Writing to Breakout I – Characters
This week, we’ll be examining Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. My goal is to inspire and educate you to the basics of writing, and hopefully help you find resources to enhance your writing.
Today, we’ll look at Lessons 1-12, Part I, Character Development from Donald Maas. The lessons cover everything from adding heroic qualities to a protagonist (the one we root for), to antagonists, to enriching the major cast with secondary characters. I’ll pick out one point from each, and encourage you to acquire this workbook and complete the fill-in exercises at the end of each lesson to help you grow your novel.
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Part I – Character Development
Lesson 1 – Adding Heroic Qualities:. A small show of gumption, a glimmer of humor, a dab of ironic self-regard can be enough for us to hang onto.” (page 8).
Lesson 2 – Multidimensional Characters: “In well-constructed fiction, a multidimensional character will keep us guessing: What is this person going to do, say, or think next?”
Lesson 3 – Inner Conflict: Simply put, inner conflict is wanting or desiring two things that are basically “in direct opposition to each other.”
Lesson 4 – Larger-Than-Life Character Qualities: The characters think and do things they would never say, do, or think. Their minds change over time.
Lesson 5 – Heightening Larger-Than-Life Qualities: Make it bigger, make it smaller, make it more independent. “Larger-than-life characters powerfully attract us. Why? They are surprising, vital, and alive.”
Lesson 6 – Character Turnabouts and Surprises: It comes down to reverse the motives of the character in the scene. Write a list of actions and motivations for any given scene, then write the scene again with a different twist.
Lesson 7 – Personal Stakes: Personal stakes are more than the hero wants. It’s also why. How important is it to him or her?
Lesson 8 – Ultimate Stakes: the moment of irrevocable commitment. “When life tests us to the utmost, our motives grow exponentially greater.” That’s ultimate stakes.
Lesson 9 – Exposition: This could be a lesson in itself. It’s inside the character’s head. What he thinks, what he feels, his self-regard, reflection and self-examination. It’s the character’s inner life brought to the page for the reader.
Lesson 10 – Creating Secondary Characters: Secondary characters support the major, and they need to be just as interesting and multi-dimensional as the main characters are. Give them quirks and qualities, conflicts. Just because they’re minor doesn’t mean they have to be boring or minor.
Lesson 11 – Antagonist: This could also be a lesson in and of itself. Antagonists come in many shapes and sizes. They can be villains, or they can be life itself.
Lesson 12 – Enriching Your Cast: Combine qualities of several characters into one, thereby eliminating too many peripheral characters we may only see once or twice. “Give the people in your novel many roles, and your story will be the big beneficiary.”
That’s the first third of this notebook. So many details and passages from literary works are used to illustrate the main points each lesson has. There are also exercises that make you think and work as you begin to put the elements of your novel together.
Tomorrow: Part Two – Plot Development
What do you think is more important – characters or plot? Leave a comment and let me know.