Observation and Sincerity: The Keys to Developing Characters and Stories

By Nathalie Evangelia D’Souza, Diploma in Mass Communication | Republic Polytechnic

Author Eliza Teoh’s daughter was the inspiration behind many of the stories in the middle-grade children’s series Ellie Belly. Whether it was taking a marker and drawing on the wall or doodling on her worksheet, these activities served as inspiration for creating unique characters, said Miss Teoh.

“When you read a story and you know it happened or could happen to you, you are able to connect, and that's how a writer connects with a reader - writing about something realistic and relatable,” said Miss Teoh, 45, editor at Bubbly Books. “That's why I believe it's important to write about things you see and things you experience rather than trying to cook up some unique idea that no one can identify with because people won't get it.”

SHARING IDEAS: Participants try their hand at creating their own story and characters at a workshop at All In! Young Writers Festival 2017. (PHOTO: Joy Tan Min Hui)

Miss Teoh conducted an extensive four-hour workshop on the first day of All In! Young Writers’ Festival on March 10. It aimed to help students from the various tertiary institutes who were participating in the Write for Kindness story-writing competition obtain a deeper understanding of how to create content for their target audience.

Miss Teoh advised the participants to make the characters their own.  “I always tell my writers to put themselves in the story and not to build a story from their head that sounds cool but does not reflect who they are,” she said. “So, for example, if you are very shy, then your character can be shy. It is easy for you to describe that fear of strangers.  If you are outgoing, then your character should be outgoing, so that's what I've learnt. Always make your character your own.”

Workshop participant Siti Nur Jannah, a second-year student at Meridian Junior College, agreed with Miss Teoh. “There are so many good ideas that have already been put out, so youngsters have this view that they need to put out something unique and extravagant for them to be known. I think that if you want to be recognised, instead of creating something entirely different, you should be sincere,” said the 18-year-old.

Apart from going through the basic elements of a story, Miss Teoh also gave participants a few quick tips on story-writing and gave them chances to practice what they learnt through group activities and discussions.

She urged aspiring picture book writers to research and read widely. “Don't write something for the sake of writing, or because it would be the kind of book that would be a best-seller,” said Miss Teoh. “You will find that you will gravitate to a certain type of book, and then you'll know that that is your style. So before you start writing, read books from all your favourite authors to get into the mood and mindset.”