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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Character Building

A couple of weeks ago I read an article by Anthony Seldon who is the headmaster of Wellington College. He talks about the development of character in an academic environment and how, with the influence of a celebrity culture and an obsession with exam results, we have lost sight of something very valuable - the development of those attributes which are essential to a good character and a successful, confident, happy human being. Research conducted by the University of Birmingham shows that a child's good character is more likely to influence their chances of success than their IQ rating.

Loyalty is one of the character traits mentioned on Anthony Seldon's list and this has always been an important factor in my books, both young fiction and in the novels to be published by Templar. It is not a conscious thing but when I look back at my plots I see that loyalty, or lack of it, plays a very strong part in their development.

The other traits Anthony Seldon mentions are as follows:-


He also adds:-
Good Manners
He talks of employers needing people who think creatively and who make a contribution.
As writers, thinking creatively comes naturally to us and it's rewarding to think that, in a small way, we are making a contribution through our writing. 
I believe that I have a responsibility to my readers, who are young and only just beginning to find out who they are, who they want to be. When I write it is important to me that my readers have strong characters whom they can identify with, good role models and that they can see those characters overcoming their difficulties and growing from their experiences.

At Wellington College the pupils must abide by five values, chosen by themselves. These are courage, integrity, kindness, responsibility and respect. They are taught self-control and endurance, how to overcome their limitations and obey instructions. These are all valuable life skills. As a writer, endurance and resilience are essential, courage to carry on in the face of rejections is sometimes hard to find and self-control can disappear in an instant as you spot that big brown envelope lying on the doormat. (This often occurs on a Saturday for me and is not the ideal way to start the weekend).  Integrity too can easily be compromised when an agent or publisher doesn't have the same vision for a book that you do. Obeying instructions is always the first test when approaching an agent or publisher and they do often require slightly different things, one chapter, two chapters, synopsis like a blurb, on no account send a synopsis like a blurb. You know what I mean!

As for responsibility - we have a responsibility not just to our readers but also to ourselves as writers. We are creative beings. That is not always an easy path to tread. It has many ups and downs and it is important to show ourselves kindness and respect whilst we battle with plots which won't reveal themselves and subsidiary characters who annoyingly take on a stronger form than our hero/heroine. We need to be aware of our limitations - for instance I don't think I would have the patience to write a historical novel - but also vow never to say never. As writers we are constantly changing and evolving. Who knows what the future brings? And that is exciting.

It's easy to forget, as we sit at our laptops or wield our pens, that what we write can have far-reaching effects, that by building our own characters carefully within our books we may, in a very small way, help our readers to develop theirs.

According to the Chaos Theory the flutter of a butterly's wings can eventually cause a typhoon on the other side of the world. Edward Lorenz, the father of the Chaos Theory showed us that we can't predict the weather more than two or three weeks hence. We can't predict our futures either, or those of our children, but as writers we are reaching people who we will never meet. Simply by picking up our books they are demonstrating a faith in our ability to tell a story, to impart a message. I find that absolutely amazing. So thank-you Anthony Seldon for reminding me of how much I don't want to let my readers down. I intend to print off this list of values and refer to it every time I write a new story. Hopefully it will make me a better writer and a better person too!


  1. A very thought provoking post Alex...thank. Also, what a lovely,wise man Alex Sheldon is.Those traits he mentions all make a well rounded character....and they're all things that are not taught by schools and some parents these days.

    You're right about the responisbility to readers too....

  2. Thanks Bridget. Yes I'd love to sit next to him at a dinner party or have had him as one of my teachers.So inspirational! I hope the children know how lucky they are at Wellington College.

  3. They certainly pack a lot into the curriculum at WellingtonCollege and all those values are admirable but if we were to give our characters all of the above, they may well turn out to be too good to be true. I'm afraid as a reader I always fall for those characters who have one or two flaws but a kind heart in spite of it all. Is that wrong of me? I'm not sure.

  4. Yes you're right Ros, our characters do need flaws too to make them human. I shan't necessarily give one character all of those attributes but I shall try to include a little bit of each one somewhere in my stories.