Aspiring Young Writers’ Group: Test of Character



Another writers’ room has rolled around for Jim, Amy and Myself, and after grabbing coffee, a comfy spot and exchanging some catch-up banter we once again dive into discussing our works for another week. This time we’re taking a look at characters.


We start with Jim, his smaller less serious ensemble being easiest to handle. Uni students Hugh, Jack and Tor.


“So, the first two know Tor’s an alien, but it’s something they desperately want to keep secret,” Jim says. “Still, they’ve all got uni life to deal with at the same time. Hugh’s young, naïve and impulsive. Jack’s a bit older and more cynical but also a caring and sensible guy. As for Tor, he’s simply planted himself in what seems a good place to learn about the world, but there’s a lot that’s completely foreign to him.”


“How do you get them feeling real?” I ask.


“You’ve got to talk to your characters, man. Figure out who they are, what they’re like to deal with,” he tells me.


“I’d say the same from what I’ve learnt with mine,” Amy says. “One thing though I’d say really gets them coming alive is voice.”


“Yeah, that makes a lot of sense,” I respond. “And that’s especially true with what you say Jim about putting dialogue in script format to sharpen it up. Imagining how they speak really helps you question if their dialogue sounds like something they’d say.”


“True,” Jim replies. “But motivations are what’s most important to knowing your characters. Wants and values really show you what they’re like or how they act. You need to focus in more on this stuff in your work dude.”


I sigh inwardly at Jim’s comment. He’s probably said the same thing dozens of times about my work.


Next, we get to Amy’s work, with her most valued story seeing a return this week.


“So, we start out,” she begins “With the protagonist Amber discovering she’s died and is now trapped in a kind of limbo state, being invisible to the living. She encounters a mysterious cloaked and masked figure named Yang who tells her that dying before her time has upset the world’s balance and that she must now help him prevent further incidents of this.”


Amy then moves on to Amber’s character. “She’s the oldest of a group of orphans who are like siblings. She’s kind of always been like a caregiver to them but now with her death it’s created a chain reaction causing their lives to start spiralling downward toward untimely ends.”


“Okay. I really see what you mean with the whole upset balance theme there,” I say “So is there a symbolism thing happening with Yang? Is there also a Yin somewhere?”


“Yeah, she’s kind of like Yang’s evil half,” Amy says. “She’s responsible for all the bad stuff happening.”


Amy quite likes symbolism within her writing. “There’s a lot of inspiration I get from the philosophy in my martial arts,” she tells us. “And then there’s also a lot of ideas I’ve gotten from dreams.”


She’s had her book idea thought out for a good while now. However, less discussion time needed means Jim and I are always a bit less familiar. What is fun however is we’re always learning more about it week by week.


Finally, we get to mine, a sci fi intrigue plot about the hunt for a stolen artefact. I discuss the two key protagonists in my story but find myself veering off toward the storyline.


“Interesting stuff but you’re not saying much about who these characters are though,” states Jim.


“Well they’re very different,” I say. “Patrick’s hard working and friendly but also a bit of an emotionally stunted pleaser, constantly trying to fulfill his famous dad’s expectations. As for Alex, she’s confident and witty but also a bit cold, mainly wanting to defuse trouble wherever she sees it and get the job done.”


“Bit vague, man,” Jim says. “You need to ask them what they want a lot more.”


“I’ve got a questionnaire that’s great for that sort of thing,” Amy now adds. “I’ll send it along. It’s kind of like an interview you give your characters.”


“Thanks. That sounds great.” Yet another handy offering emerges.


However, it’s done, character development is never universal. You might prefer, like Jim and Amy, to figure characters out in advance and see how the story unfolds from their actions. Or, if you’re like me you’ll have a vaguer idea of your characters but a clear plot outline, letting you roll with these people as things happen to discover who they are.


Finishing up today we find ourselves with yet more tweaks to make and questions to ask ourselves in working on next week’s offerings.




Read more from Ben HERE




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About Ben Kirkby

Ben moved to Melbourne at the start of 2016 from country NSW. Shortly after declaring his intent to live in Melbourne permanently, his uncle Sam suggested "If you're going to live here you've got to get along to the footy at some point". After seeing his first football match (Hawthorn vs Sydney, round 9 2016) Ben's interest in AFL took off in a way highly unexpected by both himself and his extended family. Ben's team alignment was uncertain for a time, seeing an interest taken primarily toward Hawthorn during much of the 2016 season, but during the finals series he declared his intent to follow the way of his cousins and uncle and become a Richmond Supporter, primarily on the grounds of them being the team he most wanted to see win, among a long list of other reasons. Needless to say the following year saw him very happy with his choice.


  1. Paul Spinks says

    Writing can be isolating, Ben, so it’s great to have a group to bounce ideas off.

    Perhaps you have the germ of a story there about exploring character?

    It’s commonly said a story, particularly in the visual mediums, should be character rather than plot driven, but it’s one of those chicken/egg things. Whatever works for you, I reckon.

  2. Yes, I'm that Amy says

    This is a good and engaging conversation Ben. Looking forward to the next topic!

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