Saturday, March 31, 2012

Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop - Day 3

Day three examined secondary characters and Plot. As you read this, P is substituted for Protagonist. Don started by telling the class that your characters need to feel strongly, even rant. They need to be stirred up. Then he asked, what is the villain doing when s/he's not on stage?


All characters are fun to read, compelling, unique. An easy way to access this is by working on their relationship with your P (protagonist).

Pick a character in contrast with your P, What’s the biggest way in which these two people are different?

What is the first opportunity to show this difference?

What is a contradiction about this character? When is the first time we can see it at work.

What’s the most important piece of shared history?

In what way can your P rely on this secondary character? What’s the article of trust between them?

When is the trust broken, or this person betrays your protagonist?

Is it possible to substitute this character instead? Is there a way to repair this relationship?

What kind of self-sacrifice can your secondary character give to your main character to make up for the betrayal?

What does your secondary character see about your P before your P does?

When does your P admit or deny that secondary character is right…

Is there a character in your story – someone in authority who will arrive in the story (eccentric, authority) ? In what way is the character legendary or fearful?

How can this character’s arrival exceed expectations? This is a moment that will pop off the page, a moment that your readers won’t forget.

Find a secondary character. Go through your cast list and find one way to make each character more memorable, distinctive, distracting, eccentric, over-the-top!


There are 3 levels upon which stories operate:

1.       Macro Plot – main conflict that drives the P through all of the action in the novel.
2.       Scenes – they are miniature stories. Things change somehow for someone in the level of the scene.
3.       Micro tension – moment by moment. Line by line tension.

When all three are working together you have a story that works. If you slack off on any of these things, the intensity of your story diminishes and your reader gets progressively less interested.

Write down the main problem or central conflict of your story:
Write down one new way in which the problem can get worse? Who’s profiting or benefitting from the problem? Who has become important because the problem exists? Who is enjoying their importance? Who doesn’t want the problem solved?

Is there a deadline in your story? Move it up.
It’s going to cost something to solve the problem, make it worse.
What will your P lose to solve this problem?
Who says you’ve gone too far?
Who says I don’t know you anymore.
How can you handicap your protagonist?
            What can hurt your protagonist?
            Who can warn your P off?
            Who can force your P out of the game?

Think of another way in which the problem can get worse.

Who can throw a curve ball at your P. How can this come out of the blue?

Who can warn your protagonist?

How can your antagonist warn your protagonist? Look – I don’t want to put you through this… you don’t want to go there, look at how much you have to lose...
What knowledge can be used as weapons or threats? What mistake from the past can come back and haunt your P? Undermine confidence? (i.e. try to do anything good and people will punish you for it.) Who is going to punish your protagonist for doing the right thing?

Who would rather see your protagonist fail than succeed, and what can they do to insure that failure?

How can the problem itself get worse? How can it affect more people? Who’s going to suffer the most?
Who’s got control of the world of this story? Who’s the higher authority? What can they do to mess things up?
Does your protagonist have to give up to solve, or keep working on the problem? What does your protagonist neglect?


What’s the very worst thing that can go wrong? Do it.

Resistance is natural, but have courage. You love it when other people do it. You can.

Wreck and destroy the protagonist’s dream so there is no going back.

After the worst happens what happens next? How does your P change? What does your P learn?
Give your P 6 weeks or months or years. How do things change? How does the problem itself shift? What’s been overlooked? What understanding? Is there a reconciliation, a forgiveness, and understanding, is there new courage in the wake of change? What’s a new way in which your P can make things right. What can your P build that is different (trust)?
What’s the first ray of sunshine? What’s the first sign that things are changing? What’s the first symbol or hint? What’s encouraging, what’s new? How have the times, mood, weather changed?

What represents success now for your protagonist?
What is the new hope? How would we know it’s happening even if nobody said so?


Think about your P and stage of life. What is it like to be in that stage of life? What are the unavoidable problems.

Write down one problem that your P would be facing regardless if this story is happening or not:
What kind of personal problems, work setbacks, family issues, dreams, personal goals. What could go wrong?

