‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’
Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).
It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’
When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.
As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival. It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.
A news item caught my eye this week and saddened my heart. Doctors and nurses are to be charged and possibly imprisoned for not providing adequate care for patients. How that contrasts with one of my recent reads – The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson.
Ken recommends an educational system and ethos which helps individuals discover their gifts, talents, desires, passions and then suggests how to help those develop by joining others of a similar mind (the Tribe) and finding a mentor to guide, challenge and further that person’s development.
No doubt many doctors and nurses are born to perform a caring role. For some the job may be a real passion, or use of their innate abilities to the full. How much better then that the working environment stimulates commitment, rewards professionalism and enthusiasm, and uses examples of exceptional practitioners to motivate and inspire.
But no, some people think the big stick works better. Not only ‘Never Do Harm‘, but if we catch you failing, we’ll make sure you end up bitter, defensive and demotivated.