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ThoughtTree November 2017

Thoughttree Writing Workshop:

Please bare in mind that these workshops are about participation and my write up involves things that emerged from the group activities as well as advice and instruction given by the group leader Deb Henderson.

Unlikeable protagonists and secondary characters.

• Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
• Frank and April Weaver in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
• Nick and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
• Amon Geuth in Schindler’s List (film with Ralph Fiennes): Schindler’s Ark by T Keneally
• Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
• Percy Whetmore in The Green Mile (film screenplay by Stephen King)
• Cal Hockley in Titanic (film screenplay by J Cameron)
• Gordon Gecko in Wall Street (film screenplay by Oliver Stone)
• Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• Mr Elton in Emma by Jane Austen
• Dorian Gray in Pictures of... by Oscar Wilde
• Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
• Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago etc ~ some of Shakespeare's flawed characters
• Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
• Kevin in We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
• Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
• Frederick in The Collector by John Fowles
• Michael Corleone in The Godfather (film. and novel by Mario Puzo)

...please add your own favourites!

'The unlikable character is a one-man plot building machine.’

Adrienne Geezo, Writer's Digest

‘I like a character who makes bad mistakes. I like conflicted characters who don't stumble but walk directly into the darkness. And then I like them, even more, when they find their my out. It gives me hope that if I fail, I'll find a way to make it right, and still be loved.‘

Linda Sienklewicz,

Today’s Session is all about creating a dysfunctional character.

Creating characters is a skill which we have to learn.
To begin building your character you should have certain elements within them.

• They should have a redemption element.
• You should avoid black and white characters for no one is wholly bad and no one is holy good.
• You should try to make your character appear real.
• You should think about points that you have made in your character profile notes and use these to help mould your character.
• Ideal characters or sociopaths who do not fit in with the rest of us.
• Try to be consistent with your flaws and don’t dwell constantly on their failings. Try to give an example of a flaw and then an example of something they do well and then perhaps another flaw and then perhaps something else that they do well.
• It is good to use ‘self-putdowns’ these people are always fishing for compliments or praise for things they have done well. This is very irritating behaviour for any reader.
• Know that the views of other characters can also be horribly wrong.
• Try to make your characters believable and do not stray into totally outlandish ridiculous behaviour. The reader will think the character needs saving from you ;-)

Task number one.

1. Create a character who is radically different from yourself.
2. This character can be a major or a minor player in a future story you may write.
3. Point out their good points and their unsavoury elements.

Good Points Bad Points Notes: 
Generous with time or money Spiteful of tongue  Publically?
Gay/ Gregarious and a good mixer. Hates the opposite sex. Check out why? 
Very attractive but also deceptive  Why Deceptive?
Friendship is something they appear to do well they just appear to be nice. endless ongoing they display malice to people who
have upset them.
Tall, slim, good figure, great pair, faultless makeup instantly has an impact on any room and plays to
the crowd - they have lots of charisma.
Beware this can all be approved of by certain readers. Make sure it is to gain some bad end result. 
Sleeps and eats in their own house but lives in other peoples houses. As above.
Every activity they do is well organised, brief, efficient and is often done for others. appears to be a do good’er. Some readers love do good’ers


Task 2.

Think of something that may have happened on a particular day which really threw them off balance.

“ and ex-partner is coming back to the area where they lived and certain of her
friends are entertaining that partner.”

Task 3.

These are “thinking exercises” in preparation for including this character in a future story or stories that you may be thinking of writing.

1. Ask yourself what makes your character tick?
2. Remember Robbie Burns once said ‘If we could only see ourselves as others see us.’
3. Make sure that you make your character good at something and take pains to explain their good point early on in the story to the reader.
4. Determine what your characters' motivation and passions.

Writing Task.

Think of a way of being able to make your reader have sympathy for your character.

Give an example now.

