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 🙂