Developing a successful story is a process that takes time, experience and sometimes a little guidance from those who have already been through the process. Lacy Williams, an established Christian fiction author, is offering that help to students.
Williams, in association with the Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, will be hosting a character development workshop at the Christian bookstore chain Mardel. Although Williams is a Christian fiction writer, the content will not focus solely on developing Christian characters.
“Christian characters look at the world through different eyes,” Williams said. “They have another dimension to their story arc because of their faith journey, and it can be a balancing act sometimes to put in the faith element without preaching to the reader.”
Like any author, Williams knows the importance of characters and their development in a story, which led her to this workshop. From the basic conception of a character to a name, characters make the story what it is. Associate Professor of Language and Literature Rebecca Briley understands and teaches students the quality that characters bring to a story.
“Aristotle said, ‘Plot is the soul of drama.’ I say that character is the soul of the story,” Briley said. “Because we are human beings, without characters we would neither care about what we read or write, nor would we learn anything of significant value.”
Williams will use books such as Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” and Noah Lukeman’s “The Plot Thickens” as tools to help the participating writers grasp her method of developing characters.
“I will start with a discussion on the story arc of the protagonist,” Williams said. “A character going through a story about ‘finding yourself’ will explore different facets of themselves than someone in an action/adventure type story. Lastly, I will touch on secondary characters and why they need their own story, even if most of it will occur “off screen” or unnoticed by the reader.”
Williams has been writing for some time and when she got serious about becoming a published author, she joined the American Christian Fiction Writers Group.
“One of the ways I do [give back] is through teaching workshops,” Williams said. “Any time I teach, I usually learn something. Character development is something that I think all novelists, beginning and multi-published, should focus on.”
Williams chose to focus on the importance of characters because to her, they are what give the story depth and allow more understanding in a story. Williams makes the connection between fiction and Christian fiction in her analogy of why characters are vital to any narrative.
“Think about how Jesus used characters in parables,” Williams said. “Why does it impress us that the Samaritan stopped to help the Jew? Because it showed us something about his character. Why did the prodigal son have to lose everything before he could turn his life around and understand his father’s love? Jesus used characters to teach because we can relate to a well-written hero. My motives are a little less ambitious – I don’t write to teach like Jesus did, but in order for a reader to truly engage with any story, the story has to have a well-developed hero.”
The workshop is open to all ages and all forms of writing, which appeals to freshman English and creative writing major Hailey Graves. Upon hearing about the workshop, Graves expressed her expectations on the information to be given as well as how it would help her improve her own characters.
“I hope to come away from the workshop with a better understanding of character development and with the ability to put it into practice,” Graves said. “She may only talk about Christian characters, but she may not as well. Every good story has a protagonist and antagonist. Creating an ‘evil’ character to make them real is just as important as developing the ‘good guy.’”
Though Graves has high hopes for the workshop, senior English and creative writing major Jenny Dahl has her own opinion on character development from a Christian fiction writer’s point of view.
“I’ve rarely had good experiences with the Christian fiction genre,” Dahl said. “Most of my encounters have been with shallow, formulaic stories with feel-good endings that raise questions we’ve all asked ourselves thousands of times before. That being said, I would be suspicious of her methods. Nevertheless, I’m sure character development transcends genre, so I’m sure there’s plenty to learn from an established author.”
As the workshop draws near, Williams prepares by giving advice to future and fellow writers. Knowing the struggle and hard work writing takes, Williams aims her advice toward two specific aspects of this journey.
“Number one, never give up,” Williams said. “Writing is difficult and can be a long journey. Count the ‘blessings,’ the little doors God opens up for you. Number two, find a mentor. I would not be where I am without encouraging cheerleaders who lifted me up, told me I could be a novelist, and prayed for me.”