“When she was 10 her father left the family home and her new stepfather had two boys
from his previous marriage. The stepfather doted on the two boys and made it
crystal clear that he had no love or care for his new wife’s daughters. The mother,
stepfather and the two boys were ‘one family’ and the two girls just lived there.”

Writing Example 2 [making a flawed character have a good side]

“ She was throwing the present that he had given into a skip which had been left in the
car park. As she threw the package in she noticed some movement in the skip
. In a bag, there was something that wriggled. She carefully and unzipped the bag
and found inside that it contained a puppy. She removed the puppy from the bag
and placed it under her coat. She then made her way to the vets and made
sure that the puppy would be cared for.“

The above would be a totally unexpected event that the reader would not have anticipated.

Readers will believe the flawed character better if you can find a way of giving the character some redemption. You should plan this well ahead and mention something right at the beginning of your story that you will use at the end to redeem them.

Things that you could use to achieve this are as follows.

1. They have obvious wit, charm and charisma.
2. Generous acts of kindness.
3. Loyalty to a friend.

Your character may have very strong viewpoints. This is okay, some of their strong viewpoints maybe very skewed or misinterpreted by them as something very different.

Never have a character which has no flaws at all a reader will be very antagonistic towards a goody two shoes.

Writing exercise number four.

Give an example of your character being judged because of their usual bad points and then redeem them from the situation later.

“It was well known that she hated her job and when she left to become her
nan’s ‘live in’ carer people just said, “well there is her way out!” However, her
nan was so well cared for, that she recovered her health and also her love of life
. So much so, that she suggested that other lonely old people who were much
more deserving people be sought to look after. Bingo! a successful
thriving business came into being which the nan helped her granddaughter

In your story try to convince the reader that your character is worthy of being saved.
You might like to provide them with a Saviour who comes to rescue them or you might prefer to put them into a group of people who are far worse than your character has ever been. Your character will then appear to be much nicer than the reader originally thought they were.

Another way out is when I bad guy kills another bad guy. In this way the killer becomes a sort of good guy.

Keep in mind a character is never bad for no reason. There must be a creditable explanation for the bad behaviour they display.

In every case use the readers shift in sympathy to encourage forgiveness.

For example Fagin is thought by the reader to be a thoroughly bad person. Charles Dickens introduces Bill Sykes who threatens to ruin Oliver by involving him in serious crime and then later murders Nancy. When Fagin is fleeing from the mob who effectively kill Bill Sykes he loses some of his treasures and by this time the reader has seen Fagin in a different light and will have sympathy for him.

A question to contemplate. Is it easier to make a woman a bad character is to make a man a bad character.

• Women are supposed to be nurturers they are supposed to be patient kind loving.
• Men are supposed to be hunters providers gatherers givers.
• You decide. But it is probably easier to make a woman appear bad.

To make a bad person appear to be seen in a better light one device is to give them a friend. This friend need not be a person it could be a pet such as a kitten or a puppy.

Ask yourself what is my character's motivation?

1. In case of the woman that I have been writing about during this session, it would appear that her motivation is that she hates all men and is determined to put every man who comes under her spell severely in his place.
2. Think about what it is that makes your character feel vindicated i.e. what is it that makes their behaviour seem to them to be entirely justified.
3. Think about what your character appears to know about themselves.
4. Think about their personal history and the experiences they have had in the past.

Last item. It is entirely possible that your character knows their bad points so well that they are always looking for distractions so they do not have to look at themselves too much. That is that they prefer to be in trouble for something minor that they have just done, rather than dwell on something major that they did in their past.

As homework write a story that features the character that we have been building this morning. Remember from early on in the story give your flawed character a way back into the reader's sympathies by using one of the methods that were discussed this morning.



