The Third Magpie is the central novel in a trilogy, but when I first wrote it, I had no idea that there were other stories to tell. Returning to the characters and environment of New Albany was not a decision I took lightly. New Albany is uncompromising. However, at the back of my mind I kept returning to one character in particular, Tim Smith. I knew he had many questions to answer. Why did he become part of the New Albian regime? And what keeps him there when his actions seem so at odds with his values?
Over time, and by that I mean going on for two years, I played over those questions. Last summer I thought I had the answer, and I began the process of making notes for part one of the trilogy, ‘The Martyrdom of Johnathan Keeler.’ Initially the ideas flowed in but there was always something not quite right. Ideas were torn up and I started again, and again, and again. I needed some external help. And it arrived via a Tweet.
In ‘The Third Magpie’, one of the main characters has some underlying mental health problems, and research was needed to discover how these issues would manifest themselves at various points in his life. This was my first foray into psychology and I fully admit to barely scratching the surface, but I was surprised how fascinating I found the process. So with that in mind, when I saw that Dr Stephanie Carty (Hutton) was about to do one day courses specifically on the psychology of character, I bookmarked it as a to do. Unfortunately, life has a way of throwing spanners into good ideas and just when I thought I’d be free to attend the next course in London, a global pandemic popped up, halting all play.
Dr Carty was not about to be out done by a virus and she devised an online version which spans two weeks. I managed to get onto the June course and, today I finished what has been a truly eye-opening experience.
Dr Carty breaks down the one day event into 10 videos which participants can watch in their own time, followed by short tasks, or in my case, some longer ones. As the participant, you can choose to share with the others or not, as you see fit. Dr Carty regularly goes online to read what has been posted and comments on them, providing extra insight where appropriate.
I used the time to examine my main protagonist, Tim. I already had an outline sketch of his early life, which is alluded to in the first draft, but over the course of the ten videos, I could see how those early experiences shaped him at crucial points in the novel. Understanding that back-story, had the potential to turn Tim from a charming protagonist with a tendency to make rash naïve decisions, into a more complex character whose past was capable of dictating his motivation, sometimes unconsciously.
So, where to start? Well, the beginning is a good place. One of the first tasks we did was to go beyond the start of the novel and look at the character as a whole person, examine what influences defined the child and how those early experiences shaped the character in the novel. These attachment theories can filter through in their behaviour and reactions. One of the tasks that I found enlightening was writing out a time-line for my character, going from his birth through to the end point of the novel. I noted the major events and then below how these events made their mark on my character. Why was this useful? It became a physical representation of the development of his character and how his core beliefs are challenged and eventually how he is transformed over the course of the narrative.
How does this change the way I write about him? Firstly, the bigger picture becomes clearer, more defined, and hopefully this will lead to fewer re-drafts. Secondly, it is in the little details; the way he reacts to a comment, or how he views casual meetings, what he wears and those throwaway remarks that turn a two dimensional character into someone we can recognise. Whether I am successful in achieving my goal is up to the reader, but I feel Dr Carty’s ‘Psychology of Character for Writers’ course has helped me understand my goal.
I am sure I will come back to elements learnt in this course as I continue with the redraft of the novel. Discoveries about other characters will be made and timelines developed, and I am sure that I will be referring back to the course regularly.
The two week course is just shy of £60, and there are some places at a reduced fee for low income writers. You can find out more and book your place on Dr Carty’s course by going to her website. https://stephaniehutton.com
You can follow Dr Carty on Twitter and find out more about future events @tiredpsych