Turning trees into characters: The Inkwell with Vanessa Gebbie

 In The Inkwell

In this blog series, The Inkwell, award-winning author Vanessa Gebbie shares writing tips and exercises to keep your writing mind in motion during lockdown.


My lovely Mum used to tell me that a very pretty, uber-chatty neighbour reminded her of an ornamental cherry tree in full blossom. 

“She’s so obvious,” she’d say. “Gorgeous to look at for a few minutes, but difficult to put anyone with.”

That’s about right, isn’t it, as far as the tree is concerned? The blossoms are lovely, but they don’t last long. 

Isn’t that a great way to introduce a character to a reader? Think about it – not describing the person at all, but thinking about which tree they remind you of, and focussing instead on the characteristics of that tree.

Helena was so obvious, so blowsy. Gorgeous to look at, sure, but it was difficult to know who to put next to her for supper. Pick someone too intelligent and they’d soon tire. Not intelligent enough and the two of them would be entwined in each others’ company all evening to the detriment of the whole carefully orchestrated table plan…

I get an idea of this Helena, don’t you? Much more than if I was told the colour of her hair, her eyes, her clothes, and so forth.

Your game this week is to think about trees! What tree does your character remind you of? Can you use the trees’ characteristics to spin out into a character, without of course, mentioning the tree?

Harry. Spiky, as ever. You couldn’t brush past without taking something of that spikiness away with you, without it working its way through your layers and needling you when you least expected it. 

(Fir tree – something with needles, anyway!)

Have fun! 


Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short fiction writer, poet, editor and writing tutor with ten books out there somewhere – including Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt), editions i and ii, for which she was commissioning and contributing editor. She has taught for The Arvon Foundation, The Arts Council,  London’s Spread the Word, The Word Factory, Curtis Brown Creative and New Writing South among others. She is self-isolating in Sussex.