Archive | March 2013

Characterisation with Alex Wheatle MBE and Start That Novel Part 6

Well, this is my last post about Start That Novel, as our six brilliant sessions are now all finished 😦 But, talk about ending with a bang! Rosie had organised for Alex Wheatle MBE to come and talk to us about characterisation and we were lucky enough to gain two hours of his tips and expert advice – it was very much appreciated.

Alex is an award winning novelist with numerous published books, the first being Brixton Rock in 1999. He started us off with some really thought provoking questions about what we most wanted out of life, and our biggest regret. I could have written reams on both those subjects (couldn’t everyone?!), yet Alex encouraged us to be short and snappy and not go into too many personal details. We wrote our answers down on slips of paper and put them in the middle of the room.

Next, Alex asked us to brain storm various facial characteristics. Round, small eyed, crooked teeth and snub nosed were thrown into the mix. Then, Alex asked us to think about personality traits. Jolly, gentle and spiteful were among the many adjectives we came up with. And, lastly, we were asked to think about different types of occupation. Amongst others, we mentioned lawyer, librarian, banker, actress and, of course, writer!

The excercise was fun in itself, but when Alex asked us to take a step back, suddenly we could see all the possibilities in front of us: a round, jolly librarian, a snub nosed, gentle writer etc.

As a group we decided that the most fun character to work on was a ‘small-eyed, spiteful, banker’ and, using a selection of the wishes and regrets from the middle of the room, we created a whole life for this delightful sounding individual! Alex explained to us though, that were we to develop this character, we would need to send him on a journey of change and give him some redeeming qualitites, otherwise our readers would never be able to identify with him, and would quickly tire of reading our work.

Alex also explained that a problem for our main characters (bankers or otherwise) would need to be made clear at the offset, in order to drive the story and keep our readers engaged.

Alex was also generous in sharing his thoughts and expertise on our current works in progress, which certainly proved helpful to me.

So, that’s it. A huge thank you to Rosie for putting on such an interesting course. It’s helped me progress with my often neglected novel and make some key decisions about it too. It was also lovely to meet so many other writers and hopefully we’ll keep in touch 🙂

This entry was posted on March 17, 2013. 2 Comments

The Art of Conversation – Start That Novel Part 5

I’m feeling more than a little bit sorry for myself… I’m on my second cold of the year, and not only has it spoilt my week off work but it’s also had an impact on my writing. I’ve moaned about feeling ‘fogged’ on here before – somehow anything viral seems to sit in my head like an unwanted toad, blocking all creativity and ability to write. It’s times like this that I realise how much I need to write for my sanity – I get incredibly annoyed and upset when I can’t manage to get on with it…

But anyway, before I wallow anymore, I’ll get on with telling you about the latest session in Start That Novel – this week, we looked at dialogue. We thought about the uses of dialogue and decided that it:

–       Develops character.

–       Moves plot.

–       Is useful for ‘show not tell’.

–       Adds colour and texture to the story.

–       Adds drama.

–       Can lighten the mood.

–       Adds to the psychological action – why our characters are motivated to  act as they do.

–       Helps our characters to be identifiable by the way they speak.

And one very important thing it doesn’t do is:

–       Mimic real life – all those umms, repetitions and clichés we use in our speech – don’t use ‘em!!

Rosie explained to us that when deciding about the way each character speaks, it’s important to consider:

–       Their educational level.

–       Their characteristics; are they nervous, impulsive, aggressive or shy etc.?

–       Their geographical background – do they have a regional accent?

–       The relationship with the person they’re speaking to.

–       Their attitude to the topic of conversation – are they keen to discuss it or would they rather avoid the subject altogether.

This struck me as useful things to ask yourself about your characters anyway – it can only lead to stronger characterisation.

In any case, the golden rule we have to bear in mind is: ‘Every word of fictional dialogue must add to the novel.’ Remember this and surely we can’t go too far wrong.

Next we did a couple of fun exercises. During the first one, we wrote out a completely one sided conversation, where we saw how much of a story we could tell this way, and in the second one, we did a spoken role play where we had to imagine that one person is desperate for information from the other. This was to help us think about how dialogue can illustrate the balance of power in relationships.

Many moons ago, I used to do a bit of acting, and whenever stuff like this comes up, it takes me back… I certainly couldn’t do it now though and am firmly convinced that writing has become my arts based activity of choice, now all I need to do is shake off this cold!

Storytelling – Start That Novel – Part 4

Oh dear, I’m back to my usual last-minuteness with this blog update, but to be fair, it’s been a very busy week for me.

Last Monday’s course was as interesting as ever, as we turned to looking at viewpoint. Rosie asked us to think about the different ways of telling a story. We listed – dialogue, descriptions, narration, explanation of subject and thought.

We also thought about the order we tell our stories – are they told from beginning to end, or from the end to the beginning?? (Sarah Waters did this in The Night Watch, which is brilliant, btw). Is it framed by another story, like Susan Hill’s creepy tale, The Woman in Black? Are there multiple viewpoints (Kate Atkinson does this very skilfully in her books). Is there a great chronological distance between the narrator and the story or is it a stream of consciousness? Is it narrated in first person, third person or second person?? Rosie quoted David Lodge from his book, The Art of Fiction.  – Point of View is the single most important choice a writer makes. It will determine how your readers respond and relate to your characters and the action in your novel.

Rosie then set us off on an exercise to alter a couple of pages of our work into another viewpoint. Whilst this felt like quite an uncomfortable task – as many of us are quite far into our stories, playing around with one of the most fundamental choices we’ve made, felt quite weird. But, as Rosie explained, this  really helps us question our choices and think about how stories might change if we use a different view point.

We then had a go at telling someone else’s story in the third person view point. Our partners gave us a basic narrative and it was then up to us to add feelings, colour and texture to bring their stories to life.

I mentioned that the second person (when you speak to someone, addressing them directly throughout the story) can work well in flash fiction. There’s a free to enter flash fiction comp here, with the Erewash Writers’ Circle – I’m planning to enter though have yet to find an idea which matches the theme.