U3A-CreativeWriting - December 2017

An intense energy had swelled and swirled within the spirit entity since he had entered through the gloomy portal of the house. This house of malevolence, born of greed and selfishness. There were enough rooms for five whole families to live a life of secluded comfort in. AND yet, true to form, only two rooms were used. The rest of this vast property set aside for its material value as an asset for its owner and master. The spirit gazed with a knowing sad eye upwards towards an apartment on the 2nd floor above. Up to it led a magnificent seven feet wide gallery staircase. There was an old tea chest abandoned many years previously in the centre of the huge entrance lobby. He dragged himself and all the chains and irons that bound him over to it and sat upon it. His energy quickly renewed but he knew he would need a great deal of energy with which to deal with the ogre which his partner in life had become, so he sat and eagerly awaited his opportunity to correct and change Ebenezer Scrooge (when the silly man deemed it at last that it was a decent time to give up the pursuit of wealth that day.)

Jacob Marley


In the eerie glow that permeated from himself, he could see the street door through which the dreadful old miser would enter. On his side of the door were two large nuts that held the lion-headed door knocker on. One of the clever 'spirit tricks' he had learned seven years ago was the ability to enter an object and look through it. In his mind now he entered the nuts and bolts and viewed through the Lions head the winter scene outside. Oh, but it was bitterly cold out there, snow lay several inches thick on the neglected stair and vast portal grounds outside.

            “Here he comes now.” Said the spirit excitedly out loud.

            “Jacob?” said a trembling voice.

“Yes, your redemption chance has arrived, you undeserving miserable sinner.” Said the ghost in a very whispered quiet voice, for now, was not the time to reveal the intents and purpose of his presence.

Scrooge had shakily inserted the key in the lock, turned it in a state of severe agitation and entered his property so quickly that his repulsion drove Jacob from the door knocker and returned him in a very weak state to the safety of his tea chest. His energy thus depleted he sat invisible to the recovering wreck of a man that stood nervously in front of him.

In the next split second a very sad memory came into the sight of the spirit as a spectre of his bodies last earthly journey re-enacted itself in that spacious foyer. His hearse with a horse at a fair gallop sped from the doorway right through Scrooge and then up the wide wonderful staircase to enter one of the rooms, through a tight, shut, locked and bolted secured heavy door above. Halfway up those stairs, the driver, with a flourish, had removed his hat and waved it in mock salute whilst he called out “Merry Christmas Guvnor, Merry Christmas!” Jacob remembered the event. The haste to be shot of him. The driver had another three corpses to deliver to the churchyard and time was indeed money. Besides, it was Christmas and the driver had his mind fixed on spending his evening imbibing vast quantities of ale in the company of many lewd loose serving wenches. Heaven for the likes of him.

Jacob watched the very slow ascent of scrooge up those stairs. The vision of Marley in the knocker and Jacob's coffin on the speeding hearse had unsettled him greatly.

“I should find him in a receptive mood when I join him in his composure in a few minutes time.” Thought Jacob as he sat quietly on his tea chest, feeling the resurgence of the restless energy within his spirit.” In his contemplations, he thought “It will take more than me and a seven-year-old replay to change this reluctant old sinner.  What will change the mind of this treacherous, devious, ‘failure out of success’ man? I know he thought “I will force him to look at his past and at his present and show him how he caused such misery and unhappiness when it would have been far less effort to cause great joy and merriment to the world. Then I will show him the future reward for his lack of care and kindness to his fellow men.”

Having formulated his plan, he knew he would need the help of the spirits of Past, Present & Future to do these necessary things. “Alas,” he thought “in life, I was just the same as this miserable wretch and so the master will not let be berate the behaviour of this like-minded soul.” Jacob sat and wept. He had learned far too late in his cold and lonely grave, the grievous offence that his life had been to his worthy mighty creator.

