29 August 2012

How to write good characters

by Anna Davis From Our Students

We asked the students on our Spring novel-writing course to write a mini character-portrait. They had to ‘show’ us their characterisation in a short paragraph (less than 200 words). They had to avoid ‘telling’ us about the character – we didn’t want to hear flat description of brown hair, lined faces and a mean personality. We wanted to discover character, as revealed through story. Here are two of our favourites:

Sarah Sykes:
There was a joke told in taverns about my neighbour de Caburn; that he was a man who loved his horse more than his wife. I don’t suppose the three unfortunate women who had married him found it amusing, the latest dead from birth fever. She might have survived, but de Caburn refused to send for the physician on the grounds that she looked healthy enough to him. More likely, in my mother’s opinion, it was to punish her for producing a third daughter. The baby died within days, also without the attendance of a physician, though I heard from the bailiff that de Caburn did summon a surgeon only a week later, although this time it was for himself, as he needed somebody to sew up the fistula that was hanging out of his anus. Too much time in a wet saddle, joked the bailiff. But I didn’t laugh. I wished de Caburn’s whole arse had become infected, so he could never get in a saddle again. These days he rode his horses over my land a little too often.

Sarah Wade:
Dess made her own rough music. She once turned up at the farm with the gift of a black eye from her husband, the bleeding knuckles she gave right back and a squalling baby under each ham-hock arm. Her John had stumbled from the valley the next day, shamed by the fists of the woman that let him hit her, just the once, because she found it funny he even tried. She stayed without asking and eight years later she was still mercilessly scrubbing our dirty faces and filling the house with sprout steam, still secretly crying at the radio romances and openly laughing at our childish concerns, still sending old lady Oates a pound-cake laced with medicinal moonshine every Sunday afternoon.

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