An Interview with the Winner of the February Challenge: Split Personalities

For our February Challenge, we set a slightly different task for the community to sweat over. 

While we have previously tested your abilities to write based on a picture prompt, this time we used the pictures to provide you with a set of characters and some individual personality traits for use in your stories. 

This was the second character challenge of the year, nipping at the heels of January's in which we asked you to characterise an inanimate object. From the comments section, it seemed as though this challenge was the trickier of the two for many entrants. 

The provision of a character does give a writer a bit less room for manoeuvre in their stories, but it does have the added benefit of providing an opportunity to practice your character building abilities. 

If you feel that character building is particularly tricky, or you just want a little more practice, we've collated a couple of interesting articles from around the web that highlight some tools you can utilise to strengthen your characters.

33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters: A great round up of the things you need to remember to do with your character as you build them. It follows the standard formula of 'give', 'make', 'find', that we touched on in our January Blog Post, too.

How to Create Characters that Your Readers Care About: Because it's equally important for your reader to have an emotional attachment to your characters as it is for them to be believable. There's some great points here that you may not have thought of yet...

Get to Know Your Characters: Seems pretty obvious, but this article questions how well you really know your characters personalities and explains why it's so important to get to know them in every respect.

The winner of our February Challenge: Split Personalities was CamdenAyan with their brilliant entry, Blue Connections

CamdenAyan was kind enough to have a chat with us about their winning entry and their own writing journey. 

WEbook: Congratulations on winning the WEbook competition back in February. For this challenge, you were given characters to work with. Did you find this style of challenge hard to work with, or was it useful to be able to focus on other aspects of the story, such as the setting or background?

CamdenAyan: Thanks, I really enjoyed this challenge. I found working with a pre-defined set of characters and associated traits both interesting and challenging. It was difficult but lots of fun at the same time. It pushed me to imagine how these characters would interact with each other given what I knew, and this, in fact, was the focus for me. I thought long and hard about how such different characters could possibly come together and interact in a story, and the setting and background seemed to fall into place.

WB: As your character is hiding from someone and using different identities, it gives fluidity to your character building and development. What do you think are the most important aspects to consider when developing a character, especially a protagonist that is, like yours, an unreliable narrator?

CA: I think it is important to make characters genuine in your story so they are compelling to the reader, especially when the narrator is unreliable. This is particularly important to me as I don't normally like to trick the reader. 

In Blue Connections, I meant for Sarah to come across as vulnerable and quirky yet strong and independent. I wanted readers to empathize with her past and enjoy her victory. It was thus important to develop Sarah in the beginning as somewhat lost in a big city and getting a fresh start with her new job. She is confident in the advice and direction she gives, yet nervous that her past has caught up with her. It was also important to have Sarah surprise the reader at the end of the story by proving herself to also be extremely smart and successful at pulling off the plan she hatched without a hitch, and we see this as she listens white knuckled to her plan unfolding over the phone. 

Overall, I thought it was important to make the small reveals in the story genuine and consistent with her character. 

WB: How did you come up with the idea for your story? Were the pictures inspiring, or uninspiring?

CA: I tried not to focus on the pictures too much as I thought combining both character traits and physical attributes would prove too much. However, I was stuck on Jake as a character and the picture helped me visualize him as a younger adult who dressed flashy and thought he was smart enough to fool and shock anyone he wanted. I thought of what could connect such a motley crew of characters and soon realized that despite people's differences, everyone has a need. I decided that need was the common glue that would pull the characters together and I since I worked in the area of social services, I knew a help line was something that could bring together so many characters that were different on so many other levels. 

WB: You use quite a lot of dialogue in your story. This is a very effective style of writing, but notoriously hard to get right, how do you plan the dialogue you use in your story? Does it go through any testing?

CA: Dialogue always proves tricky but in the end it has to come off as natural. That means writing dialogue not as I wish I spoke, but how I actually speak. I'm a very simple person and I try to have my characters speak that way. This adds a layer of authenticity to the conversations because it's the reader who thinks about how things should or could have been said, and not the writer. In reality, this is what I do after I think about my own conversations - I always wonder if I communicated things appropriately or could have used better words, and this, I believe, is natural. All of that being said, I do put my stories through testing. For Blue Connections, my wife and son weren't crazy about how I had Sarah answering the help line. At first she said "Hello, help line, how may I?" and this irked them. It also didn't go over well with some of the WeBook members who provided me with feedback, so I changed it. Thanks WeBook members!

