There was something a little bit different about Ayr Writers’ Club on Wednesday night. No one was stuck on mute, connections weren’t unstable and despite the chilly weather, no one froze.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, after a year and a half of Zoom meetings, AWC was back at the Mercure Hotel, live and in the flesh!
And what a night it was. First up, each of our new members gave a little introduction. I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering the utter terror at walking through those doors for the first time, so bravo to those who chose to do it with some restrictions still in place. Whether you’ve published twenty books or have never written a single word, welcome!
Each of the committee members spoke a bit about their roles, then it was on to the star attraction; Janice Johnston speaking about finding characters. Janice has been a member since the late ’90s. She has served in various roles on the committee and is currently the Competition Secretary of the Scottish Association of Writers. She writes children’s fiction, short stories, non-fiction and is a member of LiterEight.
Janice started by telling us about how, when doing research for this workshop, she came across the story behind Finding Nemo. Andrew Stanton, the director and screenwriter, used various moments from his life as inspiration, including how he loved going to the dentist as a child to see the fish tank, his over-protectiveness of his son and a photo of some clownfish.
Sometimes story comes from character, sometimes it’s the other way around. Some stories might come to you fully-formed, or like Finding Nemo, others can take years to develop.
Janice then led us onto writing a character profile. There are plenty of these available online, with details like name, age and physical description, but are these the things you think about first? Janice said she doesn’t always know a character’s name until halfway through a story.
Instead, she gave us celebrity interview questions from magazines and newspapers. There are plenty of those out there, too, and might give you more interesting answers. So instead of asking your character where they grew up, why not ask what makes them happiest? What is their favourite make-up, or what trait do they despise in themself?
Janice gave us a few minutes to work on these questions before feeding back.
Next up, what are they wearing? Is there one piece of clothing that stands out? Janice showed us a few different items of clothing and we had to imagine who they belonged to.
Can you turn a reader’s expectations to your advantage and surprise them? If you mention that someone is a truck driver, most readers might not imagine a young, blonde woman whose truck is hot pink. For what it’s worth, I have seen said pink truck on the road and it’s very cool.
After the break, we paired up and tried to think of stories involving the characters we’d created. What a wonderful thing it was to hear lively discussions around the room, something which is hard to achieve on Zoom.
After some pairs shared their ideas, Janice had some final advice for us. Think about what your character would never do, then make them do it. Where is your character, both geographically and in time? If you’re submitting to magazines, don’t just read the fiction they publish, but also the type of people they feature.
We have plenty of competition opportunities at the club. Next up is the General Short Story, where, as Janice pointed out, you can literally get away with murder. But if a competition has a theme, don’t write the obvious.
Nigel gave the vote of thanks, and we were done.
What a lovely evening spent in good company. I’m sure I speak for everyone in the club when I say thank you to everyone on the committee, especially Jeanette and Ajay, for guiding us so successfully through the past year and a half on Zoom. I think many of us would have been lost without any contact from the club and our online meetings were perfect to keep us going until it was safe for us to meet again.
Now, if I can only work out how that new payment machine in the car park works …