Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Notes from a Conference (Part 1)

This past weekend I attended the regional SCBWI workshop for YA fiction. It was especially informative this time, and I plan to share some of the highlights on what I learned. Basically, I'm transposing my notes right here to share with you. And whether you write YA or something else, any of this applies to fiction writing.

Before I get started, I just wanted to give a shout out to Jamie Ayers who just signed a contract with Curiosity Quills Press for her YA novel. Yay, Jamie!

So during our workshop, which was taught by a NYT bestselling author, as well as a NYC publishing house editor, we talked a lot about the importance of characters. The editor had us do a lot of brainstorming on questions for our characters, everything from what makes the character feel, to what kind of setting affects the character, to what makes them truly unique.

She asked us these questions for us to consider before writing the first draft, as well as during revisions:

1. Is my MC (main character) active? (not reactive)

Basically saying, the plot shouldn't bully the character, but the MC should be proactive. In each scene the author should be asking, what should MC do?

2. Does the MC have something in his/her life that the reader can identify with?

They have to have this in order for reader to bond with them. EX: Katniss' sense of obligation to her little sister, Prim.

3. What motivates the MC? 

Overall, and in every scene, there has to be a catalyzing agent. We as the authors can't force the MC to do something. "Every character should want something--even if it's a glass of water." Vonnegut
What is the motivating force behind every action?

4. How is the MC unique? 

What combination of traits makes them memorable?

5. Does MC act consistently?

Make the reader forget it's only a character. And if the character does something that's out of character, acknowledge it in the story. Make everything connect.

6. How does what the MC say reflect their personality? 

Use interior monologue to establish the MC's personality. How does the MC see the world? How do they convey information?? Play with the language--give them quirks of speech.

7. Is the MC's speech realistic?

They shouldn't be saying what they mean all the time. Use dialog breaks (it takes two to tango) and let them pause. Read aloud for best results in fixing stilted dialog. There shouldn't be any long winded explanations. Weave those in through the story in bits and pieces.

8. Is the MC the center of the story?

Your MC is the light in the dark. The story is the halo surrounding your MC.

9. Does the MC have passion? Is she/he capable of suffering? 

Not talking sensual passion, but the kind of intense emotion one feels for something they love or hate. They must love or hate it so much, they feel pain if they don't get it or are faced with it. They must have something at stake or there is no point. Suffering = what the MC is made of.

10. Does the MC change? 

The MC must have a character arc, whether it's from worse to better, or from better to worse. There must be change or the story is flat. Regardless of plot, there absolutely has to be a character transformation.

That's all I have for you today. Hope it's helpful. I'll have more for you over the weekend, so be sure to check back.

Do you find these types of character building questions useful in designing your own characters? Is there a particular question you like to ask yours? Or a special technique you use? Please share ...


Margo Kelly said...

This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your notes with us. :)

erica and christy said...

It seems pretty basic information, but sometimes going back to the basics is exactly what an ms needs! Thanks for sharing!

Laurel Garver said...

Great stuff here. Sounds like a very useful class. I especially think #10 is so key--character transformation. I've been disappointed lately with some recent books in which the character didn't really grow. Even the inkling of change--and it can be as subtle as reacting slightly differently at book's end compared to the beginning--can be powerful.

Summer Ross said...

Great information in this post. Thank you for sharing. I find I use some of the same questions as I revise and there are a couple new ones I can add to my revision process.

LTM said...

awesome tips. I know I really enjoyed going to our SCBWI conference and hearing stuff like this.

I think the biggest two things for me are the last two. All the others sort of flow from that, don't you think? I don't know that I have any special tricks I use other than just trying to make sure she feels authentic at all times.

Thanks for sharing, P! :D

Gina Blechman said...

Great notes. I just went through all of the questions with my MC. Thanks!

~Gina Blechman

DL Hammons said...

This is great stuff! I printed it out and stuck it in my backpack! :)

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Anonymous said...

Timely and helpful. Thanks. :)

Norma Beishir said...

Sounds like a really good workshop, PK.

Old Kitty said...

Thanks for sharing these tips!! Love the questions too - they're certainly helpful when creating a fully rounded mc!! Take care

Roger Lawrence said...

Those were great questions and I will keep them close to hand.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

These are really good questions. I think a writer should ask this everytime he sits down to put words to the screen.

Heather Murphy said...

Thank you for passing this on!

Jessie Harrell said...

Thanks for sharing, PK! I appreciate it.

Annalisa Crawford said...

All very important questions. The one that always stands out for me is the last one, about the character changing - that's key for me.

fOIS In The City said...

I think I lost my first comment..

I thanked you PK for sharing and asked if you enjoyed this as much as last year.

And yes ... Congrats to Jamie ... you go girl !!

Savannah Chase said...

Looks like you learned some great stuff. Thank you for taking the time to share it with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Love your notes . . . good to be reminded of that stuff:) Where was your workshop?

THanks for the shout out!! ~hugs

William Kendall said...

Those are great notes, PK!

Your remark about letting a character pause, reminds me of a sequence involving an interrogation in my MS, which is primarily handled by one character. She does a fair number of pauses as she goes along.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this about character building.

What I've been doing recently is writing the pitch/synopsis before drafting so I can better see what the character wants and what she'll do about achieving her goals and who/what stands in her way. I saw this tip on the blogosphere.

I also write voice journals before I start a draft, writing as if I'm the character. This helps me with the emotional arc.

Donna Yates said...

These are excellent points to keep in mind. This was a great post and review of developing a main character.