Words Are Work (WAW) Project series rolled out its first Masterclass which was a one-day fiction intensive. The class focused on character and was themed “How to build an iceberg (and great fictional characters while at it).” It was facilitated by Chisom Ojukwu and Suyi Davies Okungbowa in partnership with Goethe Institut, Lagos, Nigeria.

The Masterclass featured two sessions: one on building a character like an iceberg and and another on how to make readers care about characters by telling them almost nothing.

The sessions offered advice on how to build fully formed fictional characters and bring them to life on the page by revealing them to readers with time-tested techniques.


One of the key points made during the sessions was that character is the heart and soul of a story. As a writer, the more you understand and empathize with them, the better you will be at writing. A Character without flaws is a cardboard cut-out, boring and flat.

The character behavior triangle revolves around Traits, Flaws and Desires/Needs. The biggest writing mistake most writers make is not understanding your character’s motivation. Motivation can be physical, social and psychological.

As Hemingway puts it, “a character is a person. A person is like an iceberg, like an iceberg, 7/8th of a personality lies beneath the surface.”

How do you make your readers care about your story? You tell them (almost) nothing. Show don’t just tell. Showing and telling are two sides of the same coin, they complement each other. There are different ways of showing in a story: Action, Dialogue, Thought, Physical distinctions and mannerisms.



There were writing exercises for the participants and critique of randomly selected exercises during the masterclass. The participants also engaged in readings of illustrative excerpts and their ability with words were tested in some games.

Some of the participants shared their thoughts about the masterclass:

Oyinda said: “It was wonderful and I learned a lot. It has made me see Fiction writing in a different way. I always thought it was all about imagination and pushing for a perfect ending but now I see it as something with a big element of real life with human characters.”

As James puts it: “It was quite interesting and I had a lot of rethinking as regards Fiction writing because it was the principal thing I wrote before and then began to write other stuffs. I had a great time anyway, I started to think perhaps I should focus more on fiction.”

Words Are Work (WAW) was founded in 2014. It is co-curated by Chisom Ojukwu and Suyi Davies Okungbowa with over fifty registered writers. It provides editorial services with a focus on quality not quantity and has also grown over the years to create job opportunities. The Project Series is an avenue for writers to learn, grow and most especially get paid which is a key part of the platform. Words maybe work but they make them fun too!

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5 Responses to “WAW Fiction Masterclass on Building Strong Fictional Characters” Subscribe

  1. Uzodinma Okpechi 2016/10/06 at 12:56 am #

    Congratulations guys. I am interested in taken part in the next WAW. Uzodinma.

  2. john_onah 2016/10/06 at 4:31 am #

    wow, what a great deal opportunity i did miss.
    sure won’t let it pass me by next time.
    WAW kudos!

  3. Duncan Mongwaketse 2016/10/06 at 7:59 am #


    I’m interested in knowing if it possible for me to get that particular workshop/class material.

  4. WAW Team 2016/10/07 at 5:35 am #

    Hello, Duncan.

    Yes, we will have the Masterclass Notes out on the market soon. Follow WordsAreWork on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to keep updated for when the notes come out, or visit us at wordsarework.com.



  1. Journey so far: October 2016 – Suyi Davies Okungbowa - 2016/10/12

    […] So, teaming up with Goethe-Institut and a couple of other partners, we launched the inaugural WAW Fiction Masterclass in late September. It was a free one-day fiction masterclass with 20 participants, focused on character building and revelation. It turned out to be a huge success, so huge that a couple of the participants felt compelled to gush about it here, here and here. […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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