WB: You include a convincing twist in your story, with a brilliant piece of foreshadowing that creates a satisfying ‘ah-ha!’ moment for the reader at the reveal. This multi-layered approach to your story gives it some real depth and believability. How do you approach structuring your stories?

CA: I structure my stories by starting with a basic concept or plot, and then mulling over the characters (this often leads to me giving my wife a lot of blank stares while she is talking to me, but so far our marriage has survived). Usually I contemplate what it is that makes a character unique and multi-dimensional, and then try and use that to turn a story on its head. For example, in Blue Connections I already knew the setting I was going to use in order to introduce all the characters (i.e., concept). I also knew I wanted Sarah to be driven by her past and use her intelligence to outwit others and resolve her conflict. So, the setting then became her tool, and her manipulation of it added layers to the plot. The fact that Sarah is vulnerable makes the reveal at the end believable, and hopefully readers enjoyed her victory.

WB: What are you working on right now? Where can we read more of your work?!

CA: My short stories can be found here. Recently I've been focusing on flash fiction and have posted ten stories for free here, and there are more coming.

WB: Who are your favourite writers and authors, and how have they influenced your writing?

CA: I've been reading lots of indie writers lately and there are too many favourites to list. I find that indie writers effectively express their passion for writing, and this keeps me motivated to write a good story. My other favourite authors are William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Haruki Murakami. The thing I enjoy most about these authors is that they tell a good story. They mix elements into their writing that cut across multiple genres. They've made me think about story first, and now when I write I consider the tale I want to tell and how I want to affect readers, and then I situate it in a genre (or two) that I think will make it exciting.

WB: Any tips for prospective challenge winners?

CA: My tips for prospective challenge winners are as follows: Keep thinking big even though it is challenging to write within the word limit. Then, take your epic story and write the climax of your creation while giving hints to the plot you would have developed in countless chapters. Finally, try your best to develop your main characters in a way that will engage your readers, because characters make a good story great.

WB: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Congratulations again on your win, and we look forwards to reading more of your entries over the coming months! 

To find out more about WEbook's Monthly Challenge and how you can enter head on over there now... 

We're currently accepting entries in to the June Challenge: Little Vines 

Good luck and happy writing!

- Hannah from the WEbook Team

An Interview with the Winner of the March Challenge: Blank Pages

For our March Challenge, we asked the WEbook community to write about anything they wanted at all...

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We received a huge range of brilliant entries that encompassed a wide variety of genres and themes. This made winning the challenge a much harder task than usual, as each entry was pitted against the strongest skill sets of each competing writer. 

The winning entry had to have the ultimate combination of great writing, a brilliant and original story with believable characterisations, and flow well too. For those that thought themselves up to the task, the community rallied together to give each other help, encouraging and critiquing each other's entries until they could produce the best version in the allotted time-frame. 
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The winner of our March Challenge: Blank Pages was RJ_Urquhart with his fantastic entry A Journal of Blank Pages. RJ was kind enough to take the time to have a chat with us about his winning entry and his writing in general.

WEBook: Congratulations on winning the open challenge! With so much scope for the topic of your submission, how did you decide on what you wanted to write about?
RJ_Urquhart: I already had the idea of a journal of blank pages in my mind. When I saw the title of the challenge, “Blank Pages”, it was a no-brainer.

WB: Your story focuses on feelings of a post-war disassociation from society, and explores the lack-of-worth that the soldiers feel when they return from the warzone. You juxtapose this very well with the child’s situation in the story, painting the characters as people in two very different, yet inherently similar situations. What were you trying to show the reader in your joining of these two characters?
RJ: I don’t know that I was consciously trying to make any particular point with the juxtaposition. Once a story leaves the author, readers invest it with their own meaning, creating as many stories as there are readers. I enjoy things, places and situations that mirror each other. Mirroring crops up a lot in my writing. And mirrors invite us to see meaning. Though, of course, what we see is always ourselves.

