Monday, February 4, 2008

Hands Across the Novel - Hands On

Here’s a truth. Only 1 out of every 10 people who start a novel will finish it. Raise your hand (Okay, stick out your tongue at the computer if it makes you feel better) if you’ve finished a novel (I’m talking about 50,000 words which is 250 double-spaced pages).

On average, it is an author’s fifth novel that sells. Those of you who stuck your tongue out at the computer, figure out where you are and start writing faster. I’m pretty much a statistic; I sold my fourth manuscript.

Almost immediately, I sold two more. Boy was I lucky. But, none of those sales fulfilled my dream – you see, one was to a mail order publisher, the other was a novella, both were flat fee. I love those sales; they taught me a lot. Still, the best thing about dreams is they grow.

This workshop is designed for the writer, no matter where he is in his career, because characterization is a must, must, must.

The reason I’ve had to spend so much time on characterization is because I’m a seat of the pants writer. What does that mean? It means I don’t write an outline that is a finished product. My outline is pretty much like a grocery list, my grocery list. There’s a few things on it (diapers and Dr. Pepper). Yup, I need those things, but most of the things I need are not on the list (Butter? I didn't know we were out of butter.) They’re in my head, or I don’t even know I need them… yet. The problem with being a SOTP writer is I know my beginning and I know my end, but the middle tends to get muddled. How to fix, how to fix, how to fix?

By day, I’m a college professor, so I, of course, have to start with some definitions. Today class, we only have three.

Term: This is your character. It will not change unless, of course, you’re doing an amnesia story line or maybe witness protection. For an example, let’s use Cinderella. Through-out the whole story, her name (her term) never changes. Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns - make the last one the biggest. In the first column, I want to write Cinderella, skip two lines, write her name again, skip two lines. Do this five times in all.

Class: A title given to your character – think adjectives.

Right now, I’m Pamela Tracy (that’s my term) blogger (Ah, that’s my class). I’m also Pamela Tracy (term doesn’t change) author (Ah, a new class). When I go home, I’m Pamela Tracy (Hmmm, this term is really sticking with me) wife, mother, maid (What! Three classes! Well, good, it means this chapter has some meat!). Let’s go again to our paper and Cinderella. We’re going to fill in her classes. Here’s what I want you to put in the middle column: 1. beloved daughter 2. stepdaughter 3. slave 4. imposter 5. princess.

Finally… last definition which, of course, is the final column...

Distinguishing Characteristics: Mannerisms, conflicts, goals, life. Here’s where you plot the string of events that makes your characters antics worth reading. Let’s go to page two and Cinderella. Here’s what I want you to put in the final column: 1. Happy life, no expectations (this would be a very short chapter- the only conflict is lack of mother) 2. Favored by dad, despised by stepmother (now chapter is longer as we read about the underhandedness and unhappiness) 3. death of a parent, longing to escape (this is about the middle of the story, the longest part) 4. Pretending to be wealthy (now we admire the heroine for her fortitude) 5. Happily Ever After (Justification).

Go ahead and mull over what I've given you so far, and I'll be posting more next Monday. If you really want to stay in sinc with the lessons watch the movies You've Got Mail and Gone with the Wind.



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