EVENTS Creating characters: use your head

The synopsis of David Thorpe’s workshop From Character To Story was intriguing, writes Abigail Tanner. It promised to use different aspects of psychology to bring our characters and writing to life.

His workshop on ‘Nailing the story’ last year had been my first event as a SCBWI Wales member and I was looking forward to another of his in-depth workshops. And I was not disappointed.

Unless the reader cares about the characters you are creating, who will read your book?

Character development is a very timely part of my own manuscript. Areas of my current work in progress are looking flat, and my main protagonist could do with a bit of a jump start, as he’s loitering in the background behind his sidekick. 

I can map my structure, plot, cause and effect, and I know the beginning, middle and end of my story. But unless the reader cares about the characters on the page, who will read my book, publish it, buy it for their child, recommend it to a friend or borrow it from the library?

Areas of my current work in progress are looking flat and my main protagonist could do with a bit of a jump start

David’s opening discussion about character was raw, moving and from the heart. He highlighted the struggles he had with ‘character’ early on in his writing career – mainly, why should readers care about a made-up world and its people?

He talked about the epiphany he had, to make his characters jump off the page. This was… that we should properly engage with real human emotion – OUR OWN.

His own success as an author came when he was more honest with himself. It enabled emotional engagement within his own writing, and opened up doors of opportunity which otherwise may have remained closed to him.

Something we discussed and all agreed on, was that your characters do not have to be likeable. But if they’re not, your reader should still feel empathy towards them and be curious about what happens next. By understanding your own emotions, you can create characters the reader cares about.

To make our characters jump off the page, we should properly engage with real human emotion – OUR OWN

For me, this does not mean all my characters will be a literal representation of me and my struggles. But by using my emotional experiences, drawing upon them and applying them to my characters in different situations, I may create more engaging, realistic and empathetic characters.

Throughout the rest of the session, we went through a variety of psychological discussions, examples and exercises. At any time, we were told that we did not have to focus on anything that made us uncomfortable - any sort of psychological anaylsis can be tough and bring out emotions we may not want to share with people we hardly know.

We were given plenty of tools to take away to apply to scenes and chapters, where characters are wooden or un-empathetic, or may need a good shake up. These tools are one of the reasons I would recommend this workshop, as when you receive the notes a few days later, you can then apply the bonus material to your work. Really useful if you have difficult characters that aren’t talking to you, or you need help to engage with yourself and the people in your stories.

Workshop attendees listen intently to David Thorpe talking about character creation. Photo credit: Abigail Tanner.

One of the biggest takeaways from the day was when David advised us to be persistent and unflinching, and to always question yourself and your characters:

* Why are they doing x, y or z?
* Different characters will give you different answers
* Put your characters in different situations
* To write well you must know, and be truthful with, yourself

*Feature image credit: Yen Jui-Lin


Abigail is a member of SCWBI Wales and the Golden Egg Academy. She is writing a middle grade fantasy novel and is currently wrestling her main protagonist out of the background, as at the moment the sidekick is doing too much heavy lifting.

Twitter: @Abadabadoo2

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

Twitter: @FranGPrice

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, this is a great report. I will try to catch David's next workshop!


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