WB: The idea of bravery is explored and questioned in your story in a variety of ways. The centre point of action – the rescuing of the child – is undermined by the rejection of this as a ‘brave act’, and the reader naturally questions their own acceptance of the rescuer as a hero when given all of the facts. What are you trying to tell us about societal interpretations of bravery and heroism here?   
RJ: I suppose it’s fair to say I was making a point here. I’ve met several heroes in my life, and none of them have ever considered themselves heroes. They always have some other explanation for why they acted as they did. Often they are motivated by social norms, and the fear of letting others down. I find that really interesting, the way we’re prone to attach labels to things and so create them socially, even if they don’t exist. I think it was Rilke who wrote somewhere that the unicorn doesn’t exist, but there is a space in the bestiary where it would exist if it existed. And so, we bring the unicorn into existence. You could also argue that empathy, for example, isn’t the same thing as compassion, but our ability to recognise others as suffering pain like us and to experience that pain as our own. For what it’s worth, I do, like the narrator, see Spuggy’s final relinquishing of the girl as heroic. But then I’m as conditioned by social labels as anyone.

WB: The question of caring, emotion and by association psychological state is also raised in the story. We can assume from the references to war and the small insights we get into his mind, that Spuggy may be suffering from PTSD. Do you think that the reader is more readily able to forgive Spuggy for his actions because of this assumed diagnosis, and if so, isn’t this a bit ironic considering the general tone of the story itself?
RJ: Yes, he is suffering PTSD. The narrator doesn’t blame Spuggy, so perhaps we might not. He knows that what Spuggy did is wrong, but understands why he did it. I hadn’t considered that forgiving Spuggy might be ironic, but now you point it out, yes it could well be. I like that. I don’t know that a writer needs to be able to forgive his characters. Readers even less so. But then a character doesn’t have to be likable. They do, however, have to be interesting. All I ask of Spuggy is that he should be interesting.

WB: It is seems that Spuggy’s decision to take care of the child, who has been pushed to the fringes of society, is a way of dealing with his own feelings of abandonment, rejection and worthlessness. By ‘adopting’ her, he’s able to take care of both of them, fixing his own problems as well as hers. How did you come up with this idea to emphasise the similarities between your character's situations?
RJ: Yes, it is Spuggy’s way not just of coping but of bringing himself back to life again. The basic idea came to me when I was thinking about what it would mean for someone’s story to stop – the Journal of Blank Pages of the title. I then had to think about an event that would restart it, and then force a dilemma, resulting in stopping it again. The rescue and “adoption” of the girl came to me quite quickly, and since her situation mirrored his, the device appealed to me,

WB: What kind of things do you usually write, and where can we find them?
RJ: I’ve written in a number of different genres. My historical fantasy novel, A Prize of Sovereigns, has been serialised on Big World Network ( I’ve also written a mystery novel, The Golden Illusion, early drafts of the first few chapters of which I tried out here on WEbook. You can find it on my project page. I have a magic realism short story, Interstices, appearing in the next issue of Structo magazine. I’m more and more drawn to exploring complex, and not very likable, characters. Though plot still appeals to me. A short story, Zhuang Zhu’s Dream, dealing with a man who starts to have memories that are not his own, appeared in the December issue of Golden Dust. And finally, I’m part of the community of Friday Fictioneers, who write weekly 100-word stories in response to a photo-prompt. You can find them on my blog,

WB: Who are your favourite authors, and or books? Do you take influence from these books or authors in your own writing?
RJ: That’s a hard one to answer. Once I could have. I grew up in a home with every science fiction novel published in English up to the 1960s, and read them all. I had my favourites then. But these days I read a lot much more widely, and I read more as a writer and less as a reader. That means I read things I don’t really like, in order to see how the author accomplishes a particular effect. So for example, I recently read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, a brilliantly written but thoroughly repellent book. Reading other writers is an essential avenue to improving our own craft. I don’t mean I want to write like them – I try to write like myself. But I do learn from them. In recent years, I can think immediately of two books that have truly thrilled me – Tim Bowler’s River Boy, and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. 

WB: Do you have a favourite writer on WEbook?
RJ: More than one. You’re going to get me into trouble with the people I don’t mention. I love Aftab’s lyricism (though he’s not writing at the moment), Lost V’s way of imagining herself into a character’s mindset, and Alina Voyce’s marriage of romance and science fiction. All three have been a big help to me with their comments and criticism, as have Spraycrayon and Grafiksad.

WB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us RJ! We look forwards to reading more of your entries over the coming months - and congratulations again on your win!

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