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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

YA Mini Festival: Penni Russon talks Voice and Character

Penni Russon talks Voice and Character

From the blank looks on my family's faces when I read them my last blog post, about Lili Wilkinson's take on throwing rocks at your character and the three act structure, I'm going to assume my no-sleep loopiness was evident.

I'll be better here.

Penni Russon's session on voice and character was not simply about coming up with unique characters, but cementing their uniqueness through their voice.

We did several exercises in which we wrote letters from one character, swapped them with another workshop member and wrote the reply from another character.

It was about getting into someone else's head.

We looked at some poetry and how they may not have had a specific character, but they had a narrator and each narrator had their own voice.

When she first mentioned poetry, I inwardly groaned. And then I discovered that she knew my kind of person. The kind that just doesn't GET poetry, that in high school studied poetry that I just couldn't relate to.
I'm the kind of person that is all about trying to understand what the poem MEANS. What the writer is SAYING.

Apparently, this is not what poetry is about. Poetry is more about being comfortable NOT knowing what something is about. Appreciating it for what it is.

What do you all think about that?

Penni said that her poetry teacher claimed that unlike prose, "poetry is language that draws attention to itself".
I get that.

So our first exercise was to write some poetry. And you know what? I don't think I did half bad. I'm feeling much more comfortable with poetry than I used to. In critique groups I would receive comments like 'that's so poetic' and I would laugh nervously because I didn't quite understand HOW I had done that or what I had done.

I'm starting to get it now.


Our next exercise was to write notes from Mark, to Tia. Penni brought some kitsch looking notepads "Notes from Mark" and "Notes from Tia" and we each had to think about who this Mark who has these crap notepads would be, and what he has to say to Tia.

MY Mark wrote this: "Hi Tia, I'm just checking whether you got my email, my text and the letter I sent you. Did they get to you okay? Did you get them?" My Mark was quite needy.

Then we passed them around and someone else responded as Tia.

We did this with items as well, there was a message in a bottle, a suitcase with tags, a recipe and others. I got a black piece of card and a gold pen. So I had to think about who would write on a black piece of card with a gold pen, and what sort of thing would they be likely to write?

The responses that other people wrote to our letters were really surprising, and I would NOT have come up with the responses that I received to mine. Not in a million years.

It just teaches you a lot about character, doesn't it? The person writing the response was in a completely different head space to me. Just as your characters will be in completely different head spaces from each other, thinking about different things, having a different focus, different worries when in communication with each other, verbally or otherwise.

Penni's session was a different take on teaching character and I really enjoyed it.

Finally, tomorrow or Friday (sorry, lot's to do) will consist of my abridged notes from the panel session with Steph Bowe, Lili Wilkinson and Penni Russon talking about YA, their own process and experiences, and that weird gap between YA and Adult fiction.

It was a good session. Stay tuned!



  1. This sounds brilliant, HOW did I miss that it was happening in my city? The exercises sound fantastic, and seeing inside your head as you tackled them is just as interesting. My captcha word is 'carly'. Now I will do my own exercise, and go work out who she is, and what she has to say!

  2. Hi Penni, thanks for checking it out. I hope I did your workshop justice. :)

    There has been a delay in posting the panel and my poem (at your request) as I seem to have...erm...misplaced (not lost) my notebook. Maybe I left it at my parents house...

    And I'm glad you've been enjoying the posts, Amie! Bummer you missed it, but hopefully you're learning from my reporting back, instead.


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