“Oh, how gold and earthly treasures blind one to the real values of a life well spent in pursuit of goodness and contentment... for all. He sat and thought of his own brothers, sisters, mother, father and the kind arm hearted fiancé he had neglected and fell away from. He thought of his current restless wanderings in which he observed all the need of necessities and the dire consequences of not having them. Why only this morning he had watched a ten-year-old boy be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. He hung his head in sorrow and shame, took upon himself all his previous sinful existence and vowed “I will be entirely and thoroughly good toward Ebenezer and save him from himself, he will be changed and not end up as I have done, bound and chained to all the falsehoods that the evil one has devised for the enslavement of men. He shall see a new kind of Christmas day, where he commits himself to share in the happiness and delight of the season with the whole of God’s wonderful creation. In this way, all my sorrow, grief and severe wanting will not have happened in vain. I know that if by sacrificing myself I save even just one soul then I will have discovered the way to save all mankind.”

Suddenly he became aware of three cheerful companions. He greeted each of them separately, warmly and heartily. In response, they bid him commence the battle for the mind and soul of the man hiding away from them in the rooms above. Christmas Past beamed at him “We will visit him one at a time. Jacob, you will go first, then I at one, Christmas Present you will visit at Two, Future you will visit him last at the time you feel most conducive to his welfare.”

And so, as Jacob ascended those stairs rattling his chains, various boxes, binders and ledgers for the ghostly effect, the 'Christmas Story of saving the undeserving' finally begun. Its conclusion was ‘hoped for beyond measure’ and that was that good would prevail. And so, as Jacob ascended those stairs rattling his chains, various boxes, binders and ledgers for the ghostly effect the 'Christmas Story of saving the undeserving' finally begun. Its conclusion was inevitable being that good would prevail. Good, however, is often rejected by men because evil (as portrayed by its instigator and chief champion, his greatest highness Lucifer) always pays better dividends. But this is just another of the lies that the fallen one tells, easily seen through, if you observe God diligently. Jacob had lain in the ground 7 months before the three things he needed in his new life came to him. A trinity of goodwill directed towards all men as a 'Last Chance'. The Father had sent Jacob Marley Past, The Son had sent Jacob Marley Present AND The Holy Spirit had sent Jacob Marley Future to pay a visit to him amongst all his loss and desolation. Finally, he had seen the error of his own ways and his immediate response had been to save his mentor and partner that had taught him everything that he had previously known and regretted bitterly ever learning.



November Group Exercise

November Exercise

Write about 3 characters (see the list below)

  • A woman who is happily married
  • A woman who is unhappily married
  • A woman who is on her own

Taken from our Text Book

Lewis, Linda. The Writer's Treasury of Ideas (p. 47).
Filament Publishing Ltd.
Kindle Edition.

She stood in front of a very ornate full length mirror. She gazed at her own reflection and took in every tiny detail. Not from vanity, but out of a deep sense of loathing that permeated her every breath.

This day changed her. She always thought it was her fault why she felt anger and frustration for much of her day. She had decided that she was going to examine herself closely and see what it was that was wrong with her. She started her examination at the top of her head and scanned downward until she arrived at very elegant patent gloss black stiletto heeled shoes. She noted the tear that had, during this observation, made its slow descent toward her cheek and finally fallen off her chin to the floor six feet below. She noted the tear’s journey was now completed and it could rest peacefully undisturbed. How she envied that tear, and its completed journey, she was so weary of her own.

She reviewed the details of her gaze. The Tiffany earrings, the Gucci glasses, the Swarovski diamond nose stud, the immaculate Armani suit, the thin black leather belt tight round an ideal waistline provided by The Raw Food diet and Dukan. The Cartier watch, huge stoned engagement ring and thick 10mm 3 colour gold wedding band. Her wonderfully tanned long slender legs and finally at those Christian Louboutin shoes. Nothing she observed had been her choice or her purchase. Every single thing that adorned her was chosen and purchased and forcibly hung on, and about her, by a being who claimed her as his own property.

She had missed out but one item in her mentally listed inventory. A Smith and Wesson “38”. She dropped the weapon to the floor where it fell with a hard final thud. Her rage subsided swiftly now the gun nestled into a stable position. It was soon joined by an array of discarded companions. Glasses, earrings, Saint Laurent necklace, watch, belt, rings, suit jacket - skirt, blouse and jacket and finally Eberjey carefully matched and elegant Harrod’s bought underwear.

