Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop Notes Day 4

Hello Bloggers! I'm sorry for the break in my report for the Breakout Novel retreat. My husband and I sold our house and bought another, and we're in the middle of the harried process of financing, packing, organizing... you know, it's a mess. Anyway, to continue with my notes from the mind-blowing B.O.N.I. workshop with Donald Maass, below are my notes from day 4. I have to admit that this day was definitely a breakthrough for me. Do you ever struggle with the middle of your novel? Read on friends!

Let’s work on other ways to build Plot/Story and create strong story events.

Find any spot in the middle of your MS that’s kind of blah. Pick any point in your character’s experience.

Identify your MC’s secret desire. Would s/he like to tell someone off? Take action that isn’t possible right now? What does your character want to overturn, subvert, break open, shake up?

In what way does my character want to go wild, shake things up, tell the truth, slap someone around (including self)?

In what way is your character frustrated and what would your character like to do about it?

For your character, what constitutes walking out or rebelling? If he says I can’t take it anymore, what is he going to do right now?

Tape your character’s mouth shut. They have to show us by doing something. Can you make it bigger?

Externalization is something you can do at any point in any novel. Externalizing is an extremely important thing to do. Externalizing the internal is important to try.

Advance 2-3 chapters or scenes ahead. Pick another spot in the story and put it into mind. Think about it and take a break.

What are you avoiding right now? Who needs a kick in the pants, who needs a dose of honesty?

Is this same thing true of your POV character? Your character’s avoiding something – let him do it, face it, say it, square up, tackle it, do what needs to be done, hear what needs to be heard.

Go through your MS and find 10 points where your P isn’t doing very much…dead spots that aren’t particularly dramatic. Ask yourself what you are feeling, or what would I really like to do right now that would be inappropriate, and see if that will work for your protagonist at the moment. Suddenly, a dull spot cam become dramatic and a memorable incident in the story.

Acting is stronger than talking when you are externalizing an internal state. Actions done to others by your P can be more powerful than things being done to your P. If you come up with something that is to messy to put on the pages, list all the consequences that will result from the action. Rather than avoid the action, use the consequences and make them a part of the story.

Remember, we need more for the middle. Consequences, content, events.

Imagine that there is an actual muse or story god who really actually has power to do things in our world…especially to our computer. This is inconvenient. We really need to appease the story god so they don’t mess us up too much.

What is the one thing you hope the story god will not do to your story?

What we’re afraid of is what our readers are afraid of. Our rational selves prevent us from doing it. The story god is really your subconscious mind telling you this is what you’re avoiding, find a way to use it.

Your rational mind is shutting down possibilities that your subconscious mind already has.


The thing that concerns Don is the number of unmemorable scenes in MS’s. Often CH 2 is far less memorable than CH 1. It seems the author spins her wheels figuring out what’s going to come next.

Methods to make the scenes livelier and more dramatic.

Pick a flat scene:

Turn the scene into a person. What kind of mood is your scene in? Happy? Looking forward to the next day? Planning what to wear?

How can that mood change by the end of the scene? Write down how the mood will be by the end of the scene?

Write down one thing that will provoke the new mood.

What did your protagonist forget (a $20 in her pocket)? What can help? What has she forgotten about until now? How can that come into the picture? There’s a text message, a letter?

What is the moment in the story when things actually change for your P in this scene?  What is happening that we can see or hear?

After things have changed, write down how it is how your protagonist has changed? How has this character’s very identity shifted, her perception of herself?

This is working on the inner and outer turning points in the scene. The character also changes. One way to work on this is to change the character’s perception itself.
Spend a minute or two and go backwards. Show how this person is not a person that will affect the change that you just made them become.

You can set it up so that this change will feel even more dynamic and dramatic.

Write down what it is that your character does get (or loses) in the course of this scene.

Write down two things in the scene that will suggest that your character will not get/lose what they are going to get/lose by the end of the scene.

HOMEWORK: Take the dialogue from this scene and strip it down. Take out any incidental action. Take out all the dialogue tags and adjectives. Rewrite the passage of dialogue so that what each character speaks takes no more than one line (6-8 lines). Make it a rapid dialogue exchange, lean, fast, and punchy. Find one zinger, slap in the face or insult that you can use. You might also try a leap ahead (one of your characters can cut-to-the chase or get to the point, anticipate what someone else will say ahead of time and go there first)…Find the best line in the scene and make it the last line of the scene.

Write down where your scene is set.

Write down three things that your POV character will notice about this place that nobody else would:

Every place you want to write about has details that people will miss.  Oblique (less obvious) details of the setting that show us how the POV character notices.

HOMEWORK: Take the flat scene that you’re working on and rewrite it. Make it dance and become something really memorable. Start with a blank screen.

Is your story, romantic, suspenseful, funny, emotional, about family, about loss? What is it that you predominantly want your reader to feel and write it down.

What is romantic to you, what is hot, what fills you with terror? What was the moment in your life when you had the warmest, strongest feeling of family? When did you feel the most connected and what was happening? What’s the biggest expression of the word you’ve written down:


Write down the moment in the story when that’s going to happen.


  1. Wow. Once again, this is such great stuff! Thank you for taking the time to share it through all of the "moving" chaos! Congrats on your new house! As for these writing tips, I'm on it!

  2. Thank you for taking time to share such valuable information. You are the best!! Congrats on the sale of your home. Good luck with your move and enjoy that new home.