Exercise 2: Character Dimensions

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Today I am bringing to you one of the lessons from the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by David Maass. This book is chock full of amazing ways to refine your manuscript and give your story that extra je ne sais quoi. I’m enjoying this book so much that I thought I would show you all a little bit of the work I have been doing.

(And maybe, while shamelessly plugging his book, Mr. Maass will inadvertently discover this blog, see that I am giving him free advertisement, become interested in my book, and advertise it unto the world. . . .Well a guy can dream, can’t he?)

Today’s lesson is about giving your protagonist conflicting sides to make them more dimensional and, in turn, making them more realistic. Now, I felt pretty confident that my protagonist was already quite multidimensional. Then I read this section from the book:

“How many sides of your current protagonist do you reveal? I know what you are thinking: My hero is multidimensional. Me hero is complex! But let me ask you: Is he complex and multidimensional only in your mind, or actually on the page?”

Ouch.

That forced me to take a step back and re-assess. I knew my hero could be multidimensional, but perhaps I needed to do a little more work. I was ready to accept Mr. Maass’ help.

Step 1: What is my protagonist’s defining quality?

This step was easy. I had already decided this way back when when I had first planned the novel: Idealist. I wanted Landon, my hero, to be an idealist. (Kind of like Luke Skywalker was in “A New Hope”.) Done.

Step 2: What is the opposite of that trait?

Easy again. Realist.

Step 3: Write a paragraph in which your protagonist demonstrates that trait.

Hmmm. Okay, now we got a problem. What part of the story should I use for context? Should it be in the beginning so readers can begin to see the depth of the character early on? or Should I give readers a few chapters to get used to one side of Landon’s character before I show them a new one? I began to get caught up in trying to write the perfect paragraph.

Finally, I decided to stop thinking and just start writing. I told myself to just take what comes out and fix it later.This is the God-awful paragraph that I wrote in 5 minutes:

“Landon saw the world around him. He understood Gavin’s words to be true. Life was not perfect. The world was a dark cruel place, as much as he didn’t want to believe it. So he understood why Gavin had done what he did. Survival of the fittest was the truth of the world.”

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Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 with a different character trait.

I did and again this is the horrible first draft I came up with:

1. Optimist

2. Pessimist

3. “Of course he wasn’t here, he thought. No one ever really cared about him. His parents didn’t want him. His uncle never wanted him. This world didn’t even seem to want him.”

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Now these paragraphs definitely needs work, but I wanted to share with you that after having just done one of the exercises, I feel so much freer about who my protagonist is and where I can take him.

Eventually, I decided that the competed first paragraph could be added about halfway through the novel while the second could be placed towards the beginning. I even began plans for more qualities and more moments to show these qualities.

So far, I am only a few exercises into the book, but already I can tell you that it is a great tool for writers. I am beginning to see this as essential an understand why C.H. Griffin boasted so highly of it.

If any of you writers out there feel like you could use any help at all with your story, I highly suggest getting this workbook. It truly can change your manuscript into a breakout novel.

Now, I’m just praying it does for mine! 🙂

Updates, Failure, and Week 2 in Review

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ImageFirst things first, I updated the design of the blog. Hurrah! I feel like the new design sets a better tone. I hope I didn’t confuse anyone and that you all like it as well.

Second things second, this week in review. (See what I did there?) So, I would love to start off by saying that this week went better than last week and I ate completely healthy. But the reality of everything is that we aren’t machines. We are going to fail. And we are going to indulge. The key is not in the failure; the key is in the rebound. The key is in getting yourself back up when you fell flat on your face and got beat like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed did.

As a junior high school teacher, I try to teach this lesson everyday. In my classroom, failure is a part of the process. I expect my students to fail at something through out the year. It’s how they and we learn. I always tell them that if they never failed, they wouldn’t need to be in my room. It is coming face to face with challenges that show us what we are made of. Once failure occurs, we can learn what we did wrong and correct it. “You get more out of losing than you do winning.”

And with that I review my week. I ran only twice. My goal is always 3 times a week, but at least 2 is still a nice week. Monday was excellent and I ran 3.86 miles in 41:54, so an average of 10:51. That was a record for both distance and speed. I felt on top of the world. I was ready to tackle the week!

But then the rest of the week happened. I did not run Wednesday. Thursday was a big test day in my class that resulted in 0% of my students passing. Came to find out that this was due to an error somewhere in the answers rubric, so I got to take the test to find the mistake. Stress. Fixed it. Stress. 31% passed. A little less stress. And when we are stressed what do we do? That’s right, bury our anxiety into little bowls of ice cream, or peach pie, or McDonald’s chicken nuggets with barbecue sauce. . . . Okay, I digress. The point is I ran away from my healthy food. Friday I felt like a failure, so that night I re-determined to run. (I know myself too well. I take too much time off and all of a sudden it is 3 months later and I never started running again.) I did not want that to happen again. So, I ran. I threw my gear on and put foot to pavement and I ran. I listened to familiar tunes and I ran. I thought about revising my books and I ran. And though I did not set any records for myself. I did do a nice 5k in under 40 minutes. It as a nice end to my week and a reminder that during this process I am going to fail, but it’s what comes after that just might show me what I truly am made of.

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