Friday, August 22, 2008

Writing Seminar 101 (glorified book report)

Well, I told you I’m not writing these days. But I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Particularly, reading about writing—at least, that’s what I read a lot of before I decided to break up with my novel. So I thought I'd share some of the stuff I've been learning lately. This is really not a book report but just some of the notes I took. Hope you enjoy them.

The following notes are from Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts by Raymond Obstfeld. This was a pretty interesting book about the nuts and bolts of constructing (well, fixing) a novel. There was a TON of info in this book, but I wrote down only the things that I felt were most interesting to ME, so that’s what you’ll get here.

3 Areas of Character Development for Major and Minor Characters:

1. Background. For minors, it’s not necessary to give much info, if any about their past unless: a) the past is somehow linked with the protagonist or the plot, or b) you can provide one event that defines who they are (defines the kind of person he is, explains his motivation, or foreshadows a choice he may make later in the story).

2. Internal conflict.

3. Personality.

Protagonists must be at least one: likeable, compelling, redeemable.

Making a character likeable:

1. Give her a sense of humor.
2. Give her a seemingly impossible task to perform.
3. Give her an emotional motive for her actions.
4. Give her intelligence that promises insight.

It’s endearing to make her vulnerable but make sure she is not whiny about her flaws. The less she TALKS about it, the better.

Idea for getting to know your character: in your character’s voice, complete the following: “My mother always . . . “ and “My father never . . .”

Types of protagonists:

1. Boss: someone with control over main character (MC)’s life
2. Family: someone with control over mc’s emotional life
3. Criminal: someone who can be overcome by force
4. Land: SETTING embodies what MC must face within herself.

To improve antagonist and characterization:

1. unique personality
2. unpredictable actions (avoid clichéd evil acts)
3. empathetic motivation.

Protagonist overcomes antagonist by:

1. Direct confrontation
2. Overcoming need to defeat antagonist at all.

The Defining Scene: scene that defines the antagonist, both sympathetically and unsympathetically. Usually this is the scene that introduces him to the reader.

Ask about antagonist:
What do I want most out of life?
What do I most fear losing?
Where’s my moral line; what would I stop short of doing?
Why am I like this?
Am I comfortable with who I am?

Plot is what happens. Character is to whom it happens. Theme is why the plot happens.

Symbols come in five varieties:
title, homage plot, character names, objects, settings

How to revise:
Do it chapter by chapter or scene by scene. Do it five times (for each scene/chapter, then move on), in this order:
1. Structure. Goal is a compelling plot. Look for too passive/talking heads, no build-up/anticlimactic.
2. Texture. Goal is to sharpen descriptive passages to make characters, setting and action more vivid. Look for too much/little description, clichéd word choices, too many adjectives, info dump, info in wrong places.
3. Dialogue. Goal is to elicit character personality through conversation. Look for too many/few tag lines or tag lines in wrong places, bland or melodramatic dialogue.
4. Editing. Goal is to tighten pace and continuity. Look for repetition, both outright and through implication, and for slow passages.
5. Blending. Look for soft spots, unclear character motivations, actions that seem contrived. (You can fix these by adding scenes earlier to show motivation or stakes.)

I thought this was definitely a worthwhile read, especially for someone who has tried a novel and wants to learn how to fix it.

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