Have this exist simultaneously in your novel. Write down 3 ways in which this problem can get worse:

Create a small, incidental problem. What kind of trivial or humorous problem will your P will have to deal with during the time of the story? What can go wrong?

Pick a name from the list of characters and connect them to the Plot and Setting. Pick a character and a part of the plot that they’re not connected to and then connect it to a setting. See if there is any logical connection, and keep going until you find a connection that does work. You will find characters that be involved in more than one part of the story.

Most manuscripts are starved for events in the middle. You do need to overdo it a little. If the story is starting to feel crowded, think of things that you can begin to cut. Most need to cut a lot of the first 50 pages, but to add more in the middle of the book.

Take one of the new plot layers and write out that scene so you can add it to your MS.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop - Day 2

I am writing this the afternoon of Day 3, and I can tell you that my brain is on overload. Yesterday I had a one-on-one meeting with Donald Maass. I thought we were going to talk more about where I need to improve as a writer. Not. We spent the half-hour working on adding more realism to my plot (a romantic suspense where a dancer is kidnapped). I returned to my hotel room with so many thoughts buzzing in my brain that I barely slept last night. However, once I spend several weeks revising, I think I just might have the "War and Peace" of romantic suspense (at least that's how I feel at the moment).

The three-hour lecture on day two centered on keeping your protagonist engaging, followed by work on the antagonist. Below are my notes from the session:

Keeping our characters engaging throughout the novel:

The main character (MC) should have quirks or ticks or oddities.

Write down one thing that is a foundational attribute of your MC:

Invent an odd tick or habit that implies they are opposite. Twist it to get make the habit a bit strange. One quirk is enough for one book. Looking to create a contradiction. CREATES AN INTERESTING CONTRIDICTION.

ASSIGNMENT: Find 4 places in the story where this quirk is evident.

What is one thing your MC can do that nobody else can?

Can you give your MC a paranormal gift or super power?

What about unpredictable consequences of your MC's actions?

Try giving your protagonist a handicap of some type?
                A condition or impairment?
                Research how ordinary tasks are difficult or changed by having  this condition. Project forward this handicap and make it part of your character’s life, day to day.

What could be hard to explain about your protagonist?
Have this come up at least 5 more times.
Think of one thing that your protagonist would do that nobody would ever expect for them to do? Or one thing you would never expect them to say, think or feel?

Put it into your MS and Delay the explanation by at least two chapters.


How do we continue to make our MC intimately interesting to our readers?

Money, prayer, pop music, abstract art, mini vans, modern dance, 4th down passes, hand tailored suits, bow ties, raw food, blended whisky.

This opens up our characters to our readers so that our character’s lives are rich and full and dynamic to our readers. People others like to be around are all passionately engaged in life and they are open, dynamically engaged, always questioning, unafraid to express their opinions, be themselves in a big way.

Your MC must be awake, aware, engaged, passionate about life. They have opinions. Characters with strong opinions stir strong feelings in us. We must show their passionate engagement with life.

Find in any scene in the middle, something small that happens and goes by.


Homework: There are many things about which your P can have opinions and feelings:
Pick something for your protagonist has strong feelings about, with another character. Pick 3 spots where your P can pause and think about measure and have an opinion about (i.e. how they see this relationship). Spend some time quantifying the quality of the relationship itself – the nature, the character, the progress and how it changes. This shows passionate engagement of life. This creates more opportunities for the reader to be engaged by this character.


Name your Antagonist. (In a romance, the problem can be the hero. When in the head of the hero, the heroin can be the antagonist in his POV.)

Antagonists are often one-dimensional steriotypes.

What is the worst thing that your antagonist will do?

What is it that your antagonist believes in?

For antagonists to really come alive and begin to scare us, we’ve got to see them as real. An easy way to do it is to make them reluctant or repelled by what they must do. Most bad people are highly justified (in their minds). When you can see it the villain’s way is very unsettling, and that gets the reader emotionally unbalanced – that’s when evil becomes real.

