May 19, 2011

Pennwriters: Character Driven Stories

I'm (finally) home from Pennwriters! Can I just say: I love this conference. You can smile at anyone and start a conversation because you know you have something in common with them: You're both crazy.

But that's another post.

My adventures at Pennwriters started on Thursday, a three-hour workshop with CJ Lyons. Not only is she a national bestseller, CJ has insight into how she got there. Her classes don't disappoint and this workshop was no exception.

The class was based on her e-book No Rules, Just Write: Crafting the Character Driven Novel. I can guarantee you I'll be reading this book. The class was so helpful!

Here are some highlights:

Your main character should have an outer goal (the main conflict of the novel) that's concrete and easily defined. This is what he wants.

He should also have a weakness or flawed way of thinking, some way in which he needs to grow over the course of the novel. This is what he needs (although he probably doesn't know that he needs it).

So, what does your character keep doing that's holding him back? Maybe he's quiet and reserved because in the past, getting attention has always led to bad things in his life.
Maybe she distances herself from people because she's afraid of being vulnerable (or, she's afraid of getting hurt if she made herself vulnerable).

What is it that your main character really fears? Abandonment? Poverty? Not being in control?
And what does your character do to avoid it?

Once you have that, you can use it to motivate his actions as he works toward his outer goal. (Cool, huh?)

CJ used techniques like this to explain the three-act structure in a way I've never seen before. I've read about it dozens of times. It's always seemed like more of a checklist to me. Set up the character. Bring him into the conflict. Make things worse. Have him lose hope. He triumphs. Blah, blah blah.

This was different.

This made sense. And when I broke my WIP into the right pieces, I saw rich conflict that I didn't even known was there. Now I know what to emphasize. Ivy is going to be so much more compelling and real.

After this workshop, I was a little torn. On one hand, I was excited that I'd learned so much and that I knew how to tear my book apart to make it better.

On the other hand, now I have to tear my book apart to make it better.

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