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The Heart of the Story: Writing Good Characters and Even Better Dialogue

Najya Williams Saturdays, Oct. 15-Nov. 5
10a-12p ET
7a-9a PT
9a-11a CT
4 class sessions

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“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. / I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size / But when I start to tell them, / They think I’m telling lies. / I say, /
It’s in the reach of my arms, / The span of my hips, / The stride of my step, /
The curl of my lips. / I’m a woman / Phenomenally. /
Phenomenal woman, / That’s me.”

Many of you probably knew that these words were written by beloved writer and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou, within the first few lines and certainly, by the time you saw: “Phenomenal woman, that’s me.”

However, I’m curious about how you knew. Certainly, any poet could have mused about being a phenomenal woman, right?

The mark of an unforgettable writer, poet, television character, or even someone from our personal life isn’t just what they say, where they go, and what they accomplish. It is the unmistakable essence that they carry and perfume the world around them with. Their tone, the inflections, their pauses, their facial expressions, their sense of humor, their personhood. Like many of her literary peers, Dr. Maya Angelou and her work are distinct and hard to replicate—no matter the situation, we can always imagine her voice, speaking truth to power, femininity, and hope.

In The Heart of the Story: Writing Good Characters and Even Better Dialogue, you will gain the tools you need to speak with clarity and build characters who are dynamic, memorable, and proper storytellers in their own right.

This 4-week, beginner-friendly writing workshop allows participants to explore existing works and hone their ability to craft characters and dialogue. Participants will read poems, plays, and other interdisciplinary texts that will guide the writing exercises introduced and utilized in class. By the end, participants will have a draft of a short story, script and/or other fiction prose.

All class meetings will be held via Zoom. The link to join your Zoom classroom will be provided on the morning of your class. Please check spam folders if you do not receive an email confirmation upon registration. For more information on how to download or use Zoom, please click here.

Meet Your Instructor:
Najya Williams

Born and raised in "Chocolate City," Najya Williams (she/her) is a poet, filmmaker and performing artist. She received her BA from Harvard College and is a rising M2 at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Her words have been included in several publications, including Black Youth Project, Spoken Black Girl, Black Girls in Om, and Healing Points. In addition to her essays, you can learn more about Najya's poetry chapbook "Cotton," spoken word album "mad black woman," and her original short films via her website, najyawilliams.com.

Course Takeaways

  • Deeper insight into what characters are, how they drive dialogue, and why both are integral to effective storytelling
  • Practical craft exercises to promote creativity
  • The first draft of a narrative fiction project that demonstrates participants’ engagement with the course materials and exercises

Course Expectations

  • Complete all required reading and viewing prior to the workshop
  • Complete warm-up exercise at the start of the workshop
  • Fully engage in discussions and in-class writing exercises
  • Submit weekly take-home writing assignments
  • Submit a preliminary draft of a narrative fiction short story, script and/or prose prior to the final workshop

Course Skeleton

  • Week 1: Meeting the Family
    • Assigned Reading: for colored girls by Ntozake Shange
    • In-class discussion will focus on defining and understanding the key aspects of storytelling: plot, setting, and most importantly, characters and dialogue. The remainder of class will be spent completing exercises in world- and character-building
  • Week 2: Let’s Just Fight
    • Assigned Viewing: Watch 2-3 episodes of your favorite TV show or movie. If you don’t have a favorite, watch 2-3 episodes of one of the following TV shows: Soul Food, Living Single, P Valley, or Queen Sugar
    • Participants explore the dynamics between characters in a particular story/world. In-class discussion will engage with contemporary TV shows and movies and aid in defining internal and external conflict. The remainder of the class will be spent completing exercises that demonstrate how the internal conflicts that characters face influence their external conflicts
  • Week 3: Are you listening??
    • Assigned Reading/Listening: Read/Listen to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
    • Participants explore the nuance of language, diction, and tone in character dialogue. In-class discussion will debrief several video and audio clips, including Liz Acevedo’s book, that illustrate how dialogue is informed by who the character is and what they want. The remainder of the class will be spent workshopping dialogue in the participants’ short final projects
  • Week 4: And just when you thought it was over…
    • Assigned Task: Complete your final project!
    • In this concluding session, participants will have portions of their final projects read aloud and workshopped. The instructor will provide students with resources and information on how to continue their work and learning after the course concludes.