on Skillshare: Our Verdict (2023)


4.3 / 5

"Writing Character-Driven Short Stories" by Yiyun Li on Skillshare takes you through the art of writing short stories, where the characters you create come to life and ordinary situations transform into extraordinary tales. For aspiring writers and experienced authors, learning from Yiyun Li is an opportunity to improve your storytelling skills and explore new writing styles.


  • Learning from an experienced writer
  • The course is well-structured and organized
  • Yiyun Li's teaching style is engaging and encouraging
  • The course inspires you to create your own short stories


  • The course is very short
  • It could benefit from more in-depth explanations


Discover the secrets of writing short stories and make your characters come alive with Yiyun Li, an acclaimed author and writing teacher. In her Skillshare course, “Writing Character-Driven Short Stories,” you’ll explore the art of storytelling and dive into the complexities of character development. Is this the creative course you’ve been searching for? Join me in this review as I explore Yiyun Li’s course.

Table of Contents

What is "Writing Character-Driven Short Stories" about?

Writing Character-Driven Short Stories” is a captivating 45-minute course on Skillshare, guided by author and professor Yiyun Li. Throughout the course, Yiyun Li shares her knowledge on writing character-driven short stories, focusing on character development and finding inspiration in everyday situations. The course seeks to help writers improve their storytelling skills, regardless of their experience level.

Who is Yiyun Li?

Author Yiyun Li.
Author Yiyun Li.

Yiyun Li is an author, editor, and writing instructor born in Beijing. She moved to the United States in 1996 and has received international recognition and awards. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages and have earned her the distinction of being named one of the “Top 20 writers under 40” by The New Yorker. Yiyun Li’s literary portfolio includes notable works such as “Kinder Than Solitude” and “The Vagrants.” She lives in Oakland and teaches at the University of California, Davis.

Who is this course's target audience?

This course is for writers from all levels and literature enthusiasts looking to improve their storytelling abilities. If you’re a beginner seeking to begin your fiction writing career or an experienced writer wanting to explore new styles, “Writing Character-Driven Short Stories” is the ideal course for you. Yiyun Li’s teaching approach makes this course suitable for everyone, from aspiring authors to literature aficionados.

What does the course cover?

  1. Introduction: Yiyun Li shares her background and the course’s objectives.
  2. Your Assignment: Write a Short Story: Yiyun Li encourages you to recognize yourself as a storyteller and gives you the assignment to create different characters for your short story.
  3. What Is a Short Story: The section explores various aspects of short storytelling and focuses on the importance of emotional investment in connecting with readers.
  4. Developing Characters: Yiyun Li delves into character development, discussing character backgrounds and the process, pros, and limitations of fictionalizing real life.
  5. Transforming Situations into Stories: This section focuses on creating stories from situations, covering the distinction between everyday and unique situations and the introduction of supporting characters.
  6. Writing Your Story: Yiyun Li offers advice for the writing process and encourages you to embrace messiness and avoid over-explaining.
  7. Revising and Workshopping: The section guides you on the revision process, covering fact-checking, dialogue, and being empathetic with your characters.
  8. Final Thoughts: Publishing and Inspiration: Yiyun Li helps you identify when a story is considered complete and offers advice on publishing, stressing how important community and collaboration are on a writer’s journey.

