Thursday, 22 September 2011

Sheppey Writing Workshop: Characterisation

Lauren Cooper... Love her or hate her she is definitely a character. Not someone you would enjoy meeting in real life, I imagine, but someone who, simply by clucking her tongue or mouthing, 'Am I bovvered?' can induce rib-aching laughter.

And so began our second workshop meeting; Geof treated us to a Lauren sketch (the one for Comic Relief, also starring David Tennant - you can watch it here) to explain in no uncertain terms just what characterisation is.

I don't think I had ever considered Catherine Tate and Charles Dickens in the same thought before. Until now. Because Geof then asked us to read a excerpt from Hard Times (Chapter 1 - The One Thing Needful) which introduced us to Gradgrind, a despicable, tough, opinionated, loud, stocky, unsympathetic, aggressive man. And how do I know he is all these things? Dickens certainly never came right out and said it. No. Dickens and his masterful characterisation suggested these things through mannerisms, certain words, sentence structure, simile, everything, even down to the clothing Gradgrind was wearing. The reader fills in the blanks. The reader does the work.

Although I write, and I have characters in my stories, I hadn't really given much thought to characterisation so I found the discussion enlightening. How do you introduce a character effectively? How do you use stereotypes to shock the reader, to wrong-foot them? What about body language, mannerisms, the things they say, how they say them, even what they fail to say, what they look like (the implied information contained in the description), and maybe, just maybe, what their name, or nickname, tells the reader about the character?

We talked about them. Through Catherine Tate and Charles Dickens, we started to get an idea of just how to get it right.

Because characters aren't just there to make the plot look pretty. Without them, there is nothing. The character often drives the plot, and sometimes, due to their world views, their opinions, their innermost thoughts, they change the plot to suit them. It's a funny feeling when a character you have created starts to dictate to you, but it does happen... In my current work in progress, a novel, I have a character named Bear. I always did feel that his nickname told the reader enough about him, and I feel after our group meeting that I am right with him. I'll keep him.

Next came a tricky chat. How to present our work at the end. What would the final product be? We didn't come up with a final decision, and I don't think we will until the very last minute, because things change, new ideas spring up in the middle of something else, a thunderbolt of inspiration could hit at any time. We did create quite a list though:

- A performance (maybe a video option)
- A printed copy (booklet or paperback)
- An eBook
- Some form of Internet presence (Vlog, YouTube)
- A script
- Local radio
- A display of the work in local libraries and arts centres

So, we all have a task before the next session (25th October). It's time to get down to business. It's time to create a character for our story, to imbue him or her with just the right mix of emotions, physical attributes, stereotypical thoughts and words (to play with, of course). It's time. And who knows? This character may just write the story for us.

I think I have an idea...

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