Writing Tips & Tools

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lesson 6: Character Turnabouts Surprises

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: Character Turnabouts and Surprises.

It would be interesting to compare early drafts to finished manuscripts to compare how scenes get resolved. We normally don't get that opportunity, but many times we find scenes that do not play out the way we expect them to.

The whole thrust is a surprise, or perhaps the scene turns in an unexpected directon, or a character does something that we do not anticipate. This comes from trying different approaches to a scene. In essence, that is what Reverse Motives...the next exercise, is about...trying different approaches to see if they work better. Here's an exercise.

Step 1. Pick a scene featuring your protagonist. What are his/her main actions in the scene. What are they trying to accomplish, obtain or aviod?

Step 2.Write a complete list of reasons why your protagonist is doing what she is doing. Write down as many of her motives as you can. Do not look at the next step until your done!

Step 3. Circle the last reason on your list.

Step 4. Rewrite your opening scene, only this time, send your protagonist into action (or avoidance) foremost and primarily for the reason you circled.

Follow-up: Reverse motives in six other scenes.

Conclusion: You may wind up retaining the original motivations in many scenes in your novel, but it is likely that some of them will become more engaging after a motive reversal!


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