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From the Mslexia Workshops Collection
New Writing Exercises for the Mslexia Children's Novel Competition
Devised by Ann Coburn
Workshop Two: Character: Needs, Dreams, Nightmares
In this workshop, you will be building a character which springs from your main character’s needs, dreams or nightmares. Classic examples of this include Mary Poppins, Stig of the Dump, and Five Children and It. Highly recommended contemporary examples are, Skellig by David Almond, The Savage by David Almond, and A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd.
START WITH DEVELOPING YOUR MAIN CHARACTER
First, choose the age, gender and ethnicity of your main character.
Next, make a list of characteristics (funny, malicious, clever etcetera) and choose two characteristics to pair. This will start to develop a more complex character. The dynamics will change depending on whether you choose: for example, ‘clever and malicious’ or ‘stupid and malicious’. Think about what one of your paired characteristics does to the other: for example, pairing ‘timid’ with ‘brave’ has a big impact on how you might then define ‘brave’.
Now write a physical description of your main character. Half way through your description, take away the visual and continue, using your other four senses only.
Finally, ask questions about the drive/needs /motivation of your main character. For example:
- What is their most important life event to date?
- If they could change one thing about their life so far, what would it be?
- Who/what do they love? Or hate?
- How do they envisage their life ten years from now?
- What makes them angry? What frightens them? What thrills them?
- What is their earliest childhood memory/their strongest memory?
- What do they want more than anything in the world?
- Is this a hidden or public desire?
And so on...
Now you are ready to develop a character springing from the needs, dreams or nightmares of your main character.
CHARACTER: NEEDS, DREAMS, NIGHTMARES
N.B. these characters are not necessarily human!
DARK TWIN/BRIGHT TWIN
In The Savage, the main character, a boy called Blue, creates the Savage – a personification of his anger and grief over the death of his dad. This dark twin, who occupies a liminal space between fantasy and reality, gives vent to his feelings and takes revenge in a way that Blue cannot.
Try creating either a dark twin such as the Savage, or a bright twin – a ‘better’ version of your main character – someone with the confidence to succeed where your character might fail.
‘WE ARE SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON’
In Skellig by David Almond, Michael’s baby sister is dying. Michael must turn away from logic and medicine, in the process somehow finding faith that his sister will live. His faith (and, incidentally, the setting in which Michael’s first sighting takes place) is personified in Skellig – part angel, part owl, part something old and dangerous. Dry and shrunken at first, Skellig becomes stronger and more powerful as Michael feeds and nurtures him.
Try developing a character who personifies a need or a dream or a nightmare of your main character. If you wish, you can also make your ‘dream/need/nightmare’ character personify the setting in which it is found.
EITHER write the scene where your main character and their dream/need/nightmare character meet for the first time OR write the scene where your Dark Twin/Bright Twin character first makes an appearance.
These workshops have been devised especially for the Mslexia Children's Novel Competition, with a closing date of 10 September. For the latest on the writing world, publishing and creativity subscribe to Mslexia now. To sample more Mslexia features or to find out about the latest issue click here.
Plunder our selection of writing workshops for inspiration:
The Mslexia MA in Novel Writing – Character, led by Jenny Newman
...with life coach Bekki Hill
Explore the unconscious and turn your life into literature
Hayfields or horse-dung