Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Characterisation Creative Writing Workshop with Martyn Bedford: 7 October 2014

I attended this excellent workshop last week at Morley Library, 1pm - 3pm, as part of the Morley Literature Festival. 

Leading the workshop was Ilkley-based YA author Martyn Bedford.  He has written 5 adult novels and 2 for teenagers (his third is due out at the back end of next year), including Flip and his current novel Never Ending.  He also writes adult short stories and is a Creative Writing Teacher and Lecturer at Leeds Trinity University (MA in Creative Writing, contact or for further information).  The day before the Morley workshop, Martyn ran a workshop at Morley Academy with students from both the academy and Birkenshaw school BBG on YA fiction that went down very well in the twittersphere.  The lady who introduced Martyn mentioned that the Carnegie & Greenway nominations had to be in for the day before the workshop and the results are revealed on 20 October and Walker, Martyn's agents are up for children's and YA categories.

The workshop only had four attendees (6 having not turned up) but this made for better one-to-one's.  There was myself, Mel (who attends Leeds College of Art and has written 9 scenes of a comedy, a short story for an illustrator and has had other ideas since then), Jenny (who attended Bradford University and has written 2 fantasy novels despite her dyslexia, the second of which she is trying to get published following a re-write using advice given at the fantasycon in York) and Janine (who also has lots of ideas, has attended the Want To Be A Writer workshop with Mark Catley at WYPH, has a theatre background and is working on a TV series that Mark said 'had legs').

We all had to talk about a book we particularly remembered: Janine chose The Basic 8 by Daniel Handler (author of the Lemony Snicket novels), Jenny chose an adult fantasy The Witch with no Name by Kim Harrison, I chose the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and Mel chose an Art Therapy book.

Martyn started with the basic aspects of prose and the keys to characterisation:

name, age, job, where they live, where they grew up, went to school etc

feelings, moods, disposition, motivations, loves, hates etc

spouse, siblings, parents, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc; also, how they relate to and interrelate with others

how they speak, what they say and how they say it

face, hair, physique, clothes; how they walk, carry themselves, mannerisms etc

thoughts, attitudes, opinions, perceptions, reflections, etc; but also self-awareness

what they do, how they do it; their behaviour

their home, their neighbourhood, the places they hang out and their relationship to their setting(s)

This can be used to draw up a 'profile' for your main protagonist(s) at the planning stage, but also as a set of characterizing tools for use during the actual writing of the story.

We then paired up and had to share one of our shoes with our partner and use it to write descriptive details using the senses.

Martyn believes that writers see things in a particular way, the writers sensibility, and if we go somewhere we don't normally go, we would notice things non-writers would not.  Martyn suggested always carrying a notebook and filling it up with little details you see/hear as the what if? angle leads us to where?  As the shoes are all different, yet the same, our characters should be, i.e. like us (recognisably human) but unique, individual and non-stereotype.

We then had a break before thinking about our characters.  Martyn and the other attendees then used myself as a sounding board for working out things about my character just using my unusual footwear (I was wearing some black VANS with a stars and stripes lip pattern).  Just interrogating me on my footwear choices/shopping habits, they could build up details of my character. 

Normally writers start with outward appearance, but using the list we had been given, we each then made a list about our characters.  Martyn gave us a list of potential story ideas, where we had to use a shoe in some way:

1) CRIME Burglar has to escape from a house in a hurry
2) ROMANCE Shoe-shop
3) Widow taking her husbands' possessions to a charity shop after he's died
4) Mum and daughter on a shopping trip
5) Shoe factory worker who cannot afford to buy the shoes she makes
6) Shoe memory
7) Shoe fettish erotica
8) High heel broken, how do they get home?
9) FANTASY Magic shoes
10) CHILDRENS Reworking of the Cinderella myth

I chose my own angle on the first suggestion, Mel chose the second, Jenny made a new character to put in her current novel's world and Janine's piece had not got to the shoe part yet.

We all read out our beginnings for feedback from Martyn and then at the end of the session we could purchase signed copies of his novels at a reduced price.  I bought his two YA novels Flip and Never Ending (which I will review in a later blog post).

#MartynBedford  #Characterisation  #MorleyLiteratureFestival

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