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The next dimension

Now that my (very) rough draft is complete, I'm working my way through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass, and applying it to my current MS. Chapter 2 is called Opening Extra Character Dimensions, and it is a real eye opener.

It's a great exercise–similar to one I did at a workshop by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love–where you identify a strong character trait for your protagonist. Then, you determine the opposite of it, and write a paragraph where your protagonist demonstrates that opposing quality.

Repeat four times.

For my hero, I found this fairly easy. In fact, I had done this already in many instances throughout my MS. Yay me, right? But wait. What about the heroine?

I failed. Not only did I make her as multi-dimensional as a piece of cardboard, I had a much harder time coming up with four personality traits for which to find antonyms. I didn't realize she was that boring, but she could probably use some work.

I think I'm biased. I like men, so I spend a lot of time working on my hero and making him amazing, but human. I want the reader to fall in love with him as much as I do.

But ideally, the heroine is just as human and complex as the man. The reader needs to like her enough to feel that she deserves our beloved hero after all.

None of this was conscious on my part, so going through the exercise was enlightening.

How do you bring out the many dimensions of your characters to make them complex and compelling?

Refrigerated writing

Today's blog is also posted at: http://romancemagicians.blogspot.com/2010/01/refrigerated-writing.html.

Is your writing fresh and new? How can you tell?

I was recently catching up on Janet Reid's great agent blog, and she addressed this very issue. After discussing how she handled the 122 of 124 writers she chose not to represent in 2009 (!), she gave some advice for aspiring authors.

First of all–and the part I can really get behind–any progress toward your goal is a measure of success. Don't think of writing as all or nothing. That is, if you didn't get published, but you made great strides in improving your writing, that's not failure. If you learned what not to do, that's not failure.

The part that gave me pause, however, is something that keeps cropping up in agent blogs, workshops (Dianna Love & Mary Buckham mentioned this very thing), and writing books: Make sure your writing is fresh and new.

This part scares me. Not because it's bad advice, but because my own gauge for whether anything I write is unique seems to be broken.

Ask me what's different about my stories, characters, and settings and I draw a blank. Well, other than the fact that I wrote them. And, which part has to be special? The voice, the characters, the premise? All of it?

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So how do we figure out what hasn't been done before? Of course, without being so different that no one wants our work. (And people wonder why writers are crazy?)

According to Ms. Reid, Joe Finder and Lee Child read voraciously in their genres (and still do), and did research to make sure they weren't just duplicating the rest of the market.

The logical, business major in me loves this idea. It makes sense. I want to sell my books. But as a writer, it sounds so clinical and cold. Where's the passion for the story of your heart?

The reading part I have down pat. No problem. I can only hope my “fresh and new” meter gets calibrated soon. I'd really like to quit writing stale, overdone stories sometime before the next decade.

Maybe I should write in a refrigerator.

How do you keep your writing fresh?

The Daily Squirrel: vagrant

The pile of blankets next to the dumpster suddenly moved. An old man emerged, white hair sticking out randomly around his head. He scratched his scruffy beard and adjusted his dirt-crusted pants, which were worn at the knees and unraveling at the hem. Like a walking closet, he wore several shirts, a torn sweater, a scarf, hole-ridden mittens, and a green fatigue jacket with frayed cuffs and a large tear in the elbow.

Sun-browned skin wrinkled like paper when he spotted me and smiled, the gap of his missing front tooth as familiar as his greeting. “Mornin', early riser.”

“Good morning, Mr. Adams,” I said, holding out my usual fiver as I stopped in front of the alley on my way to the office.

“Good indeed,” Mr. Adams said, his weary eyes settling briefly on mine. He thrust the money into his front pants pocket as his eyes darted around to the other sleepers in the alley. Then he patted my hand and crawled back under his blankets.

My Aha! Moment with GMC & BIF

In August, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love based on their great book, Break Into Fiction (hereafter called BIF). I read the book beforehand, and went through the workshop thinking how great all of the templates are because they force you to answer the tough questions about your characters and plot. But, still, I struggled with filling them out. They get into details I wasn't ready to produce yet.

I had an “Aha!” moment yesterday when I realized that filling out the GMC charts for my characters provided me the macro view of their lives and story that I needed to have in order to complete the micro-focused BIF templates. By completing the GMC work first, I can make sure I'm not spending my time on the BIF templates until I'm fairly sure my story will work.

So, after moving 20K words (ouch!) into my Unused Scenes folder (a topic for another day), I'm pretty much starting over.  But, this time I'm going to try it with the help of the GMC and BIF tools. The great news is that I'm pumped up about my story again. My goal is to have a completed rough draft by January 31. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Chalk it all up to lessons learned and, like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep moving.”

BTW, if you ever have a chance to take a class from Mary or Dianna, you won't be disappointed. Both of them are incredibly giving of their time and insights, and will answer endless questions with patience.