This week we got into the nitty gritty of character, and using the emotions of your character to drive the scene.
We did three exercises:
Exercise 1 – Character Interview
Pam gave use two starter questions – “what are you afraid of” and “what brings you joy?” – and about fifteen minutes to continue the interview. Afterwards, she asked us what we learned about our characters that we didn’t already know.
I found out a few things about Kelder, my main character for the Ala’der book, that I didn’t have a firm grasp on. The first is that she fears something I thought she was only angry about. And second, that her sand cat was the runt of a litter, given to her as a joke by the older Ala’der since Kelder was the youngest person to ever become one of the Ala’der.
I shared with the class, and Pam went on to discuss that every new thing you figured out about your character is another scene that can go in your novel. An interesting idea for sure.
Exercise 2 – Opposite Traits
For this exercise, we were asked to list a trait our character is known for, then write down the opposite of that trait, and then, write a scene with the character demonstrating the opposite of the trait they are known for.
I selected bravery as one of Kelder’s dominating traits, so my opposite was to write a scene where she was afraid. Which worked in tangent with the interview, as I had just discovered a fear I didn’t know Kelder possessed.
Exercise 3 – Write a scene about…
We were given a list of circumstances to put our character in, and then write out how they might reaction. The main goal was to display strong emotion. The options included:
The hero’s best friend has died unexpectedly
The hero’s best friend has betrayed them
The hero is kissed
Someone asks the hero to marry them
Someone is trying to extort the main character
Receives an inheritance
I’m sure you can all guess where I went. That’s right: death.
Here’s my exercise. Since I don’t have names for these characters yet (and I don’t even know if a scene like this will play out in the actual novel) I simply called them “Rival” and “Mentor.” After all, I only had fifteen minutes. No time for dwelling on such things!
Again, this is completely unedited from last night - despite my twitchy fingers.
Rival’s knife was quick – quicker than she’d ever seen the coward fight. As if he pulled the glass from the air itself, just before he sunk it into Mentor’s throat.
Many, many times had Kelder found her own blade as the source of so much blood; wet, red , water and life, absorbing into the desert. But there was no Sand here, only the stones that held them all in this wretched, man built city.
Mentor fell to his knees, hands grasping futility for a flood that could not be stopped. It slowed everything; sound, breathe, even Rival. Rival paused to look at his blade, as if he was shocked that his own actions had succeeded – that he had struck down a fellow favored of the Sand with such ease. It was Rival’s smile, a heartbeat and river later, that snapped Kelder’s world back to order.
Mentor was dead. There was no changing the will of the Sand. There was only revenge.
Then, you guessed it, Pam set us up for our first real critique session. Completely voluntary, kind of the get your feet wet idea. Okay, I was scared shitless, but what the hell right? I promised myself at the end of the first class that I was going to take advantage of every chance there was to read to the class. I need the practice, and I need to get over being terrified if I ever want to be a professional, successful author. I counted to three, and no else stepped up, so I raised my hand.
I was shaking again, had to clear my throat in the middle because it tried to choke itself, but I made it through. Pam was the only one to give feedback (I think everyone else is still a little gun shy about speaking up in anyway, or being the first to say something needs work) but it was pretty cool.
She pointed out phrases she liked – which shows she’s a super attentive listener. That she liked that I had a starting and ending hook for the scene. Her only suggestion was to expand the setting – where are they, what does it look like, smell like, is it hot, cold, etc. Which made perfect sense.
When I do these exercises I’m aiming to get something coherent out (and as perfect as possible for fear of looking like a monkey with a netbook) as fast as possible. And looking at the scene from above, my plan is certainly to expand it if it makes it into the book. This might be the clinching moment of the longer scene, but there will certainly be worlding building and setting expansion in the paragraphs leading up to it.
I also commented on a few of the other writers' work: like instead of telling the reader it was 3:00 am, show me the clock and asking a question about when person takes a gun from their purse, shouldn’t they have the safety on? Both of my suggestions seemed appreciated, which was also fun. It’s nice to feel like your contributing.
I feel like a fish in water. I think by the end of the semester, reading out loud is going to be much easier.
Homework: Take one of the three exercises and expand them into three pages, or write a new three pages. These pages must include a focus on displaying emotion, and also moving the plot forward in some way. These pages should happen within the first two chapters of your novel.
Talley-ho! My word count for Ala’der is up to about 4,000, not including what I wrote in class last night.