Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lesson Four: Larger-Than-Life Character Qualities

If you've been tuning in on Wednesdays for the last few weeks, you know we're working our way through Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. Today we'll try our hand at making characters stand out from the crowd in their speech, thoughts and actions.

Maass encourages writers to push the envelope! We need to create main characters, who are bold and unafraid to back down in the face of opposition. Try giving your hero a one-liner that puts the villain in his place. The "I-wish-I'd-said-that" factor resonates with readers and makes our heroes and heroines compelling and memorable.

Our main characters should act on impulses that have the readers cheering, "Way to go!" In the real world, we're inhibited by social restraints, but in fiction, blockbuster characters can and should react with verve and gusto. So maybe the five-foot-two heroine, who's as sweet as maple syrup, gets mad enough to swing a punch at the six-foot antagonist. A bit extreme? But what if she sets a trap he falls into -- literally or figuratively -- that provides the comeuppance he justly deserves? It's the surprise hook, the action the reader never expects that, according to Maass, makes the difference between ho-hum characters and ones that keep the reader turning the page.

We all know actions speak louder than words, but what about thoughts? Maass says real change and thus growth occurs first within. Our character's internal compass is the most difficult to realign, and the impact of inner change can be significant for not only our hero but also our readers.

This week, create dialogue for your heroine that brings the antagonist to his knees, or drives home the point with such audacity and timing readers will wish they could be as ingenious with their retorts. Let your characters act and react with courage. Ensure change starts within as they tackle significant issues. Bottom line, deliver the unexpected and make it larger than life.

If you haven't already, get a copy of Maass' workbook. Each chapter is illustrated with excerpts from books he feels are a step above and packed with exercises that trigger the imagination and get the creative juices flowing.

Good luck with your writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

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