Thursday, April 14, 2011

Creative Writing Course - Stage 2: Module 1

I started the second Creative Writing Course with Sydney Writers' Centre last week. The first module was focusing on characters. It extended on what was discussed in Stage 1, but took the discussion a couple of steps further.

I learnt about 'flat' and 'round' characters, and the difference between a stereotypical character. Plot-based writing and character-based writing were compared, and I learnt that most novels are a combination of both, and it's the balance between the two that is important. A character must be developed to the point that you know the character intimately. So, when something in the plot happens, the character's reaction comes naturally. The choices that the characters makes should also come naturally. The choices and reactions of a character may not be typical or predictable to the reader, but the writer should know the character enough that what happens is believable.

It is also recommended that we not write from life. We shouldn't base a character completely on someone we know. This is because we can never know someone completely, and the character will either end up lacking something, or you will end up offending someone by making something up that is not true to your muse.

Our assignment was to do our own character development, and then shorten that to a synopsis. Here's mine:

by Jacqui
James ("Jim") Barclay is my murder victim.
He is 48 years old. He is the second son of Scottish immigrants, born in 1869 in country Victoria. He is intelligent, but not educated. He feels that he can't live up to his father's expectations. He left home at 17 years of age. He went gold mining. He wasn't successful, so he became a farm labourer. He followed the various gold rushes around the country, but always fell back on droving and shearing. At the age of 41, he married a 19 year old. She was 7 months pregnant when they married. She died 7 months after giving birth. Jim couldn't look after his own son, so he sent his son away to live with his sister in Vermont, Melbourne.
Jim is over six feet tall. He is handsome. Dark hair and dark brown eyes. He wears a thick moustache. He is elegantly groomed, always coming into society in his best three-piece suit and hat. He was always dressed in a suit whilst working.
Jim isolates himself. He is a blokes' bloke, but since his failure as a son, the death of his wife, and his failure as a father he thinks the best thing for everyone is to take himself far away. He gets lonely. He is shy and introverted. It takes him a while to open up to people. However, whenever he is in society, people gravitate to him because of his good looks. He is polite and good humoured. He is engaging in conversation, and witty. The ladies love him, but he doesn't seek their attention and doesn't take advantage of it. He prefers animals. He is great with animals, he can anticipate what they need and he has a calming effect on them.
He wants to be with his son. He wants to pass all his knowledge onto his son. He wants to earn enough money so that his son can have everything. He wants to be a provider. But he knows that his son is better off being cared for by others, with other children around. His son is too young, and needs too much attention which Jim knows he cannot provide. So he makes himself as busy as possible, stretches himself thin over his commitments, gives himself precious little time to think about his son or how lonely he really is.

Here's what the tutor said about my response:

To Jacqui
I very much like the amount of thought and detail you have brought to this character.  I would like just a little more – in particular, where Jim is working and what he is doing (his ‘commitments’) at the time of the story.   Is this a story set in the Diamantina, or in Victoria?  Does he ever visit his son?

I am having trouble imagining him in his three-piece suit shearing a sheep.  (I’m not saying shearers didn’t wear suits – but usually they took off the jacket and the collar at the very least while they were working.  And a shearer in a suit would stand out amongst the crowd; how did the other men take to him?  Was he competent as well as good looking?)

I think you also need a bit more to explain the gap between Jim the shy introvert, and Jim the witty debonair social man.  They can certainly be the same person, but it’s harder to write and portray.

Jim is a potentially tragic figure, and if he is indeed murdered then he becomes even more tragic.  He is very engaging, so the reader should care a great deal when he is killed.

I’m hoping it’s the son who is trying to find out what happened to him!

It's a bit difficult, because I'm basing my character off a historical figure. So I have ideas about him from pictures that I have seen, but the tutor has raised some interesting points.

I'm finally starting to feel like my writing is improving, because the tutor has been questioning me and opening my eyes to things I haven't considered before.

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