Writing Tips & Tools

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section One: Heightening Larger-Than-Life-Character Qualities.

We're going to work on sharpening the larger-than-life qualities throughout your story. So, okay...where to start? The opportunities can crop up anywhere. It only takes being alert to the possibilities of sending your protagonist or POV character beyond what is usual.

Look for ways to heighten anything that your protagonist says, does, or thinks...to take the temperature up, or down for that matter! Play against the prevailing mood of the scene.

A larger-than-life protagonist talks, acts, and reasons independently. Let you hero's speech, actions, and thoughts follow their own course, regardless of what's going on. Surprise us! That sounds hard, but it really is only a technique!

Step 1: At random in the middle of your manuscript, pick anything at all that your protagonist thinks, says, or does. Heighten it. Make it bigger, funnier, more shocking, more out of bounds, more over the top, more violent, more insightful, more wildly romantic, more active, more anything!

Step 2: Take another action, thought, or line of dialogue and make it smaller, quieter, more internal, more personal, more ironic, more offhand, less impassioned, barely noticeable.

Step 3: Select twenty-four more points in the story where you can heighten or diminish something that your protagonist does, says, or thinks.

Conclusion: Larger-than-life characters powerfully attract us because they are surprising, vital, and alive. They do not let life slip by. Every moment counts. Every day has meaning. How can you give that kind of life force to your protagonist. Turn up the volume!


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