Attended the Justin Cartwright Masterclass as part of Ilkley Literature Festival last Sunday.
What are characters in fiction and how do we create them? Masterclass with novelist Justin Cartwright for people who have written or started writing something, exploring pitfalls, mistakes and ways of making characters come alive.
Justin has written thirteen novels and some of them have won prizes. Justin feels that if you didn't read past age 6, you probably won't make it as a writer and Margaret MacMillan is the best novelist to read for WWI. He feels that you need to read characters conversations to move the plot, not explaining it in the prose, or describe how people look and speak. The best books have an influence on the world around them.
He feels a writer should plot plan to the end as this helps with finishing and give your novel the 30 page test (if it isn't working or wouldn't entice an agent in the first 30 pages, move on to another). He recommends leaving it for a while and then coming back to it later.
What another character says about the main character can bring your character alive. Lay down the basis for the whole book. Characters keep the stories consistent and you must have a confrontation, drop hints that something is going to happen later and then detonate this later in the novel. Characters can give you diversions (advances the plot) and the voices are important, he suggested that you can even write them phonetically. The characters must be distinct and have the potential for a real life. How people react in conversation and the juxtaposition helps and he suggested finding one image that starts you off and go from there. Learn something from the character.
Justin then went around the room asking details of what the group had written, what they were working on and books that they had read recently that moved them and why.
He revealed that he started as a copywriter and submitted a thriller after writing a 'confessions of a' story and got it published, he then decided he wanted to be literary. He believes agents are there to find new talent. He suggested mapping out your story and/or shifting time in it and don't try to copy people you don't like to read or write about something that has happened to you. You will need to be disciplined and persistent and keeping a notebook handy at all times is essential.
He believes that American TV writers use Dickens as a muse and that if you are using someone you know as a basis for a character, if it is a man make it a woman and vice versa, that way they might not recognise themselves.