Writers’ Group: Character Workshop

May 17, 2011

Writer’s Group: Character Study Workshop

Ah, the WiCM Writers’ Group series—the monthly salon of the WiCM literati. Every full moon (or so), WiCM members gather to hear an accomplished speaker share insights on a particular aspect of the literary world. Members can then engage the speaker in a post-talk Q&A. It’s a great formula, but this week WiCM shook things up.

WiCM dropped the guest speaker format and set up a writers’ workshop. This would be an active event, an experiment in dynamic collaboration. Nicole Rivera played the role of facilitator by issuing writing prompts, leading discussion, and guiding the critique segments. But the event was ultimately dependent on attendee participation.

This workshop business came as a surprise to me, as I can’t be bothered to read the event announcements beforehand. As a serious chronicler of human events, I owe my readers (hi mom and mom’s friends!) a view from the ground—entries built on impressions I record in the moment. Unfortunately for me, my fellow attendees did not seem to value the no-preparation-whatsoever philosophy.

Nicole kicked the night off:

“Hi everybody. Did you all prepare a character sketch and a scene?”

What the eff? Actual homework? I felt a tinge of panic when everyone else pulled out their completed assignments, some in the form of published books.

“Lucas, why don’t you go first? Do you have a character?”

Crap on a crutch. Time to throw something together.

“Uh, yeah, sure. Of course I have a character.  A really good one. Really faceted. Oh man, so many facets.”

“Great! Why don’t you tell us more?”

“Sure. Why don’t I? [Ahem] My character…is a boy who—no, a girl—and she wants…to explore. Because she’s sick of things the way they are, you know? She, er, she wants to see how other people live, like outside of her own little pond, so to speak. Um…because she’s a fish.”

“Your character is a fish?”

“Yes. Sure. A carp, in fact. She’s a carp. But also human. Half human, half carp.”

“So she’s a mermaid.”

“Well, she’s like a mermaid, but specifically half carp.”

“Huh. What’s her name?”

“A name? Haha, I mean, of course she has a name. Let’s see, it’s…her name is…Muriel.”

“Muriel. Hmmm. And what happens to Muriel the almost-mermaid?”

“You know, carp stuff.  Like, she has lots of fun with her best friends Clownder and Kreblastian. Oh those three get into all sorts of mischief together. She’s a really well developed character. Super deep. Hard to even start describing her.”

“Right. Because of the facets.”

“So many facets…”

The next writer melted all those patient, pitying looks when she shared her amazing story. Not that the amazingness of her piece made me feel better about my recap of The Little Smermaid. Neither did the next piece, or the next. It turns out that the writers in that room were astoundingly talented.

We were treated to some great work. The creativity that built the plots and the craft that defined the tellings were remarkable. I hope these writers aren’t averse to shout outs, because they need to be recognized and encouraged to keep doing what they’re doing. Michelle Kaskel, this is your shout out. Catie Lazarus, you are being out-shouted right this second. Knock knock. Who’s there? Christina Spataro! (That’s a shout out.) Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Jim Nolan! (Most definitely a shout out.) Ellen Bari, I’ve already written about your work so I won’t embarrass you and write about –> Jumping Jenny <– again here (stealth hyperlink shout-out). Lastly, Nicole Rivera gets her props for making it all work. Nicole, what’s the opposite of “whisper in”?

The workshop was productive, fun, and frankly kind of inspiring. It’s tough for WiCM to make this a regular occurrence, as a small size is necessary to make it work, but I’m really glad WiCM made it happen.

The greater point is that WiCM’s greatest resource is its members. This is no secret, but these humble folks make it easy to forget what a talent trove we’ve got. In this instance, I was particularly struck by the creativity and skill of my fellow members. But every interaction at these events promises a new, passionate insight into kids’ media. We’re each a part of a special, vibrant community, and I’d like to take a moment to celebrate it. So check out the website/newsletter. Go to events. Participate when you’re there. Promise to attend every event and blog about them. Just kidding. But however you do it, engage! There’s so much fun to be had, so get involved, sucka.

I will see YOU at the next event,


PS: I’m pumped to announce that WiCM member Julie Meerschwam is forming a monthly writing critique group right now. The group will meet to offer support, structure, and constructive feedback for picture book, easy reader, and chapter book writers. There are just a couple of spots left, but if you’re interested, send a few lines about who you are, what you’re working on, and why you are interested to julie@storkfilms.com. And if Julie’s group is overbooked, start a new one!