Picture Book Masterclass Report – Is Your Character's Motivation Crystal Clear?

Sue Rawlings tells us about Natascha Biebow's picture book masterclass which focused on making your picture book character's motivation clear.

The Journey

My heart always beats a little faster as the train rounds the final curve into Waterloo! To the right the Shard and other fantastic examples of architecture, on my left the ‘Eye’ surrounded by all the familiar London sights. Sadly recent events have added a tinge of sadness to the way I will see this in future.
Exiting the platform with my iPhone in hand to check the address of The Theodore Bullfrog Pub (which sounds like a book title itself!), I stride across the windy Hungerford bridge where the sound of drills and machinery confirm the work going on at Charing Cross station. Onwards - oops, missed it! Quick spin round and I’m there.

The Entrance

I can't pretend I’m not excited to meet my e-critique group again, some of whom have also signed up for the class. But my reason for attending is to look at my precious manuscripts from a different angle and really focus on the motivation of my characters. As always in my experience of Scooby events, everyone is very welcoming. We greet each other as good friends and we all commiserate on how much more we should have done in preparation.

The Deal

Event organiser, Alison, has everything ready for us. The timing (12 - 4pm) is great as it allows people enough time to travel to the venue. The included lunch was all arranged beforehand and water/hot drinks provided. The room is light and airy with huge windows to two sides, giving the impression of being part of the scene. In fact our only spectator is a rook that appears intermittently on the opposite window ledge.

Natascha encouraged us to think about what makes children tick... Photo Credit: Alison Smith

The Content

After the welcome and required ‘elf and safety’ regs, Alison introduces Natascha who is already familiar to many of us.
She begins with an invitation for us to introduce ourselves and give an example of what motivates us. That is quite a tall order off the cuff, but everyone manages an answer, whether it is something that motivated us from childhood, in our writing or in some cases the motivation that prompted us to attend the masterclass. I think it helps to focus our thoughts on the theme for the rest of the day, as well as giving the opportunity to get to know others. Generally it appears that whilst some are self motivated, others respond to need or invitation, and we agree that procrastination is a common trait that hinders motivation to write!

The theme of motivation having been well defined, we consider what motivates children and in particular the characters in our own writing. The balance of talking, demonstrations, exercises and shared experiences means the day moves along swiftly and offers something for everyone.

Delegates ponder what is motivating their own characters. Photo Credit: Alison Smith

The Result

For some there is a ‘light bulb’ moment when we realise that ‘motivation is pivotal’ alongside an intriguing plot which concludes what motivates the character, having been achieved. We also have the opportunity to consider the motivation of secondary characters.

Some of the exercises are very enlightening and for me the opportunity to ask my character questions is very helpful in defining the plot. I really feel that I have examined my character and even begin to think of what she might do in the next book! I will also now be writing a full bio of each of my characters, to inform my writing.

The Advice

The Masterclasses are such good value and the opportunity to hear wisdom from those who work in the industry, to explore and extend our own practice and to hear other people’s journeys combined, make them invaluable. I would highly recommend that you give them a go. My superfood wrap was great, too!


Sue Rawlings works as a part time Art tutor, helping grown ups to rediscover their inner child through painting workshops in her Hampshire studio. Meanwhile, she rediscovers her inner child through writing stories for children.
She is currently honing fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, and is looking for an agent to support her search for publication.


A M Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at events@britishscbwi.org
Twitter: @a_reflective

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