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Conjuring The Perfect Character with The Worst Witch

Wish that you could wave a magic wand to summon the perfect protagonist for your story? The Worst Witch Author Jill Murphy and CBBC series writer Emma Reeves share some of their writing wisdom to help you craft dynamic dialogue, and create characters to enchant your reader.

Emma Reeves, Lead Writer on CBBC's The Worst Witch

Good dialogue (the words your characters say) can really help to bring your story to life. Instead of having to tell your readers that a character is kind, mean, clever, nervous, flaky, funny or shy, by letting your characters speak for themselves, you allow your readers to make up their own minds – just as if they’ve met these people in real life.

Your characters needn’t speak in perfect sentences, or even use correct grammar and punctuation.
Emma Reeves

Your characters needn’t speak in perfect sentences, or even use correct grammar and punctuation. They might, um… hesitate, or, like, you know, put in filler words or just… trail off…

Try recording an actual conversation and writing it down word for word to see what it looks like when people actually talk to each other! Very few writers use such an extremely hyper-realistic style as it risks becoming irritating, but it’s still a very interesting exercise. You can then use your writing talent to create a sharper, snappier version which still reads like realistic speech.

The sorts of words characters choose can tell us all sorts of things about them – their age, where they’re from, and even their history. Does your character use all the latest slang, or use words specific to her region and / or culture? Is he a time-travelling Victorian, an intelligent fridge, or an alien who’s learnt to speak English from cartoons? Putting yourself in the minds of such diverse characters, and finding out how to let them speak through you, is one of the most fun things about being a writer – enjoy it!

Jill Murphy, Author/Illustrator of The Worst Witch

Write what comes naturally.

Write what comes naturally.
Jill Murphy

Use your imagination when working out how a character might feel or sound - incidentally, I always speak any dialogue aloud so that I can hear if it sounds realistic.

I am very comfortable writing about Mildred as she is based on myself. Ethel is more difficult, as ( I hope!) I am not like her; but I remember mean things which were said to me at school. Likewise, the teachers at Miss Cackle's Academy are all based on real people and I was constantly observing them, and filing away their speech and actions in the back of my mind.

Don't get bogged down, trying to make everything perfect immediately. If I get to a tricky part and keep re-writing it I can get stuck. So I leave it and go back to it later. If I get away from it for a while, sometimes I get a nice surprise and find that it's better than I thought after all!

The story, of course is everything. It makes your audience want to keep reading, to find out what's going to happen. The story should carry all those characters along with it, like a flowing river. I do write a synopsis, but once I get going, everything can change, as the characters take on a life of their own, which is the fun part for me!

You can catch Mildred and her magical story on CBBC

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