Sep 13, 2012

Hats and their Characters

It's a writing exercise - take me seriously!
Had a great time at Vannguard Writers yesterday. Our group tried out a writing exercise with props. I'm lucky Dad is mad as a hatter and has all the hats to prove it. I gathered a collection of some of his more unique hats, adding them to my trinkets and secret items. No way was my budding author of a father missing out on this, so he came along too.

We had army hats, french hats, cowboy hats, police hats, old lady hats, gangster hats, tram conductor hats, sporting hats and even a Viking helmet. 
I also spread out on the table many little trinkets like trophies, medals, crosses, wands, glass, old keys, children's broken toys, event tickets, foreign money, obscure messages scrawled on notes, carefully recorded scientific formulas, photos and many more everyday and unusual items. Then the writing exercises began:
My dad Smithy, his hat and his trinket... wait... how'd you get a gun in here?
Build a mystery character
Members broke into pairs and chose a hat. They were asked to come up with a character that would wear that hat. Several times I had to remind the participants to stop plotting; this exercise was about character not plot. The groups were asked to choose one item/trinket off the table for their character. It's natural to want to jump ahead and try to come up with a story so you're read to write, which is why I decided to mix it up a bit.
It's now that I tell the writers their character is not going to be the protagonist of their story, but a dead body found by the main character. I ask them to explain the circumstances of the discovery of this body and to try and make the trinket item a clue.
My partners in crime, Robert and Dean, came up with a young man wearing a stylish fedora, but with broad shorts. He was a goofy character last seen alive at a beach party. Nobody there knew him. Our protagonist was walking his spaniel on the beach before work when he stumbles on the body. He finds in the boy's back pocket a key. Our spooked protagonists recognises the boy as one of the teens he was arguing with the night before because their music was too loud on the beach out the front of his home. To make things more difficult for our businessman, he rushes home, calls the police and of course the body is gone when they turn up. He's having a bad enough day, but it gets worse. His teenage daughter did not come home last night and when the police track down the identity of the missing corpse-boy, they inform him the young man is wanted as a suspect in a string of kidnapping murders involving teenage girls. Now our protagonist has a reason to act. He realises he forgot to mention the key and now he has a clue to track down the location of his daughter before it's too late.
We also had some interesting plots about a Chinese peddler killed in the gold rush and an ex-pat living on a Thai plantation killed by a Brazilian spy with his own binocular chord.

Donate a character
The next exercise had us each picking our own hat and a trinket. We had to come up with a profile and background for that character, finishing off with: His/her most treasure possession is... (the trinket item).  I'm a little bit evil, so I mixed it up again and our homework this week is to choose someone else's character to write about. We ended up with a comical homeless woman who makes dolls out of plastic bags, Thor the Skullcrusher Viking, an arrogant French Legionnaire who ogles women, a very touching digger reminiscing about the war, a charming historian with a sense of humour and a phoney Confederate soldier.
Thor's all smiles now, but wait till you see him swing that axe!
It was a fantastic day, I don't think I've ever laughed so much. I have no idea which character I'll write about yet, but I know I'll have a clear picture of them when I do, all thanks to my brilliant friends from Vannguard Writers. Wednesdays with my group have become my favourite days.
Our cast of writers (sadly a couple could not make it)
Do you belong to a writer's group? Are you trying to create one? Just wish someone would invite you to one? I'd love to hear your experiences with writing groups, maybe we can help other writers unsure of where to begin.


  1. Hi Charmaine. As the French Legionnaire who ogles women I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Learned so much about characterisation just using hats and an object. I think I like ole Geraldine to write about. She charmed me.

  2. Loved your post about hats, Charmaine! And I agree with Denise...


  3. I would love to belong to a writer's group but I don't live near many English writers. However, I do love your hat idea.

  4. I love that hat idea. What a great way to get into character.

    I belong to Florida Writer's and attend their critique group every other Monday and their monthly Saturday seminar.

    Hugs and chocolate,

    Your bunny ears are becoming.

    Tweeted and FB'd

  5. Charmaine,
    Your writers group sounds like a bunch of people who know how to have lots of fun while being productive.

  6. What a cool idea! Sounds like you belong to a great writer's group.

  7. I was in a writing class last term, because the only writing group folded this summer. I'm signing up for another term because I need the contact with other writers. I'm going to keep digging and see if there isn't something in my area.

    My class did a similar "dress up" experiment to create characters. It was a blast!

  8. That sounds like so much fun!! :) Love the twists you put on the exercises too!

  9. First of all- I love this excercise! I think it is great that it got all of you thinking creatively and laughing. The characters are clear in your head now! I do not belong to a writer's group- but I do write with a co-author and we write together all the time. A group would be fun!


  10. Hilarious. And useful. Although I'm not convinced pink is your colour ;-)

  11. That pic of you with the pink hat is precious. I love it!!
    Sounds like a fabulous day!

  12. I love that idea, Charmaine! Sounds like you all had a great laugh but with a learning element to it - perfect. Nice post, too!

  13. Awesome idea! Wish there was a writers group to belong to around here... maybe I will check out the library.
    Blessings, Joanne

  14. No I'm not a member of a group.
    Sad, but I just can't fit it in.

  15. I love the writing challenges. Such a great combination of fun and productivity...
    I would love to belong to a writer's group...