Wildlife: A Character Writing Exercise

A writing exercise to help build characterisation from photographs of animals and our natural tendency towards anthropomorphism.

What do you see when you look at this picture?

In ten minutes write a piece, a short story, focusing on the character inspired by the picture above without mentioning what the animal is. You could just write the characterisation and develop a story afterwards.

Ten Minutes Later

I found this exercise to be very powerful and helpful in thinking about characterisation.

It is the characterisation which is the key to this exercise. What sort of character is inspired by this creature? What would they do? What sort of being are they, with what kind of personality? How would you expect them to behave? What sort of back-story might they have?

You don’t have to use this picture. Have a few photographs of animals and birds that highlight their features, such as the falcon here, and select one to write about.

Remember as you write not to mention the animal or bird you have selected. This can be a good group exercise: if you would like, you can share your piece with fellow writers and see if they can guess the picture you selected from your character.

I chose the bird of prey above and below I am sharing a few of the notes I made in the 10 minutes. I have not edited them and I am sure this character will end up in a story.

My thanks to April Christine Doyle who teaches creative writing in Canterbury for introducing this exercise, and to Jill from Isle Writers who invited April to lead the session where we did several exercises of which this was one.

My Ten Minutes of Notes

Ben had towered above his school mates from the age of about eleven. He used to get picked for all the sports’ teams, but his friends were becoming distant and wary.

No-one spoke about it as he became more and more isolated, there was a stillness about him as if he was constantly waiting and watching, as if ready to strike.

Ben was increasingly unhappy and his thoughts were quite dark, angry, he thought about retaliation.

He wanted to hurt people, and not just the kids at school, he looked down upon all the insignificant people who were weak and just pissed him off, they didn’t appreciate how strong he was.

Ben had sat up all night, mainly on the internet, plotting.

His life was so unjust these days, there was no point trying to fit in any more, it was time for him to strike.

He felt happier than he had for years.

Fi McKinlay is a writer, poet, facilitator, mentor, coach and business change agent.

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