EVENT REPORT Creating Characters to Care About Masterclass with Piers Torday

Zoe Kear reports on Piers Torday’s London Masterclass, where he considered beloved characters from children’s fiction and shared his own methods for creating characters to care about.

Do you sometimes feel your plot is the strength of your story, but your characters are not as engaging as you would like? Piers Torday’s Masterclass on Creating Characters to Care About was a great source of inspiration to help refine character and included exercises to use for future projects.

In this Masterclass, Piers shared his experience and some of the strategies that have helped him create characters to care about in his much-loved books, including The Last Wild and There May be a Castle. He also explored well-loved favourites in order to identify what makes a character engaging.

The Last Wild. Photo Credit: Alison Smith

Piers began by reminding us that, ‘there is no right or wrong,’ when writing. A useful tip to remember. Then he set out why characters are so important:

‘…characters are key and if you’ve got that right, everything else will follow.’

Before the class, we were set homework to bring in our favourite middle grade book. Piers used this exercise to help explain why characters in children’s fiction are so important as an influential factor when we grow up. The class shared their own favourites, which included the likes of The Secret Garden and Little Women. Following this, we moved onto the practical exercise of copying out a section and then transposed the moment into our own writing. This was an exercise that created some very engaging characters and scenes.

The Masterclass was information rich and practical. Here I have summed up just five of the main ideas: reading, memory, characters, voice, and plot.


‘Reading is where characters come from.’

Piers emphasized the importance of reading widely. He shared his inspiration for some of his characters and how other books can be a great source of information and inspiration. Following this, we looked at extracts from writers such as Roald Dahl to see how a writer can create a strong impression of character in only a few lines.


By revealing the inspiration of The Real Wild, Piers was able to emphasise the importance of utilising our own memories to help bring our writing to life. In the practical activity, we wrote about a turning point in our lives, a funny moment, or a frightening event. The resulting readings were some shocking and engaging moments, which revealed much about the experience of life as a child.

The characters

‘Go big on characteristics. Treat them like nuclear material.’

In this section, we were encouraged to explore the characters we had created in more depth. Asking questions such as: ‘What is their function?’ and ‘What are their internal and external conflicts?’ Piers then emphasized the importance of staying loyal to these characteristics in order to make the characters believable.


‘Be ruthless. Has this been done before? How is yours different.’

Finding that original idea can be difficult. Piers was able to talk through his process for The Last Wild and the strategies he used to help ensure his novel was original with characters that were rooted in our literary history, but felt original and fresh.

‘Does the dialogue sound like your character?’

Voice is important in children’s literature. Piers emphasised that children like to repeat lines that characters say. His suggestions for finding distinctive voices was that they can be found in the everyday: from a person you meet in the street to a distinctive voice on TV.


‘Plot should always come from character.’

The advice that we shouldn’t impose a choice on a character, linked to the previous points about consistency. It can be tempting to make a character do something to fit the events that we need to happen, but Piers reminded us that characters shouldn’t be used in this way. It shouldn’t feel like a plot device.

Scoobies working hard. Photo Credit: Alison Smith

These are just a few highlights from the Masterclass. A huge thank you to Piers Torday for giving us such an informative, hands on session. Following this Masterclass I have carried out numerous practical exercises, which have led to engaging character moments and more consistent characterisation.

This was the final SCBWI Masterclass of the year. Led by industry experts with insightful understanding, this series of classes have been inspirational and informative. They are a great way to meet fellow writers and catch up with old friends. Next year’s eagerly anticipated schedule will be announced in the Winchester conference later this year.

*Featured image: Piers Torday talking about characters. Photo Credit: Alison Smith


Zoe Kear is currently writing a YA fantasy and has written an MG comedy. You can find her on Twitter @ZoeGKear.


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

1 comment:

  1. Succinctly put Zoe. Sounds like a great workshop. Thanks for sharing.


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