Writing Tips & Tools

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lesson 28: Inner Change

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 THREE: Inner Change.

We grow and change. We also note the growth and change in others. The moments in breakout novels in which such changes are observed are milestones that measure the journey that is each story.

Change in characters, or rather, characters' perceptions of the changes within themselves and others, may happen within a scene or across long stretches of time.
It doesn't matter. Inner changes calibrate a plot, lending it a sense of inexorable progress and pace.

How does your protagonist's picture of himself change throughout the course of your novel? How does she/he view others in the story, and how do those views change? How do others see your protagonist? How do those assessments, in turn, alter? Delineate these shifts in your characters' self-perceptions and perceptions of each other. It is yet another way to tighten the weave of the story.

Step 1: Find a moment in your manuscript when your hero is speaking with a major secondary character, or when that secondary character carries the point of view while speaking with your hero.

Step 2: Create a paragraph in which your hero assesses this other character; that is, delineates for himself this other character's qualities, mood, or situation in life. Put simply, how does your hero see this character right now?

....Alternately, have your point of view character regard your hero by the same criteria. How does she view your hero at this particular moment?

Step 3: Move forward to a later point in the story when these two characters are again together on the page. Repeat the previous step. How does your hero view this character now?

....Alternately, how does that character view your protagonist at this point?

Note: You grow and change, so do your characters. But you need to once in a while measure the difference so that we as readers see it!

Follow-up: Find three points in the story in which to delineate your antagonist's view of your protagonist.

Conclusion: allow characters occasional moments to take stock of each other is a powerful way to mark each players progress through the story. Examine your hero from several points of view; later, show us how those views have shifted.


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