For our June session, Roma talked to us about how to create effective characters in our writing, and the benefits of doing so.
She posed us some questions to get us started thinking about a character:
- Where does your character live/where are they from?
- How old is your character?
- What are your character’s mannerisms?
- What does your character look like?
- What does your character do for a living?
- How does your character deal with conflict and change?
- What is your character’s goal or motivation in this story or a particular scene?
It’s important to bear these in mind when writing as it will influence how you write your character. If your character follows behavioural patterns in accordance with the traits you’ve given them, they will come across more believable.
e.g. a character’s age will usually indicate their maturity level and wisdom which will influence how they react to certain situations.
We then had an exercise to write about one of the above questions in detail to bring our character to life.
Then we did an exercise to create a detailed personality for a character. We each took a piece of paper with 12 lines and wrote the name and age of the character at the top. Then we passed it on to the next person who answered the next question and so on…
- To whom does your character turn to for advice?
- Write one word that your character would use to describe themselves.
- Write one word other people would use to describe them.
- Write about a frightening situation or moment from their childhood.
- What is their best trait?
- What is the first thing other people notice about them?
- Describe an incident they’d rather forget.
- Who is their best friend?
- How do they express anger?
- What is their weakness?
- What is their relationship with food/body image?
- What music do they like?
We ended up with some quite eccentric characters this way! Not everybody looked at the previous answers to line up a believable character but it was good fun to see how people’s minds worked together to create a character from nothing more than a name and age.
Next we looked at how to create villainous characters! We explored 3 examples – Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, Mr Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. We discussed what made them effective villains.
- Credibility – most villains are powerful, which allows them to cause problems for the protagonist, and also means they often have followers or minions to help with their evil deeds.
- Believable motivation/goals – there must be a reason the character has decided to act in this way. What are their goals – power? Wealth? Revenge?
However, antagonists aren’t always ‘bad guys’. Sometimes they’re just opposing viewpoints to the protagonist. From their point of view, YOUR protagonist is THEIR antagonist. A back story explaining their motivation and goals can make them more likeable, if you don’t want them to come across too villainous.
With this in mind, we created a brief back story for one of the following characters:
Ruby – a young socialite who seduces men for money
James – a teenage bully in a local school
Mark – a corporate boss who9 disrespects his workers and never show gratitude
Agnes – a mistress who is bitter and spiteful to her lover’s wife
This helped us to remember that antagonists are characters too, and that they should also have believable goals and characteristics, just like ‘good’ characters. Otherwise they will be one-dimensional and clichéd.
Thanks Roma for a very useful session!
Can you create a piece of writing using a character you’ve built up using these techniques? Bring it with you next session to share with the group.
Join us next month to learn about Life Writing, led by Kuli and Nirmal.
And don’t forget Kuli’s booklet, Rag Doll, is still available to order. J