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02 September 2021

#WriteCBC tip and task from Abby Parsons

by Abby Parsons Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our September edition of #WriteCBC. I hope you’re ready to be inspired by our latest writing challenge! If you haven’t taken part in a #WriteCBC competition before, we’re excited to welcome you to our writing community – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

Our special guest this month is our very own Senior Manager Abby Parsons. Abby is an experienced editor who has worked with commercial fiction authors at Hodder & Stoughton, Little, Brown Book Group and, most recently, HQ, HarperCollins. To celebrate the launch of our new four-week online Character Development – The Deep Dive course, Abby has set a special task all about characterisation…

Abby’s writing tip:

Get to know your character inside and out by asking yourself questions about who they are. Not every detail will make it to the page, but this background knowledge will help you show the reader who they are in what they do, say and think.

One of my favourite things about working closely with an author on a manuscript is how you’ll often end up talking with them about their characters as if they were real people. It might be as brief as an editorial note questioning whether a certain character would do or say something that happens in the book – but often the discussion spins out to aspects of the character’s life that aren’t ever mentioned on the page. I have had great conversations with authors about how a character definitely shops in Waitrose, or absolutely loves Love Island, or what their favourite book is.

This kind of character detail might not end up going into the book (though occasionally, these conversations lead to something that does make it in!). But I believe this kind of back-and-forth is an invaluable way to thoroughly interrogate a character – to ensure everything they do and say and think feels true.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all consistent, of course – characters, like real people, are complex and will do things that are out of character. But if you are able to ask yourself questions about who your character is, and take the time to work out the answers, whether or not it’s something that ends up going into the story, the chances are you will build someone who is rich and layered – and that the reader will be able to join the dots between the character details you do give them, in order to understand the character on a level that goes much deeper than what they’ve simply been told.

To me, the things that are never mentioned on the page, and yet a reader just knows to be true, are indications of a living, breathing character.

So, when writing or planning your novel, ask yourself questions. If you don’t know the answer to how your character feels about Love Island, or which supermarket they like to shop in, or their favourite book (or what they tell people is their favourite book…), it could be worth giving it some thought!

Abby’s writing task:

Choose one core personality trait: caring, shy, vain, brave, selfish (etc.). Introduce us to that character in a scene where something has gone wrong. Use their defining attribute to inform their behaviour. Show us who they are – without telling us.

For this task you can choose one of the character traits we’ve provided, or you can select your own. We’d like you to write something original for this tweet-length scene, so you could try thinking of a new character based on your chosen trait. Or you might want to use the task to put a character from an existing project of yours into a difficult situation – in that case think about your character and what attribute sits at the core of their personality.

Once you’ve decided on the core personality trait you want to get across to readers, you might ask yourself how someone who is (for example) caring would react when something goes wrong for them. Do they get angry, or upset? Do they take it out on others, or themselves? How might this come across in their actions, or thoughts, or dialogue?

Alternatively, if your aim is to show your reader that your character is caring, you might want to think about the best scenario to demonstrate that – and go from there. I think someone who is very caring would have the biggest reaction to something going wrong as a result of their own actions, and which impacts other people they care about. So, perhaps the thing that has gone wrong is they’ve told their friend the wrong restaurant to meet at. By contrast, someone who is selfish might not react to that same scenario at all… So, pick your thing-going-wrong wisely!

The narrative perspective you choose is up to you, but we’re looking for a mini-scene with action or interiority that enables you to show readers that core character trait – without simply telling them. Remember, you want to get the readers joining the dots about your character, so that they’re left wanting to know out more about them, and what happens next…

Please do share your mini-scenes by tweeting us (@cbcreative) – we can’t wait to get to meet your characters and find out what disaster they are facing!

Winner

This month’s winner is… Claire Williams @clairelwilliam!

Blood ran down her nose, where it hung from the tip before dripping onto her lap. How annoying, she thought. The stain on mohair would be impossible to remove. She’d only just bought it as well, half price in the Whistles sale. She’d never get another one like it.

We really enjoyed seeing a protagonist so indifferent to their own wellbeing. To be more concerned with a ruined piece of clothing than the fact they are bleeding is very revealing of the type of no-nonsense, practical, tough and overly stubborn character they are. As readers we can’t help but want to know why she’s bleeding and what happens next.

Congratulations! Claire has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice.

Well done to our runners-up!

@Alison47580836 and @emilywwrites both win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice.

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