The Writer’s Block: Characterisation

Talia Moodley
August 22, 2022

It was a long time coming, but the Publications team finally got ourselves together enough to organise a recurring writing group, which we named ‘The Writer’s Block’ (yes, Creative Director Chantelle came up with the name instead of us, but no, that’s not relevant right now).

The inaugural session of The Writer’s Block rolled around exactly one week ago from today on a chilly winter night that . . . made no difference to us because we were on a call on the LitSoc Discord. But creating the right atmosphere is key to a lot of scenes, so there you go. The night’s topic was ‘characterisation’, which led to self-intros about characters we loved (like those with well-developed backstories) and ones we really didn’t (like those that lose any hint of a personality when they gain a love interest).

After new traumas were unlocked through the above-mentioned self-intros, we got into our first block of writing time. Resident self-published author/genius, Lovina, worked on her next book while I struggled through a book review. For members looking for a new challenge, there were some topical writing prompts, including:

  • Reimagine a well-known fairy tale character but make them multifaceted. Complicate their motivations, layer their loyalties or put a different spin on their backstory.
  • Write a short scene. Now write the same scene a second time from the perspective of a 10-year-old character and a third time from the perspective of an 80-year-old character.
  • Show your character’s occupation without ever defining it in words. How can you subtly imply it through their mannerisms and ways of speaking/reacting to things?

While the writing blocks were full of clacking keyboards and scribbling HBs, the discussion blocks brought everyone together to relax and refresh. Or, if you had spent 30 minutes staring at an open but very blank Word doc, they were a nice distraction from all that glaring white space.

We chatted (complained) about the tendency some authors have to copy-paste the same characters, disguised under new descriptions, across different series. In the binary between protagonists/heroes and antagonists/villains, we were all inclined towards villains having more interesting arcs. This, of course, did not pass without mention of the redemption arcs afforded to both Zuko and his hair. Where self-inserts are concerned, there was an agreed upon line between writing Mary Sues for the purpose of wish fulfilment and genuinely using your own strengths and flaws to enrich a character. It was pointed out that, in general, it’s important to get to know your characters to avoid trapping them in boxes or allowing them to become stereotypes. Sometimes they won’t be people you think like or even like, and that might require some recalibration to stop them flattening into one-dimensional cutouts. And when agency was thrown into the mix, we were willing to roll with protagonists getting swept up by events, or maybe just not being interested in saving the day (totally valid), but if there’s no balance between character action compelling the plot and plot that motivates character action, we could have a problem.

I won’t attempt to detail a whole hour’s worth of conversation any more than I already have, so I’ll leave you with a cute screenshot from the call instead.

Screenshot of the Discord call on which TWB was hosted.