Isobelle Carmody, the acclaimed writer of science fiction, fantasy, children’s and young adult literature, presented an insightful workshop on authentic characters: voice, diversity and character arcs during Brisbane Writelinks Minifest on 11 August 2018.
She emphasised that the most important aspect of a novel, particularly in the young adult genre, is character. A story needs to encapsulate a central idea or question and the protagonist is used as the vessel to carry this idea or question. Isobelle revealed three important questions she often asks which helps to form her unique characters:
• Why do people do the things they do?
• Why do we act in such extreme ways?
• Where do these actions come from?
The seeds for the above are planted during adolescence which is why Isobelle is so drawn to characters in this age group. We, as human beings, react and make choices and take on persona’s to the outside world and so must our characters.
“The first journey for an author is the journey inwards.” For Isobelle Carmody, this is how original and authentic characters and storytelling are created. It is not a projection outwards but a journey about the self and of self-discovery.
Isobelle revealed that she draws inspiration for characters from certain aspects of people she knows. She mines these aspects which allows her to ground her characters in a sense of realism even when her story takes on fantastical elements.
Isobelle, during her presentation, also stressed that setting is a character. For her first published novel, Obernewtyn, she formed the post-apocalyptic setting as a mirror for her grief and dark feelings at the time. Sadly, she lost her father during this time and she imbued her story and her characters with this sense of grief, malaise and darkness.
In the second half of the presentation, Isobelle passed around a series of photos. Each person took a photo and was asked do the following writing exercises, as a stream of consciousness:
• What is the person in the photo thinking?
• What do I believe in i.e. what are my values?
• What does the person in the photo believe?
• What would my “opposite” self believe?
• Place your “opposite” in a scenario where he/she is beside a pond. What does he/she hear, feel, smell, see etc. It rains. What does the opposite do? The “opposite” meets the person in the photo. What is the “opposite’s” reaction?
By practically exploring different characters through a journey “inwards”, we learned how to construct aspects of authentic characters and create authentic voice. Isobelle asked everyone in the workshop to read out their stream of consciousness and we were able to hear how many different aspects of character and voice were created from the same set of exercises.
In summary, Isobelle Carmody believes that the creation of authentic characters is achieved via the journey inwards, by asking a key question or exploring an idea and by experimentation.
“Creating character is alchemy.”
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Shaun has always loved stories, whether on the page or up there on the screen. A genre fiction nut - he loves sci-fi and horror but his first and abiding love is fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.
Shaun loves to write stories aimed at Young Adult readers whilst also being drawn to write for a New Adult audience - characters over 18 but under 25. His publishing goal is to give voice to diverse characters and to create authentic stories he's yearned to read his whole life.
Shaun is currently studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at UQ.
Shaun recently was shortlisted for the 2018 CYA Competition - Young Adult Section for his novelette: Hamelin.