Category Archives: Characters
Last Friday, I attended a fascinating workshop facilitated by Caitriona Fitzsimons, the creative practitioner behind One Fine Morning. The workshop was designed to explore creativity through techniques traditionally used to teach drama that have been adapted for writing. The technique used is called ‘given circumstances’, which is particularly useful for character-driven stories, as it has been adapted from the Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski, who is well known for his unique system of training actors, often referred to an ‘method acting’. Stanislavski believed that in order to convincingly portray a character, an actor should prepare by immersing themselves in the situation of the person, fictional or otherwise. As a fiction writer, it is also necessary to profile your characters and their circumstances in order to be able to walk in their shoes. During the process of writing, you become the character, and as such your descriptions are richer and more convincing.
The Story Development Workshop enabled its participants to map the process of character development across a story arc from beginning to end, using global themes, thematic statements and ‘given circumstances’ for the characters in the story. It was an immersive process which involved collaboration and interaction between participants that resulted in an agreed final story, told by the participants to each other as a group.
If you are struggling with an idea and are not sure how to structure or develop your story, this workshop will give you some practical tools in order to move your creative thinking forward. I particularly liked the interactive nature of the session, as writing can be quite an isolating endeavour. This approach allows you to explore ideas in a safe environment and often, one comment or observation from another participant can open up your mind to all sorts of possibilities. It also gives you the opportunity to road test the credibility of an idea from a global story perspective, and see how each individual story element fits in to the whole structure. An inspiring experience and highly recommended!
Check out One Fine Morning for future workshop dates.
It has been a while since my last book, The King of Carentan, was published and I realise I have been quiet – various reasons for that; the length of time it takes to write a book, the length of time between writing a book and it being fit for public consumption and… new job notwithstanding… multiple other personal distractions. So I owe my readers a long overdue update on progress.
Yes – you heard right, I am eight months into a new job which comes with its own challenges and priorities. But despite that, I have been busy on the writing front (check out my urban fantasy stories featuring Dryads in London).
Book Three of the Carentan Series is due for release in June 2018 and will resolve some unanswered questions from Book One (no spoilers). If you are now scratching your head and wondering what or whom I am referring to, I have provided links below for you re-read the books and refresh your memory. Or if you are new to the series, the first two books will provide you with a good backdrop to Book Three – although not necessary to enjoy the book in its own right. Indeed, I have been most careful to ensure that each book is a stand-alone story – not dependent on reading the rest of the series.
For you die-hard fans and those who badger me at opportune moments (I am not complaining as it keeps me on my toes!) – you may be pleased to hear that I am getting stuck in to another book in the Carentan Series. Completely independent of the first three books, but explores another character’s story in more detail. I’m saying no more.
So, on that note, I leave you with some links where you can buy the books in the format of your choosing to update or if new to the series prepare for the release of the next instalment in 2018; The Prince and The Assassin.
Comments, complaints, compliments and reviews (good, bad or indifferent), are always welcome and much appreciated.
Walking my chocolate Labrador has long been an excuse for me to see this corner of London from a different perspective. I have an ostensible reason for loitering around patches of grass area and parks, where you might otherwise be considered a bit weird. A pretext for watching the world go by and observing the strange behaviour of others; human or otherwise. Some random observations:
Helping Hands is a second hand shop, which has been there, trading throughout the recession when other high street shops had long since disappeared. It never seems busy and yet, the stock keeps changing and it remains in business. Perhaps it is a smokescreen for a secret surveillance organisation, or it is really being run by drugs barons who only pretend to sell furniture.
Across the road, a shop called Magic Carpets makes me think of Arabian adventures at sea. I wonder if I bought a carpet from there whether it might take me on a fantastical journey.
The local area has been redesigned with new buildings that look more like prison blocks than residential homes. Was that a deliberate reflection on the social capital of the residential majority?
I often walk my dog in the local park and it has long since been a destination to take my boys (when they were young) on a Sunday morning stroll. For many years I had no idea of the significance of its history. But when the area was being re-developed, a poster history of Steve Marriot, singer/songwriter for the Small Faces, who grew up there was displayed. Its nickname, Itchycoo Park, is said to be attributed to stinging nettles that grew there.
We have streets, blocks and a community centre named after our 16-year-old 1st world war hero, who was posthumously, bestowed the Victoria Cross, for staying at his post in the navy when all others had left. He was the third youngest recipient of the VC.
I have an invisible message stamped upon my forehead. I am convinced that I am marked, as every bizarre person seems to want to talk to me as though I am the only person left on Earth who will hear their story. Over the years, I have collected quite a motley crew, who have made debut appearances in my various fiction. I now carry a public warning; talk to me at your peril, lest you be immortalised in hyperbole.
Every day for a number of weeks, there has been a red fox following my dog and me. It has a weird kind of ‘I see you here and know what you are’ kind of attitude. And it is not afraid of human presence. Perhaps it is a werefox.
