From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Bringing Characters to Life Through Detail

Actions and reactions reveal character, but so do details the writer thoughtfully weaves into the story. Margaret offers concrete tools to help you create nuanced, well-developed characters you know by heart.

Topics include: Actions Reveal Character • What You Should Know About Your Characters • A Tool for Character Development • Clues for Your Readers • Get Expert Advice on Character Accuracy

Play

Actions and reactions reveal character, but so do details the writer thoughtfully weaves into the story. Margaret offers concrete tools to help you create nuanced, well-developed characters you know by heart.

Topics include: Actions Reveal Character • What You Should Know About Your Characters • A Tool for Character Development • Clues for Your Readers • Get Expert Advice on Character Accuracy

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

Learn More

Preview

Which comes first, the character or the story? There is no such thing as first. Because a person is what happens to them. So a novel is characters interacting with events. Characters don't just exist in isolation. You're finding out who they are through how they interact, through the decisions they make, through how other people treat them, through how they react to how other people treat them, all of these interactions that change us, that reveal us to ourselves, that reveal us to other people and therefore to the reader. So somebody-- let me see, let's give them an automobile accident. They run over their neighbor's cat. Do they tell? Do they pretend somebody else did it? Do they dispose of the body? Or here's a real live thing. A person we know is bothered by a skunk. So they set a live trap-- a live trap for a skunk, you can't see in. And they caught the skunk. They could hear it inside the trap. So they put it into their car. They're going to drive it far, far away out into the country. They took the trap out, they put it in a field. They stood well back. They pulled the string and out shot their neighbor's prize Persian and disappeared into the woods. What do they do? Do they confess? Do they pretend it never happened? Well, if you're like most other people, you will pretend it never happened. [CHUCKLING] Because you'd be so embarrassed. You don't know, necessarily, what new facets of your character are going to reveal themselves until you put them in new situations. When the Titanic is going down, would you have jumped into the lifeboat first? How do we know what we know about characters anyway? How do we know what we know about people? There's the impression you have of them, and then there's the impression that you feel they are trying to create. And then there's the impression that other people have of them in the book, within the book. So you may think they're quite charming. And another character, someone in the book, may have a jaundiced view of that person. So their actions, what other people say about them-- which may or may not be true-- and what they themselves say-- which may or may not be true-- and then our own ruminations and thoughts about them. We're going to want to know how old they are. We're going to want to know how frowny or smiley they are. We're going to want to know what gender they are at that moment. We're going to want to know if they are dressing to impress. We're going to want to know if they are dressing in a way that is too young or too old for the age that they are. So when is their birthday? What are their friends like? What are their hobbies? Have they had any traumatic experiences? Do they have maybe some obsessions? Are they in love? So all of these things can be part of building your character. Here is something that I like to do when I have a novel that's taking place over time and therefore is set in the past and involves a number of characters....

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Honestly, it was absolutely wonderful. Thank you for the experience!

I loved this MasterClass! I have read Margaret Atwood for years; she's an amazing writer. Great instruction and inspiration!

Margaret provided me a much needed advice for me. As an aspiring writer she brought to light aspects of my own writing I was not clear before.

I have learned many valuable things from this course, but the most important advice which Margaret reiterated is to not give up!

Comments

elisacastellon

Very helpful. I will now go back to my writing and work on detail, which I know is way too light.

Cheryl-ann M.

I don't quite follow how the character chart works. Does anyone know or have an example?

A fellow student

The workbook PDF doesn’t work. In I try to open it with adobe or gmail preview, it says the file is damaged and won’t open... any tip on how to resolve this? Thanks

Sam

Another helpful lesson. The last section especially. I like to write in various different perspectives of any gender, age, or even creature. Now, while it's difficult to find a dragon to help me point out what habits dragons can get into, looking into mythology or to other fantasy writers can help. This is a great video for character detail!

John D.

A great lesson. It is sometimes good to hear that the way I do things are the same as an expert. Margaret Atwood, through her presentation of the Masterclass, makes me feel that I can do this. I should be more positive about what I can do (affirmation) - I will say this to myself daily.

Gareth S.

Very interesting and helpful lesson. Liked her chart for the development of a character.

K.L. G.

Very interesting and helpful lesson. While I seriously doubt I'll ever write anything similar to a Margaret Atwood novel, I appreciate the instruction. This character detail lesson was terrific - now all I have to do is apply the lesson to my own contemporary work.

A fellow student

I don't know why, but with all of these Margaret Atwood classes I can hear everything but the screen stays with the loading logo for the whole time! How can i fix this?

Tricia K.

I loved this lesson! So many of my stories would have flowed so much better if I had thought about whether or not I was using the right narrator. Such an easy fix! I'd love to know where she gets her ideas from. Does she ever discuss that? Tricia

Bronwyn W.

Lessons 1-6 went without a hitch. Lesson 7 is continuously stopping and then replaying.