Homework: Give yourself a half-hour and find 3 new times and ways for your protagonist and antagonist to come together face-to-face in the story.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop - Day 1

Believe me, three hours in the morning listening to Donald Maass take you through exercise after exercise of how to write "personally" is a life changing experience. I'm now sitting in my hotel room cogitating how I'm going to apply it all.

He began today's session by asking us to write down our own dark secrets. What is one thing about yourself that you don't want anyone to know? What does it feel like? What are you most afraid to put on the page? Now write about it. How can you apply that emotion to your protagonist?

WRITING PERSONALLY is something we can do every day  and is a great way to start every writing session. Before you start writing take a moment to look deep inside yourself. Discover what you can bring to the story. Remove the barriers between yourself and your story. Get out of the box.

For example, what do you feel when you look at a river? Take ten minutes and explore it. Is it peaceful, is there a prospect of danger? What is beneath the rolling surface?

Each day ask yourself, "what can I give to my characters today?"

      Don said that when he reads manuscripts, he often feels the characters aren't real. "When I’m deeply involved, the interior life of the characters is rich and full upon the page. Their feelings, their state of being gives the reader a feeling of being intimately alive."

·       Writers must all do more of that. It’s got to come from you as the author. Pulling from the depths of your emotional experiences will create a riveting story that is unique only to you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop - I'm Getting Excited to Attend

Front Cover
I have been a fan of Donald Maass' Breakout Novel theories for years. I have taken a couple of classes with the "master" at writer's conferences, but in a few days I will be attending his Breakout Novel Intensive week-long workshop. There I will be focusing on a manuscript that I recently finished with the intent to garner ideas to take it to the next level - hopefully to a level of excellence.

I was surprised to find that many of the attendees are repeat students, which is a testament to the value of the workshop. In the coming weeks I will post highlights of my experience (as  much as I can without breaking any copyright issues), and I hope you will stop by and comment.

I used Don's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook to improve Koicto, now rated at 5 stars on Amazon...even by people I don't know. Check out his books on Amazon (link below):

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chihuahuas - Chick Magnets

Poco, Austin, Tut, Maya

You know what they say about Chihuahuas? You can't just have one. I have four. Poco has an AKC (American Kennel Club) Obedience title. He's does everything I tell him, unless I'm not looking, and then he's a little devil. Actually, he belongs to my daughter, but she's in college and can't have a dog in her apartment. Austin is the canine version of Eeyore. He'll do anything you ask, and feel bad about it. Tut is an AKC Champion, and he can't think of anything except Maya, whose also an AKC Champion, but the only thing she can think about is herself and maybe if she's got prime real estate on Mom's lap - of course she gets preferential treatment because she is the smallest.

Anyway, in my MS, Chihuahua Momma, the hero talks about the Chihuahua he had when he was a kid being a chick magnet...probably not the best thing he could have said at the time, but there's a fair bit of truth in in. I followed a person on Twitter the other day who had a puppy in his picture...of course I messaged him that I loved the dog...He replied that he gets all his followers because of it. Go figure.

Have you ever taken your dog, or any dog to a park? Everyone wants to ogle it. The want to pet it and talk baby talk and give it treats. So, if you've got a character that needs a bit of attention, give him/her a dog, and see where that takes them!

Write on friends!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Can Hands Be Sexy?

In my previous post I wrote about sexy men...or my sexy man, which got me to thinking. What about body parts? Come on now, get your head out of the gutter, I'm talking about every-day parts that you might see when you're walking down the street or in a hands. What kind of hands do you like? Soft hands with long slender fingers, or the calloused, thick hands of a cowboy, for instance?

I was thinking about what the hands of a Pict would be like, a fighting man who wields a broadsword. I imagine large hands, calloused with battle scars on the fleshy tissue. He'd have thick fingernails with a bit of white showing. And when those hands grasp yours, his grip is so powerful that tears come to your eyes. However, when they touch you, his hands are gentle, caring, and soothing. You can feel a life of tumultuous adventure through his fingertips - I wonder what stories those hands could tell.

What are your favorite kind of hands?