What I learned at the Giving Your Characters Character workshop

Ah, character development. It’s something that’s extremely important in a novel, but sometimes it can be tough to bring it about in just the right way. At least, that’s the experience I’ve had.

That struggle was why I wanted to attend the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s Giving Your Characters Character workshop in early March. A big chunk of my V&L revision needs relate back to character development, and I thought this workshop could help make the revisions a bit easier.

I’m happy to say that I learned quite a bit at the workshop. Click on through to get a quick run-down.

What I learned

  • The key to creating memorable, realistic characters is detail.
    • There’s “detail” and then there’s “telling detail.” A telling detail is something that helps to set a character apart from others–for example, a lisp, limp, or dyed beard–as opposed to something like “he’s tall with brown hair.”
  • Main characters are usually in a crisis at/near/before the beginning of the story.
    • What they’re going through and how they feel about it have to be clear to the reader from the start.
  • We depict characters in five ways:
    • Description: the visual sense of the character;
    • Biography: the background story of the character;
    • Action: this helps develop the physical sense, but also shows what the character is like;
    • Dialogue: similar to action; and
    • Point of view: allows us to get into the character’s head.
  • You may not show or reveal all of the biography, but you should know it. It likely affects what your character does or how they react.
  • Characters come alive through dialogue and action.
  • Point of view is the creation of empathy in the reader for the character. It creates a bond between them.
  • Dialogue is also an integral part of scene-building.

About the instructor

The Giving Your Characters Character workshop was led by Dave Margoshes. Saskatoon-area writer Dave Margoshes has published widely in Canadian magazines and has many books of fiction and poetry. His work has appeared widely in Canadian literary magazines and anthologies, including six times in the Best Canadian Stories volumes. He was a finalist for the Journey Prize in 2009. His Bix’s Trumpet and Other Stories won two prizes at the 2007 Saskatchewan Book Awards, including Book of the Year. He also won the Poetry Prize in 2010 for Dimensions of an Orchard. His collection of linked short stories, A Book of Great Worth, was named one of Amazon.ca’s Top Hundred Books of 2012.

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