Monday, 9 January 2012

What do you want?

We got the New Year off to a rollicking start at Waterstones on Thursday, with a writing workshop on resolutions and outrageous wishes. When it comes to creating characters; wishes, dreams, hopes and resolutions are powerful ways of getting to the heart of what makes fictional people tick. Just as our own resolutions for the New Year, reveal what our current preoccupations, vices and ambitions might be, so exploring the wishes and desires of fictional folk, can be a great way for writers to understand character motivations better and write actions that credibly arise from them.

Still, it’d be a challenge in a ninety minute workshop to invent a character of Chekhovian subtlety and depth from scratch, so instead, on Thursday, we took fairy-tale characters – already familiar to us - and attributed our resolutions and outrageous wishes to them instead. As an exercise in discovering how wants and wishes drive stories and actions, it worked very well indeed, and the resulting stories saw Little Red Riding Hood heading off to travel India; the Big Bad Wolf giving up smoking; and the Evil Queen from Snow White, resolving to be more positive and eat healthily. Want to have a go yourself? Then try the exercises below and see how they work for you. Try them first with fairy-tale characters, and then dig out a character from one of your own stories and apply the same process to them. I defy you to not know them better by the end of it!

PREPARATION: First write three New Year’s resolutions and three outrageous wishes on small pieces of paper. (I define an outrageous wish, as something you’d love to happen but probably never will. For example: you have two left feet, but would love to be a ballerina OR you’re pathologically scared of heights but long to bungee jump.) Now fold the papers up and place them in a pile. NEXT: write the names of three fairy-tale goodies and 3 baddies. (They don’t have to be from the same story). Place these in a separate pile. If you’re in a group, write one resolution, one wish, one goodie and one baddie each.

Now pull one piece of paper from the resolutions and wishes pile, and one from the goodies and baddies pile.

STEP 1: Let’s say you’ve picked Cinderella and a resolution of ‘stop binge drinking’. In bullet points start brainstorming ideas. Ask your self the WH questions – who, why, when, what, how? I know I do go on about them, but asking ourselves these simple questions really helps us get to the heart of a story. So: why has Cinders been binge drinking? Are the Ugly Sisters getting to her? Is she nervous about marrying into the Royal Family? When did this start? What’s she drinking and why has no one noticed? Does Prince Charming know? How is she going to stop? You get the idea. This should hopefully reveal what’s at the heart of Cinderella’s current dilemma.

STEP 2: Now write a scene in which your character is on the verge of being tempted to BREAK their resolution. What’s going on?

STEP 3: Pick another 2 pieces of paper; this time hopefully you have an outrageous wish and another character – perhaps a baddie. Go through the brain storming process again, asking those WH questions. Now write another scene, in which your character is on the verge of their wish coming true. Wishes are double-edged sword aren’t they? Sometimes we get what we wish for and it makes us happy. Sometimes it doesn’t. What will happen?

Feel free to post your tales as a comment below. I’d love to read them.

Story Scavenger is back for another FREE Waterstones Writing Workshop in Brighton on February 2nd 2012. The popular Myths and Fairy Tales course starts again at Evolution Arts on April 24th 2012, and it sold out last time, so make sure you book early.


  1. It was such a lot of fun and a really great atmosphere! Thanks very much, I look forward to February :D

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, look forward to seeing you next time :)