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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Character Clinic: Brynn Wright with Donald Maass Workshop Notes

Today I've got Lydia's character Brynn on my couch. Brynn inhabits a Christian fantasy. She was orphaned at a young age and ended up being adopted by a single painter...whose paints (get this!) are portals into different times! [How cool is that?!]

Lydia wrote in wanting to know: How do I make Brynn more REAL? Right now, she's as 3D as a blank page.

Lydia, I normally write to the characters in my Character Clinic posts, but due to our last couple of emails, this post is just for you. First off, you've got Brynn fleshed out farther than you think you do. She's a 14-year-old orphan whose been let down too many times to want to trust again. I think girls the world over will be able to relate to that.

You've got a rocking concept for the fantasy, with Brynn and her adoptive father and tutor being trapped in the parallel universe without knowing the way out of the paintings...pretty way cool. So there's intrigue, suspense...all the necessary ingredients.

So, I'd like to share with you an exercise from Donald Maass, who wrote Writing the Breakout Novel [book and workbook]. I was fortunate enough to sit at his feet at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writer's conference when he was the Early Bird presenter. The following are some of my notes (with my own MC's character removed and Brynn's inserted) from that incredible workshop:

The heroic characters sometimes can be too perfect. You have to give them one way in which they are profoundly human and just like the rest of us. To they have one bad habit? One thing they feel funny about themselves? Something they do exactly the way we would do? Show this “flaw” or human trait in the first 5 pages.

What’s the first thing someone would notice about Brynn? How would they sum them up when talking about them to someone else? What would anyone say is the exact opposite of this? If you choose to reverse some traits later in the book, the character becomes multidimensional and more involving to read about.

Work on inner conflict. Pull them in two opposite ways. This engages the reader because it’s interesting. NOT the same thing as inner turmoil, which is wearisome to read about…a character who constantly waffles is no fun to read. The conflicts that the author constructed still linger with us, even thought he events of the story are over. It echoes with us and makes the character memorable. 

Answer these questions:
One thing Brynn would never, ever say b/c it’s completely contrary to her?
One thing Brynn would never ever conceivably do?
One thing Brynn would never ever think or feel? An emotion just out of range for her? An idea that wouldn’t take hold in her mind?

Now write scenes working these very answers into your novel! This makes Brynn more multi-dimensional.

What would make this problem that Brynn has matter more – even more than it does now? Why does the protag care? What makes it more personal? What is it about this problem that gets under the skin of the protag? What is it about the problem that bothers them more than anything else? What do they see in the problem that other people don’t see, discern that’s deeper? What principles are at stake? Why is this problem one that the protag feels personally responsible for? He or she must do this for what reason?

How can this reason be made stronger? Something that happens in the past is typical – the protag has to make up for it. How can the protag be hopeless in the face of this problem? What already has the protag defeated? What does the problem say about them? The hardest, most painful problem for them to deal with – impossible for them. The deeply personal, unresolved thing from their childhood that makes this problem ten times worst?

The answer should be emotional. What defeats her? Gets under her skin? Why? In what way is this problem deeply personal? How does it go to their childhood? How did it shape them? Gets to them every time? Pushes you over the edge?

Once you work through some of these concepts, Lydia, Brynn will fly off the page as a girl as real as your readers are. Give it a try...and please email me to let me know how it goes! Best of luck!


Jessica Greyson said...

Thanks you for sharing your notes from the conference. I've benefited so much from his advice but I sometimes forget it! Thanks for the refresher!


Kristen said...

such a great post! I guess I have to by Donald's book now!!

Anonymous said...

Lydia, if you can get copies of Donald's book and workbook, do so. I'm working through the workbook right now and it's helping immensely. I can't say enough good things about it. Also, I want to read your book - I love that time travel stuff.

LydiaGrace said...

girlseeksplace, Thanks for your encouragement. I'm only 13, so I haven't had much time to focus on writing much of late. My book's nowhere near being done :/ It's not time travel exactly... scientifically speaking, the world Brynn is trapped in doesn't exist. I'll be sure to look out for the book you recommended - sorry it took me so long to respond!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.