On the 1st of March 2016, Marcus Sedgwick came to give the A-Level Creative Writing students a special workshop, focusing on the important features to consider with characterisation, and the links between character and plot.
Firstly, we were all given names: ‘Alexandra,’ ‘Bob,’ ‘Archibald,’ and ‘Sam’. Then we were asked to write 3 facts about each one of these characters. It was surprising how much people inferred simply from the names. Whilst ‘Bob,’ had variable qualities (a fishmonger, an accountant, a railway enthusiast), the characteristics of ‘Archibald’ were more based on pre-conception. Archibald had a minor title usurped from him, was incredibly rich, wore the same suits every day… We realised that it was these sorts of more specific characteristics that were more memorable and important, than the more surface-level traits.
After this, we were given random images of people – by no means necessarily all the types of characters we actively might choose to write about – and were asked for twenty features about them: from where they lived and how old they were, to more off-the-wall things such as what song we imagined that they would be (which people found particularly difficult). We then shared these with the group.
Following on from characterisation, we began to focus on the structure of plot. This began with a simple exercise to rearrange verses of a song into the order of the story they told. From here we advanced to the arrangement of a film plot (which was a challenging activity) for a film that we hadn’t seen. We learned about the use of three acts in a film so that action can be more balanced, and Marcus told us about how characters and plot must be intrinsically linked. His own writing process, he said, is ‘95% thinking’, in contrast to only 5% writing. He did, however, warn us to take his advice with a pinch of salt, saying that ‘being a writer is both wonderful as terrifying, as there is no right way it can be done.’
It was both entertaining and very useful to have Marcus Sedgewick make a return to BGS and speak with us in great detail; if he’d like to come back again, we’d be delighted to have him.