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.


  1. So interesting. It's fun for a writer to read anyway but particularly so for me now b/c I'm plotting and thinking about my next novel. It's giving me lots to consider!

  2. Great points, Amy. Whether it's the spare tire around my middle or the deflated tire in my WIP's middle, the situation's got to be dealt with. Thanks for the suggestions.

  3. I wish I could have attended this conference. You've explored so many critical issues, things you might never think about on your own. It is a goal of mine to get to a conference like this. Again, thank you so much for sharing it.