A little writing exercise I like to do when my characters aren’t livening up: “What would s/he notice?” I’ll put a prompt with that based on a risk-laden situation. In John Greene‘s YA novel, Turtles All The Way Down, a risk-laden situation that occurs early in the story involves his two main characters. Daisy and Aza are about to launch a canoe in a polluted river in order to clandestinely approach woods where they would otherwise be apprehended as trespassers. In the woods on this private estate, they hope to find a secreted surveillance camera they are pretty sure will have stored images that could partly solve a disappearance. Daisy had been dressed for work at Chuck E Cheeses and must now change clothes. Knowing she has to help paddle that canoe down that river that collects raw sewage when heavy rains over-fill the sewer system, what would Daisy notice? She makes this observation: “I’ve got a theory about uniforms. I think they design them so that you become, like, a nonperson, so that you’re not Daisy, a Human Being, but instead a thing that brings people pizza and exchanges their tickets for plastic dinosaurs.” Anybody could arrive at such a conclusion, but why would they when faced with this canoe excursion? When Daisy makes this observation, the reader catches on. This is a direct link to her not so hidden fear of a life of poverty and a need for social justice that she is not convinced exactly that she deserves. Paddling in a polluted river? Piece of cake. Aza, the protagonist, makes a rather incidental seeming observation. Upon turning over the long-unused canoe, she seems only to notice that it is “full of dead spiders.” Is it actually full of dead spiders? That isn’t the point. That she sees it full of dead spiders puts the alert reader on notice: this hero has phobias. Sure enough, the invidious nature of one particular phobia soon rises to the surface, along with getting wet in the river, and that innocuous observation turns out to help foreshadow an obsession that all but takes over the story.
Put your characters in a risky situation then ask what they would notice. The answer will feel entirely arbitrary, until you build the story scaffolding that adds meaning and a sense of inevitability to your character’s noticings.
Because a proper understanding of your story’s scaffolding is a critical precursor to any serious character building, we (Jennifer McCord, local editor and publisher, Roberta Trahan, local novelist and editor, and I) are offering a two-part Sunday evening workshop designed to help story writers, would-be novelists, and memoirists better understand the dramatic foundation that will add meaning to and increase what’s at stake in your main characters’ noticings. Please see details below and let one of us know if you’re interested.
SKILL BUILDING WORKSHOPS FOR THE RELENTLESS WRITER
Getting to the Heart of Your Story: What’s your story about? This is the question every writer longs to be asked but dreads having to answer. How do you sum up an entire novel in two or three sentences? Conveying your vision to agents, editors, and other publishing professionals requires a clear understanding of three things: the foundational narrative that guides the story, the key event that sets the story in motion, and the protagonist who must see it all through. In this 2-part workshop, you will learn how to dig down to the core concept of your book, lay the foundation for the inciting incident, and identify some of the key attributes the protagonist should possess. (advance preparation and homework assignments required)
Next Session: Sunday, Feb. 11 (Part I) & Sunday, Feb. 25 (Part II), 7:30 – 9:30 pm
Registration for GETTING TO THE HEART OF YOUR STORY is now open – For enrollment details and payment information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com , or call (206) 417-8545.
The Inciting Incident: A successful novel opens with a “hook” – a call to action or specific event that launches the protagonist into the central conflict that propels the plot. In this session, you will learn how to identify, assess and refine the inciting incident in your story to create a stronger sense of urgency and ramp up the tension from the very first scene.
Next Session: TBD
The Desire Quest: Once an inciting event throws the protagonist’s everyday world into chaos, how he or she responds becomes the foundation of the plot. But what is it that drives the protagonist to accept the challenge? In this session, we’ll delve into the complex traits that define a multi-dimensional protagonist who is not only capable of carrying weight of the story, but also of fulfilling your reader’s expectations.
Next Session: TBD
The Point of No Return: Plot is essentially a sequence of events that confront a protagonist with obstacles they must overcome in order for the story to move toward its climax. How these obstacles are presented determines a novel’s pace and should naturally create the escalating tension that keeps readers captivated. This workshop will help you analyze and assess your book’s major plot points and the protagonist’s progression toward the story’s proverbial point of no return.
Next Session: TBD
Scott Driscoll is an award-winning instructor with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, has taught creative writing for the University of Washington Extension for twenty-plus years and makes his living as a freelance writer and teacher. Scott’s debut novel, BETTER YOU GO HOME (Coffeetown Press 2013) was selected as the Foreword Reviews First Book Contest winner, March 2014. Scott has also been awarded nine Society of Professional Journalists awards, most recently First Place in the Western U.S. in 2014 for arts and entertainment reporting. For more about Scott, visit http://http://www.scott-driscoll.com. Or go to: scottdriscollblogs.wordpress.com.
Jennifer McCord is a 30 year veteran of the publishing trade. Throughout her career, Jennifer has worked in nearly every aspect of the industry—as a writer, editor, instructor, and consultant. Jennifer lends her expertise in the book business to writers and publishers through her consulting and coaching business, Jennifer McCord Associates. Currently, she is also an Associate Publisher for Camel Press and Coffeetown Press. Jennifer can be contacted at www.jennifermccord.com
Roberta Trahan is the best-selling author of THE WELL OF TEARS and THE KEYS TO THE REALMS, the first two books in her quasi-historical epic fantasy series from 47North. Her post-apocalyptic science fiction novella AFTERSHOCK is also available through Amazon Publishing’s digital-first short fiction imprint, StoryFront. She is also a frequent guest at genre conventions and industry conferences. For more about Roberta, visit www.robertatrahan.com.