I went to a few writing workshops put on by the Sydney Writers Festival last week and I thought some of you might be interested in what we did. I went to workshops on publicity, re-writing, crime writing and even romance. Some workshops were better than others, but I definitely got something out of all them. The best one was the last one. On Friday morning Nick Earls ran a workshop on developing characters. He obviously does this a bit, and he was the most confident and relaxed of the presenters. It was just him and a lucky-dip bag of random objects. Character prompts. He talked a lot about his writing process, and told a story of having to come up with a short story in a week for an anthology.
The main exercise was to work in groups to develop a character based on three random objects from the bag, and from there to develop some story points and write a scene to develop the character’s voice. This was a really fun way to start from scratch and see what you could come up with.
Our group pulled out
- a 100 rouble note
- a pair of cheap sunglasses from a Sheffield Shield cricket final
- and an Olympic shooting souvenir badge from the Sydney Olympic games.
From this we had to decide ten things about our character. So she was:
- mid 30s
- had been to Russia
- was a spy (what else?)
- could shoot (of course)
- had been to the Sydney Olympics
- had a child
- who was into cricket
- and a husband
- and a car
Then we had to write something.
I really love this kind of thing because you can go wherever you want. There are no constraints other than those you put on yourself. This is my effort below, tidied up slightly, and with all the crossing outs removed. I enjoyed writing it, and I might even use it in a short story some time.
“Where are the oranges Mrs Blake?”
“Pardon Jimmy?” What fucking oranges?
“The oranges for half time Mum,” Nathan said. “It’s our turn.”
Oh for fuck sake. “Really? Daddy didn’t mention anything about the oranges.” The bastard. Pete had probably held that vital little piece of information back on purpose. Surely he could have got a doctors appointment some other time. Not the morning she had to be on time, had to front the board, explain the Williams death.
“We’ll get some oranges on the way. Get those seat-belts on.” She slammed the shift into reverse and swung sharply out onto the street throwing Jimmy across the back seat. “Seat-belts.” she shouted watching in the mirror as Nathan pushed Jimmy off his lap. She put the wagon in drive and willed it to accelerate. Get moving. She hated the wagon. Pete chose it. Big and wallowy, a lot like him. And it always smelled of food. Whenever she got in she had to consciously avoid looking at the upholstery. It was always going to be unpleasant and there was never an opportunity to do anything about it. They were always running late.
At the oval the boys piled out, trailing their over-sized kit bags behind them. Nathan was dragging a mesh bag of oranges too. “We need to cut them up Mum,” he said.
Jesus, you’ve got teeth haven’t you? “Here take this.” She pulled Pete’s keys out of the ignition and twisted his Swiss Army knife off the ring. She certainly wasn’t going to give them the knife tucked into the side of her boot. The bastards had taken her gun, she wasn’t going to walk around without some kind of weapon.
Nathan and Jimmy tottered off with their bags over their shoulders. Jimmy opening every blade on the knife as he went.
There was probably some rule about that, she thought as she bumped the wagon across the gutter.