The banks of the River Roding are rife with rats the size of guinea pigs and the skies are filled with crows; sinister, satin, black – screeching to one another as though we are all enemies of the state.
Coming-of-age is a genre that typically has a young protagonist who goes on a journey to find meaning to their life. We follow their moral and psychological growth from youth to adulthood with the expectation that they will face significant barriers along the way. They may make mistakes and face life or death circumstances, but the key factor is that the character learns from their experience and changes as a result.
The genre of Fantasy Fiction loves a coming-of-age story. The story arc takes our young protagonist on a journey that often starts with loss or alienation; think Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games. A common theme is the discovery of magical or special powers; Name of the Wind, A Wizard of Earthsea, and part of the quest is to discover how to use this special gift for good. This opens up the genre to that age-old battle between good and evil, often introducing a dark antagonist; Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad.
My all time favourite is The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner and its sequel The Queen of Attolia, which strictly speaking, you might not class as a coming-of-age story. However, it has all the elements that make it so in my mind; a young protagonist who faces a journey which forces him to make moral and psychological choices, love, loss – both physical and emotional – and circumstances that demand him to take responsibility not only for himself but for his family and his nation. Add to that a dash of supernatural powers, a few good fight scenes and I am sold.
We can all identify with the loss of innocence; right from the moment we discover that it is really our parents who are putting presents under the Christmas tree. As adults, our whole lives are coloured by perspectives that do not limit the imagination of the young. Somehow, we long to rid ourselves of the shackles of rational thought and return once again to that age of innocence, when life was so much simpler. So the coming-of-age story allows us to relive a life less complicated and find the answers to our own adult conundrums through youthful eyes. What’s not to love about that?
So what can I bring to bear from personal experience on this well documented genre? Well, I’m still waiting to come of age, so in the meantime I’ll just carry on writing stories.
You might have guessed by now, my curious reader, that I am ever so slightly obsessed by the London Underground and in particular, stops on the Northern Line. This is a little bit of a cheat and a play on words, as was my previous story, Angel. Another departure from my usual SF/Fantasy, but one that explores family, loss and the hidden fire inside us all. One of the scenes in Burnt Oak is taken from a real story told to me second hand and another is lifted from my past and re-told in all its fiery glory. I’m not going to tell you which scenes they are. After all, where would be the fun in that?
This one’s for my brothers; Happy Birthday, Martin – I miss you. x
Many thanks to the Writers’ Hub, an interactive web portal from the Writing Programme at Birkbeck, University of London, for publishing my story.
Three months after the alleged suicide of supermodel, Lula Landry, her brother hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate her death. Strike and his ardent temp are then dragged into a world of dysfunctional families and highly strung celebrities in their pursuit of the truth.
A great title, interesting cast of characters and an intriguing mystery which promises much more than it delivers, in my opinion. Would I have picked this up in a bookshop had I not known that the author Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling? Perhaps, given that I have a penchant for the London backdrop and that both the cover and the blurb are highly appealing. On top of that is the endorsement by Val McDermid on the front. However, about a third of the way through I began to wish I had bought one of Val’s books instead.
It is not as well written as the latter Harry Potter books or A Casual Vacancy, which leads me to wonder whether this is an earlier work that has been kicking around in a bottom drawer for a number of years. Characters are up to the usual JKR standard – one of her strengths in my opinion – and the plotting was pretty tight, although a bit predictable in places. There were none of the startling revelations and appallingly nasty characters that have peppered her previous works. When I read The Casual Vacancy, it was clear to me who the author was, despite it being a very different book. Had I not known, I don’t think I would have guessed that The Cuckoo’s Calling was a JKR. Perhaps my expectations were skewed by her previous work, but I kept waiting for that unique JKR twist that just didn’t happen. It is very much a traditional detective novel, which is fine, but I do think that the crime genre has moved on enough to accommodate that ingenuity that has made JKR so universally appealing.
Would I read a second Robert Galbraith novel? Perhaps, but I appeal to the author for more development of the relationships between the characters and less of the detailed detective info dumps.
Just my opinion, of course…
I delivered a session last week on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Jung’s personality type theory.
I just love seeing that moment of understanding when a participant realises that something they have been doing all along and not had the confidence to voice is really grounded in psychological type theory. As an MBTI practitioner, it sometimes feels like I am giving people permission to be themselves. It is powerful and it is liberating. It gives the clients I work with confidence in their strengths and a framework in which to describe what they are good at. Not to mention, the understanding of how and why other people behave in certain ways – perfect for demonstrating teamwork scenarios.
This tool has so many other advantages, one of which is applying it to characters in my stories and books. It helps me to keep characters behaving in a way that is consistent and believable, without the need to even reveal how or why. It just is. And it works, as you have a theory in the sub-text of the work, invisible to the reader, but underpinning the elements that make a believable plot. It helps the reader to suspend disbelief without you having to signpost what you are doing. It is a powerful gift; check it out.