Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fiction is Larger Than Life

First, a programming note:

Summer might mean taking it easy for most people and the CountryTime Lemonade dude who seems to think that powdered lemon drink makes the summer an exercise in olde-timey relaxation, but for me, it's hard work.
 I'm my kids one stop entertainment center. the entire day is filled with things I need to give them and boredom I have to vanquish.
It's hard to write. 
So I'm going to pare down to blogging once a week - just Thursdays until the little lovable rug rats go back to school in September.

Would you sacrifice your life for your sister?
Would you kill someone in cold blood?
Would you sleep with your best friend's boyfriend?
Would you lie, cheat steal?
What wouldn't you do, in the right situation?

Over the past month, I've been using Donald Maass's amazing book, Breakout Novel Workbook as a compass as I write the first draft of my current WIP. It's an amazing diagnostic tool - it just gets me thinking deeply about who I'm writing about. Today I'm going to be talking about ways to give your MC larger than life (LTL) qualities. 

I always start my MC as someone like me, someone normal. That's okay, as long as they don't stay that way. If your MC starts normal you have to have her go abby-normal pretty damn sharpish. Have her make a colossal mistake where the stakes are unbelievably high, pile drama after drama on top of her. And it doesn't only have it be external forces that make her LTL, make her decisions LTL. How? Start by making a list:

  • What is the one thing your MC would never, ever do?
  • What would she never say? 
  • When you think of your MC, think about what her limits are. 
  • What's a line that she would not cross?

Then? You guessed it. Find a place in the manuscript where she can cross that line, do that thing, say the one thing she promised she'd never say. I'm not saying she has to be some uber confrontational, transgressive mess (though those are interesting,) she just has to go somewhere she never thought she would go. And it also depends on what's LTL for your character. If she's a wallflower with a painful stutter, asking a crush out on a date is HUGE. In my case, I'm thinking about Mop's mom and how they've only had each other, depended on each other almost unhealthily for five years. They're going to betray each other - irrevocably. And Mop is going to do something that she never dreamed herself capable of.

How do you make your characters Larger than Life?


  1. I pile on the problems. I think of the worst thing that could happen to them, then write it and see if it works. Real life is not story (that from the amazing Cheryl Klein).

    1. That's so true that real life is not story. I try to do the same kind of pile-on but sometimes I'm wimpy and feel bad for making everyone so miserable (because my characters become way too real for me.) My CPs give me a little 'tough love' speech and I take off the kid gloves. But it's a struggle!


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