In the morning, we had a two hour session on "Character" which was disrupted only by a fire alarm that was probably set off by a toaster or something. Once we all returned back to our seats, we created a character - each participant contributing a random feature to that character which means that the character was rather odd. Here are all the things the group came up with:
- rents out bouncy castles
- has two children (boy and girl)
- wants an affair
- wanted to be a surfer (in his youth)
- wants to expand his business empire and seduce his secretary
- has a collection of stuffed owls
- feels kinship with these stuffed owls because he doesn't feel alive
- about to attend "bouncy castle conference"
- tempted by illegal stuffed owl trafficking from Afghanistan
- his name is Bruce
As you can see, all very random! Our task was to create a scene revealing some of the details of this particular character. This is what I came up with:
Bruce was sitting in his study, surrounded by his dead and feathered friends. He may as well have been one of them - that’s how lifeless he felt inside.
In the past ten years of his life, the only time he remembers to have felt truly alive was last week, when Beth had touched his hands ever so slightly, albeit involuntarily. That was the time when he finally realized that the walls of this house resembled that of a prison: thick, unyielding and impossible to get out of.
“Dad,” he heard a faint voice from behind the doors. His daughter. What did she want from him now?
He opened the doors slightly, so that he could see her narrow face filling the gap. She was no longer the little girl she once was - she now even had a boyfriend or maybe, that was last week. His daughter’s somewhat whimsical way of life was completely different from his stale and monotonous being. “What is it?” He asked, his voice brisk and without affection.
“Mom sent me,” she said. “Dinner is ready.” A wrinkle formed between her brows. “If you want to eat with us that is.”
“Tell her I’m going to eat later,” he said, almost regretting the sharp tone of his voice. It wasn’t her fault after all that he felt the way he did.
She rolled her eyes, and let him be. In the corner of his study, Bruce could see an old picture of him and his daughter. She must have been about five. Behind them was a yellow bouncy castle - the first he had ever bought and sold, the first living hour of what was to be his business. How different life was now compared to then.
We discussed this in class, and decided that maybe the first paragraph or even two was unnecessary.
What we were taught in terms of characterisation is:
1) Deploy over time; reveal the character slowly.
2) By the end of the story, your character needs to be in an irrevocably different state - there has to be a character arc. (James Bond is a bad example because he never changes)
3) Don't try to be too clever. The biggest mistakes writers can make is to think they are so clever that the writing rules that applied to Shakespeare and other great writers of the past do not apply to them.
4) When writing a trilogy, you need to provide three character arcs / prove that your character changes again and again.
5) Make a character change by putting them in jeopardy. Force them to make a choice at the risk of losing something.
6) Motivation - know what your character wants out of life and what they can lose by pursuing their desire.
The "Character" part of the session was followed by a short talk about the business side of books, which again was followed by a two hour or so session on "Plot".
What we were taught about Plot is:
1) When the book ends, there has to be a resolution.
2) Enter Late. Leave early. (When telling a story)
3) Feel free to combine plot templates.
This was followed by a ninety minute session on "Prose". We went through a very small segment of our work, and we all got a very honest and frank critique from the teacher. What I learned here is that less is definitely more. Every single word and sentence in your novel has to have a purpose. If not, delete them. In my case, at least it wasn't too bad. I wasn't told that my page had to be scrapped or that everything had to be reworked. Instead, I was told I write sentences that would be beautiful and even poetic, if only I left out a few unnecessary words. I have to distance myself from my work a little and dare to delete those words to make the manuscript the best it could possibly be. That's actually a lot easier said than done, but I will try...
It has given me a lot of things to think about, but since it was a general writing course, you could see the there was a difference between writing for adults and writing for children or young adults. There was another lady there who was working on a children's fantasy book, and we agreed on quite a few things that I believe is more relevant to us than other authors who write for adults. I have suggested that she joins SCBWI because for what she is working on, she would definitely benefit from being a member. Not that I am a walking advertisement for SCBWI, but going to a more general writers' workshop has really brought to light the relevance of what is offered by the society.