Liars, Lovers, Criminals: Story as Character, Character as Story

with Lisa Taylor

character writing workshop

| 6 Weeks |


Text and Live Video

Long after we finish a story, a well-written character stays with us. In this interactive, generative course, you’ll gain a better understanding of the role of characters in literary fiction—and learn to create fully developed characters that make your readers cheer, cry, rage, or exclaim.

Stories and characters are everywhere. We will explore many stories, from flash fiction to short stories, each with memorable characters, and we will trace a line through them: stories are character.

This class is for new and experienced writers, dabblers, and everyone in between. You, as a participant, will help to shape the direction of the class. It is my hope that you will bring your energy, ideas, life experiences, and observations to the peer critiques and discussions. You will be writing, reading, and interacting with varied texts. Humor and playfulness are part of this process. We will honor the unique voice of each participant. Come and hang out with the truly odd characters that live in your imagination.

Memorable characters stay with us because the characterization becomes the story. A criminal may commit a crime but his or her peculiarities are what make a reader remember. When a character lies, loves, grieves, or behaves badly, it is up to us, as writers, to animate the character in such a way that a reader feels the pain, anger, or love. Characters are what characters do.

Learning and Writing Goals

This class is designed for any skill level. The exercises and readings have been chosen to maximize your understanding of character in fiction so you can find and write your own character-driven stories.

You will learn:

  • To write and animate a unique character.
  • To write in scene rather than exposition.
  • To use gestures and habits in character development.
  • To write a story that has emotional impact and an arc.
  • To use original language and take leaps.
  • To learn about characterization from well-published contemporary writers whose characters jump off the page.
  • To be welcomed into a larger community of writers, learning opportunities for sharing your stories.

Throughout this class, students will be expected to write, respond to the writing of peers, and revise for sharing. Students will also respond to the assigned readings.

Weekly Syllabus

This course will meet on Zoom for approximately one hour every Tuesday at 7 P.M. U.S. Eastern Time.

Course Outline

Week 1: The Art of Animating a Character

You meet characters at the post office, the grocery store, at a traffic light. How you can breathe life into these strangers?

Assignment: Create a character sketch (in words) from basic observations in a place you know (coffee shop, laundromat, park).

Week 2: Bad Behavior makes Good Fiction!

The characters that inhabit stories are flawed. They walk into complications regularly. Your job is not to make life easy for them.

Assignment: Write a scene with your character encountering an obstacle to something he/she/they want. The obstacle can be literal (a failed job interview, a break-up, a car accident) or intangible (recognition, fame, love).

Week 3: Gestures and Habits, Reputation and Rumor

Characters are what characters do. His nervous tic, the way she twists her ring, their penchant for arranging socks by color, all tell a reader something about a character. How they speak implies how they feel. For example, telling someone you’ve heard all about them upon your first meeting can mean you’ve looked forward to meeting them or you are pre-judging them because they have a reputation.

Assignment: Write a scene showing a habit or gesture your character uses under stress.

Week 4: Lies, Deceptions, False Impressions, and Endearments

What does your character hide? What deceptions drive your story. Does your character utter endearments while carrying on a secret other life?

Assignment: Write a scene that reveals something hidden about your character and drives the story to an unexpected place.

Week 5: Stereotypes, Non-Conformists, Unreliable Narrators

Can we trust your character? Is he/she/they quirky, unpredictable, or too predictable?

Assignment: Write a scene in the first person (I) using the skills you’ve learned. Make your narrator seem to be telling the truth until you throw the reader a few breadcrumbs indicating it may not be entirely true.

Week 6: Wrapping up: Telling the Story

Using what you’ve learned from these weeks and the assigned readings, put together a story (can be flash fiction or a full short story of up to 3,000 words). Make sure your narrator is well-developed, unpredictable, and there are enough surprises to move the story along.

Questions about the course content? Contact instructor directly.
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Course type:

Student Feedback for Lisa Taylor:

Lisa is generous and enthusiastic. She was particularly generous in offering guidance and encouragement about getting published, which was new for me, and invaluable. The topic, the assignments, and most importantly the quality of the work and the feedback offered by my fellow students were excellent. Interaction with fellow students throughout the week was the highlight. Peter Taylor

I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It motivated me to settle down and write, which is exactly what I was hoping. Lisa is a knowledgeable and dedicated instructor. Judith O'Leary

Lisa C. Taylor is a truly all-around phenomenal teacher. She kept us engaged and knows how to keep it interesting. She is very understanding and sweet. Great person and professor. Briana D.

Lisa created a stress-free classroom environment where everyone was encouraged to have their voice be heard. Each class was about something completely different. Brett S.

Lisa C. Taylor made us use our creativity to write and share with the class. She encouraged us to step out of the box and helped us to connect with each other. The activities were great and she was prepared for discussions every class. Caitlin F.

Extremely well-organized! I will use every piece of this material in my own classroom instruction. Lisa offered inspirational and practical information from which her students could draw. She provided exercises (ingenious, in my opinion) for getting reluctant students to write as well as offering evidence of their effectiveness. Great job! Jan G.

The room could hardly contain her passion for language, poetry, and teaching. I left this workshop strengthened as a writer, teacher, and human being. Darlene R.

The class discussed ZZ Packer’s story, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”. Here Professor Taylor handled what could have been a tough moment with compassion, wisdom, and grace. A few admitted they didn’t like the story because they could not identify with the unhappy main character. As one student remarked, the main character “had the world at her fingertips” as a college student at an Ivy League university. Professor Taylor thanked the student for her honesty and encouraged all the students to engage in an open and honest discussion about the issues related to the story, one of which was how to present class and race struggles in your work without sounding preachy or whiny or alienating readers. The discussion’s progression from judging the character to trying to understand her was impressive.  Dr. Dan Donaghy, Eastern Connecticut State University

About Lisa Taylor

Lisa C. Taylor is the author of five poetry collections, including the just published collection Interrogation of Morning, and two short story collections, most recently Impossibly Small Spaces. She publishes in Ireland and the US. Her honors include Best of the Net nominations, the Hugo House New Works Fiction Award, and Pushcart nominations in fiction and poetry. Lisa offers private manuscript consultations and workshops.  She was awarded a Colorado Creative Industries/National Endowment for the Arts Grant to run a youth art and writing program in 2022. Lisa formerly taught writing at a university and an arts high school in the Northeast. Lisa holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She is the fiction editor for an online magazine and a frequent book reviewer. She has been awarded residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, Vermont Studio Center, and Willowtail Springs in Colorado. Learn more about Lisa here.