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2016 begins…

The first meeting of 2016 took the format of a workshop led by our very own Mauchline Belle, Janice Johnston. From the minute I saw Janice remove a suitcase from the boot of her car, I was intrigued. She declined my offer of help with it and I was further intrigued.
‘Are you leavin yer man?’ I asked, wondering if she’d finally had enough of life in a farmhouse with no hot water.
‘No, no,’ said Janice, ‘He’s fine, and we’ve got hot water in the dairy, but the Internet’s gone down now. And I miss that more than the hot water.’
Janice’s suitcase, as it turned out, contained nothing more gossip-worthy than ‘a few props’, but when she finally revealed the contents, there was plenty to talk about. Shoes of all shapes, sorts and sizes tumbled on to the table and it was our group task to choose a pair and create a character, or characters, around the shoes of our choice.
Janice handed to each group a help-sheet that referred us back to the observations she’d made about character in the first part of the workshop.
Having asked us to identify what we find interesting in a character, Janice summed up and advised us to create ‘rounded, believable characters who encounter conflict and are changed by it.’
A piece of advice that is often offered to writers who struggle with character-creation is to answer a list of questions about the character. What is his/her favourite colour? What does s/he like to eat? What does s/he look like?
Janice suggested that, while this approach may be helpful, (even if none of the resulting information ever appears in your story), there are different questions one might ask. The answers to these questions can help create the narrative as well as the character. E.g. Where does your character live? Does s/he live alone?
When we, in our group, tried this approach, we found a character began to emerge, namely, a guy who lived alone on the derelict top floor of a high-rise block, where the lift rose no further than the floor below. We immediately started wondering why he was there, how he kept himself clean etc. Before we knew it, a character, with a back-story, was born. Crawford (seeking a Scottish name, he’d found his on a shortbread tin!) was an asylum-seeking squatter, trying to stay under the radar while he learned English. We weren’t sure at this point why Crawford had in his possession the pink fluffy mules we’d chosen for him, but the possibilities were many!
Unfortunately, I had to leave after the tea-break, and I’m grateful to James for the following description of the end of workshop group reports:
‘Released into the imaginary world were, amongst others, an ambitious cleric, a clutch of transvestites and a remarkable number of aspiring Eastern Europeans. The secret our characters we had to imagine bore with them was that they had, or believed they had, killed someone. More mayhem ensued.’
Pat Young

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