Lauren Carter: Deep Character Workshop, Oct. 6, 2013

I spent the afternoon with Lauren Carter, her mother, Laura (a visual artist with a good feel for story), and five other wonderful writers talking, and writing, about character.

SwarmcoverLauren is on a tour to promote her literary dystopian novel, Swarm, which was released in September by Brindle & Glass publishing.  She’s been to Orillia and Blind River (both places she used to live), and has made a stop in Sudbury for a couple of days before she heads south to continue her journey.

As part of her Sudbury leg, Lauren agreed to offer a writing workshop for the Canadian Authors Association Roving Writers program.  Tomorrow night, she will be giving a reading at the south end branch of the Greater Sudbury Public Library as part of the Luminaries reading series.

Lauren indicated that nothing she had to teach was proprietary and so I’m going to offer a bit of a run down of her workshop.

  • Lauren is a firm believer that there are no rules in writing.
  • People come to writing as artists – organically.
  • Character is important in prose, even in plot-based fiction, someone has to be at the heart of the action.
  • The reader (and therefore the writer) must know those characters intimately.
  • Each writer will have her or his approach.
  • All great art begins at a point of absolute confusion.
  • Writers make decisions about their characters.

Eric Maisel – characters are not people, they are in the novel to serve the writer.

We then reviewed two writing samples: Matadora, by Elizabeth Ruth and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  We looked at the clues the writers offered about their characters, their backgrounds, the techniques used to engage the reader in the character, how descriptions were used, and so forth.

Lauren passed out a character development questionnaire put together by Kathy Page.  We didn’t use it, however.  Not yet.

Then followed the first of several writing assignments.  This first focused on character description.

Next, we wrote specifically about a possession or place specific to the character, like a purse, car, or room.

Then we focused in on a specific object within the last writing assignment and worked with that.

Finally, after having gotten to know our characters a bit better, Lauren guided us back to the questionnaire and focused the next writing assignment on that.  Having written through a few iterations of describing our characters through physicality, place, and possessions, it was not easier to enter into the details of the list and discover even more.

The last writing assignment took all that we’d learned about our characters and focused on plot. This was set up by another reading from Eric Maisel about “The writer as Experimental Psychologist” taken from his book, What Would your Character Do?

Essentially, plot is a matter of answering three questions:

  1. What does the character want?
  2. Why does the character want it?
  3. How will the character achieve his or her goal (or not)?

After that, it’s a matter of the author rigorously testing the hypothesis she or he has developed until all three questions are answered satisfactorily.

So first, we explored our characters’ psychological make-up; then, we answered the first of the three questions.

Each writing assignment was a free-write and delivered with the instruction to follow the writing wherever it led.  In several cases the characters did, as they are notoriously known to do, their own things 😉

It was a good workshop, and I was happy to have been part of it.