What I liked about the course

Highlighting the importance of reading as a prerequisite for effective writing
You need to read in order to write
  1. Plenty of resources and guidance to start writing your short story: I really liked Yiyun Li’s approach to teaching in this course. Right from the start, Yiyun Li shares essential techniques, prompts, and exercises that inspire you and help you improve your storytelling.
Compilation of Yiyun Li's favorite short stories
Some of Yiyun Li’s favorite short stories
  1. Literary recommendations and examples for a deeper understanding: The inclusion of Yiyun Li’s favorite short stories as part of the course materials allows you to not only learn from her but also experience the work of other remarkable authors, allowing you to better understand how short stories work.
Exploring the idea that there are multiple ways to narrate the same stories
There are many ways to tell the same stories
  1. Exploring different narrative perspectives: Yiyun Li demonstrates how a story can be told in multiple ways to achieve different effects. Through literary examples, you come to understand the versatility of storytelling and the power of narrative choices.
Noting that unusual situations can reveal deeper insights about a character
Unusual situations reveal more about a character
  1. Simple explanations: Yiyun Li excels at making complex concepts easy to understand. Throughout the course, she presents information clearly, ensuring that all students, regardless of their prior experience, can easily understand the material and improve their skills.
Highlighting the importance of creating a mental image of your characters
You need to have a mental image of your characters
  1. Practical and engaging exercises: Yiyun Li introduces a variety of exercises that reinforce what you’re learning and make the process enjoyable. For instance, the exercise involving writing an online dating profile for your character might seem odd at first, but I found it highly effective in helping you understand your characters and their motivations.
Acknowledging the solitary nature of the writing profession
Writing is a very lonely business
  1. Accompanying guidance: One of the unique aspects of this course is the opportunity to create your short story alongside the instructor. Yiyun Li uses the prompts and tools she offers to write a story alongside you! This distinctive approach enables you to “compare notes” with her, look out for improvement areas, and come up with ideas that can be applied to your writing.
Make mistakes. Be messy.
  1. Expert advice: Yiyun Li shares expert advice throughout every lesson. Some of my favorite tips from her include achieving the right balance between imagination and real-life experiences, asking meaningful questions to get to know your characters (you can also learn more about this process from author Sabaa Tahir), combating writer’s block by developing side stories, and her encouragement to embrace the messiness of the creative process.

What I didn't like about the course

  1. The course’s brevity: While the course is undoubtedly packed with valuable content, some students might find its 45-minute duration to be somewhat short. It might leave you wanting more in-depth explanations, particularly in areas where tips and explanations feel rushed due to the course’s length. A more extended course could provide additional time to explore these concepts further.

How much does the course cost?

Courses on Skillshare can not be bought individually – they can only be accessed by signing up for a Skillshare membership. The good news? Skillshare offers e-student.org learners a full month free trial if you use our link (if not using our link, there is normally only a 7-day free trial). As virtually all Skillshare courses will take you less than a month to complete, you can in effect take this or any other Skillshare course for free – or any number of courses that you can finish in a month.

Once your free trial is over, the cost of Skillshare is $165 per year, which averages out to $13.75 per month. This gives you full access to all 34,000+ Skillshare courses. But if you're not happy to continue, you can easily cancel any time before your free trial ends – just go to your payment settings in your account.

If you have no need for a free trial, you can instead get %30 discount on your first year by using this special link instead. With this link, your first year will be just $115.50, averaging out to $9.63 per month. Note that this offer is only valid for new accounts, so it can't be combined with the 30-day free trial.

Conclusion – Is the course worth it?

Writing Character-Driven Short Stories” by Yiyun Li has left me with a deeper appreciation for the process of writing short stories, and Yiyun Li’s encouragement to explore the messiness of storytelling has inspired me to be bolder in my writing. I also had the pleasure of writing my own short story, which was an incredibly rewarding experience. The process of creating different characters and making them part of the same story helped me realize the power of character-driven storytelling.

In essence, “Writing Character-Driven Short Stories” by Yiyun Li offers valuable lessons for anyone looking to improve their storytelling abilities. Yiyun Li’s expertise and teaching style make this course a worthwhile investment for writers and literature enthusiasts alike. However, it’s important to note that the course’s brevity might leave you hungry for more. If you’re prepared to supplement your learning with additional practice and resources, this course is a great starting point for learning the fundamentals of short story writing.

Remember that knowledge without application is like a story left untold. By taking the lessons from this course and applying them to your writing, you’ll improve your storytelling skills and become an expert in creating captivating, character-driven short stories.