Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 – Creating Credible Characters

I slept surprisingly well and I never sleep well away from home, perhaps the wine from the previous night helped! I woke early to a magnificent sunrise over the rolling Hampshire hills.

Winchester sunrise – Ellie Holmes

The town of Winchester is very smart and clearly well heeled. A quick glance in the estate agents’ windows the night before had revealed a modest Victorian terrace on the market for £650k, practically London prices. I assume many people commute to London from Winchester to work but, as with so many places, it must be almost impossible for the locals who do not work in London to get on the property ladder. I guess that’s a whole other blog, however.

The first full day of the festival had offered a range of one day courses to choose from. I plumped for Creating Credible Characters run by an author called Adrienne Dines.

Adrienne Dines Author
Adrienne Dines Author

The workshop had a large number of attendees so it was clearly a popular choice. Our base for the day was a light, airy but hot classroom.   We were blessed with a mini heatwave during this particular weekend and at times it did make concentration difficult and bottles of water essential.

Adrienne Dines was a powerhouse. Her energy and enthusiasm for her subject shone through and amazingly her dynamism did not flag throughout the entire day, carrying us all along on her cheery and knowledgeable wave.

Creating Credible Characters
Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 – Creating Credible Characters Delegates’ copy

There were many highlights to the class not least Adrienne herself moving around the classroom like a whirling Dervish. Here are some of the notes that I jotted down.

Heroes are noble; villains are self-serving.

Main characters must need something and that need must get worse as the story continues.

To add a time limit adds tension to any story line.

Conflict between love and loyalty is a great conflict driver for a story.

Each scene should either be cutting the string of the plot or tying the string (magnificently demonstrated by Adrienne, a volunteer, a ball of string, scissors, a table leg and the class making up an ad hoc story).

Adrienne Dines 2
Adrienne Dines demonstrating ‘string theory’ with a volunteer

Emotionally there needs to be voyage and return.

Characters are either stayers or changers.

Put stayers in a situation where they have to change.

Stayers change the world around them. Changers are changed by the world.

A writer knows their characters from the inside out. A reader learns about those characters from the outside in.

This for me was the standout piece of advice. Obvious, isn’t it? But how many of us lose sight of that when we are struggling with our work in progress.

Along the way we zipped through emotional arcs, Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, relationships, characters’ roles, viewpoint and dialogue amongst others.

We also investigated whether every character in our stories was “earning their keep” – did they have a purpose? We talked about the need to know our characters, including information we might not actually use in the book but as a helpful exercise in us learning about the characters we were creating – What do they value? How do they dress? When they are nervous how do they act?

There was also an interesting and engaging section on other more minor characters and putting them into subheadings – sidekick, understudy/lieutenant, confidante, romance, mirror, walk on/walk off and chorus. One character could have several of these roles in the course of a book or possibly only one. It was fun to take an existing piece of work and think about where my particular characters fitted into those subheadings.

Altogether, it was a draining but simultaneously exhilarating day. Adrienne’s energy drove the course along at a good pace which meant we packed a lot in. A lot of Adrienne’s suggestions were things I already instinctively do but a different spin on something familiar is always helpful and to someone starting out this course would have been invaluable. It would certainly have saved me a whole lot of work if Adrienne had been around at the start of my writing career.

Adrienne was excellent and if you ever get the chance to go to one of her courses or talks, take it. You won’t be disappointed.


white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes


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