EVENT REPORT Character is Destiny

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day this year, a group of SCBWIs bullied an adult novelist into reading Harry Potter, while wearing unicorn socks, reports Catherine Whitmore.

Let’s unpack that sentence a little… The date was 17 March, 2018. The event was the ‘Character is Destiny’ workshop, presented by CM Taylor, a North West SCBWI event in partnership with Manchester Children’s Book Festival and Manchester Metropolitan University. The uni team provided a beautiful lecture theatre for us.

The uni team provided a lecture theatre for SCBWI. Picture credit: Catherine Whitmore.
The adult novelist was Craig Taylor, who writes under CM Taylor as, apparently, he was beaten to publication by an Australian with the same name. I heard Craig speak at the York Writers’ Workshop Conference a few years ago. His insights into how to tie theme to character and plot were enlightening to me back then.

He did well to blend in with the SCBWIs until he admitted never having read Harry Potter

But, as often is the case at these conferences, the session was too short to really explore and contemplate the information presented. When our members asked for a workshop on plot and character, Craig immediately came to mind, and I used my Network Organiser privilege to invite him up north to speak to us.

Initially, Craig was apprehensive to speak to children’s novelists. But I convinced him that we could handle his adult ways. He did well to blend in with the SCBWIs until he admitted never having read Harry Potter. The audible gasps were hilarious, as was Craig’s face.

Among the topics Craig discussed was the social identity of a unicorn. Picture credit: Wikipedia
The workshop was entitled, ‘Character is Destiny’, as Craig explained that, in order to tell the story that we want to tell, we need to choose our characters carefully, pivoting them around the theme in order to express our personal point of view.

We considered how theme can help to give us a voice, show our point of view, and help mould our story. Finding a theme or subjects that we’re passionate about helps form the characters our story needs. Whether this leads to an exploration of duty, redemption or the social identity of a unicorn (cue the exposure of unicorn socks), our characters should work for us, not be shoe-horned into our story. Our protagonist might personify the positives or ideals, while the antagonist will typically act as its opponent.

Finding a theme or subjects that we’re passionate about helps form the characters that our story needs

We also considered where most of the action takes place in our stories: in the big, wide, world? Internally? Inside our relationships? We also looked at ‘change’ and how our characters might transition through the story. And all topped off with movie scenes starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

Who needs a pint of Guinness and a Jameson chaser? We saved that for the snowstorm later.

*Featured image: Catherine Whitmore

Catherine Whitmore is a mum and rarely evil stepmother from Greater Manchester. She writes YA fiction. One half of the SCBWI-BI NW Network Organiser team, she enjoys family time on Gwynedd’s beaches, gin-in-a-tin, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and freshly threaded eyebrows. Twitter: @purewhitty

Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures. She writes middle grade fantasy and picture books. If you have a SCBWI event you would like to promote or report on, please contact her at events@britishscbwi.org.
Twitter: @FranGPrice

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