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 ...