She gazed at her new reflection and observed she liked this figure much better. Strange thing, as she gazed she imagined her youth had been returned to her. She wore no rings or any other items that had ensnared and caged her. She smiled at this ‘new’ reflection and noted her reflection seconds later sported a huge grin. She remembered her earlier years of ‘discovery’ where she had lived a very different journey. The one where she was the master of her own destiny. The things she encountered before she married the bully both had frightened and alarmed her. She was never good at coping, her mother had never let the wind blow on her at the time. After 20 years of dullness she thought how less dull and tiresome her life had once been.

For no reason she lent forward to better look at herself. Her hair seemed longer and fell about her waist. She observed though this was only because she now seemed four feet tall instead of her previous six. Her skin was fresh and new. Her heart beat fast excitedly now as she remembered the surety and comfort of being truly loved and protected by the two wonderful people she thought she saw stood proudly behind her. The man looked proud and wore the happiest of expressions she had ever seen, and she felt so good that it was her that made this man feel so wonderfully happy. The woman behind her smiled loving and adoringly at her baby and marvelled at her perfect little creation. This scene lasted at least a full minute. The mirror seemed as if it could not contain itself or the image within it for one second longer and suddenly in her head it shouted out “now then miss! What have we got here then?”

Rudely disturbed she stood upright again. In the mirror She observed vaguely a uniformed lady placing an arm around her in a securing embrace and a second official looking lady covering her modesty in an ill fitting ‘all in one’ suit. She had but seconds to look at her refection in the mirror. There was not much to take in really. Bare feet, a blue grey body bag, a pure white jump suit, two open palms, and a face peaceful and calm. She observed how that face, though so serene, had aged back again. Her demeanour had returned to one of uncertainty, tyranny and terror. She imagined that the reflected face in the mirror was ageing but through this new transformation it gained new lines and wrinkles, but always maintained a calm and peaceful expression and best of all, was finally free to be at last itself. And “what of prison?” she thought. I have only exchanged one cage for another, but at least I chose it for myself, so that I could be free of him.

She closed her eyes for a minute and when she reopened them, gazed into the mirror again. Her reflection was as it had initially been, she was once again the perfect immaculately dressed well presented trophy woman that he had made her. A voice the other side of her bedroom door said “for heavens sake darling, whatever do you get up to when we are due to be anywhere, we’ll be bloody late. Now for god’s sake get a bloody shift on!” Her boldness disappeared though in the next commands that filtered through the closed door.

Reluctantly she grabbed her hand luggage and walked from the room. As soon as she left the vacated hotel room, reality kicked in. “About bloody time! We are in real danger of missing our flight home. Now get a move on!” She thought "I can be happily married. This cage is most comfortable, and you never know, he might just disappear one day, hopefully... and then I will be as free as a bird, forever. Until that day comes we (me myself and I) will make the very best of things that we can. It's all about appearances my dear.”

Draft 9 - ready for critique at Monday 13th November Meeting @ The Masonic Lodge, 1 Selby Road, Howden DN14 7JW


ThoughtTree Writing Group

ThoughtTree Creative Writing Workshops.

Join our friendly and supportive group for lively discussion, a structured approach to writing techniques, opportunities to write - and to enjoy excellent coffee and cake in the break!

Place: The Village Paintpot, 55 Main Street, Elloughton, HU15 1JP

Dates: -

  • Thursday 16th/ repeated Friday 17th November 2017
  • Thursday 14th/ repeated Friday 15th December 2017
  • Thursday 11th/ repeated Friday 12th January 2018

Time: 10am- 12.30

Cost: £18 (including excellent refreshments)

Please book your place ASAP as space is limited. Hope to see you there!

Best wishes

Deb Henderson (Tel. 07855 042763)