February 3rd, 2015

BrainUnderRepair
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Writing Excuses 10.5: What Do You Mean, My Main Character Is Boring?

Writing Excuses 10.5: What Do You Mean, My Main Character Is Boring?

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2015/02/01/writing-excuses-10-5-what-do-you-mean-my-main-character-is-boring/

Key Points: Beware main characters being boring, and/or having no responsibility, accountability, or agency. Bland main characters need spicing up! Doing interesting things, in interesting places, with interesting people does not necessarily make a person interesting. Main characters need a personal life and motivation, but they don't necessarily need a deep, tortured past unrelated to the story. Is your character an observer, without agency? Don't just add quirks -- raise the stakes, make them responsible and accountable. Make sure that actions have costs, that there are reactions and prices. Stakes are what you can lose, accountability is being responsible for your actions, the price you pay. Give the character flaws to overcome, a growth arc. Stakes and an arc come before quirks! Consider the triad of proactive, likeable, and competent. Where does your character change on those scales? Consider diversity in your characters and cast, to stretch yourself as a writer, but that does not mean your book has to be about diversity. Make your character a person first. Even mint in chocolate, everyday differences, can make a character more interesting. Characters need to be passionate, and should want more than one thing.
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[Brandon] We're going to give you a writing exercise. Now remember, like last month, this writing exercise will go through the whole month, but you can pick different ones that we do through the month and not have to have done this one, but if you want to keep going through the month, we will give you ways to expand upon this. Now, one of my favorite character writing exercises is to take three different characters and walk them through a scene and have them interact with this scene. Then you are trying to convey each character's emotional state, and make them all different, each character's job, and each character's hobby, without saying anything relating to those three. You can't say, "He was angry." You have to convey that. You can't say, "He was an architect." You have to convey that. You can't say, "She loved collecting bugs." You have to convey this. And do it all in a page. We're going to give you a scenario to go through.
[Mary] You are going to have a character who is walking through a marketplace and they need to do a dead drop. Which means that they have a package that they need to drop off for someone else to pick up. This is a common trope in spy novels.
[Brandon] That market is going to be the same through all three of your writings of this. But the way the main character acts should be very different in every scene.
[Howard] The market can be on a space station.
[Brandon] It can be. It can be whatever type of setting you want it to be. On earth, another planet, whatever. I made my group of students at the Writing Excuses retreat go through this one. So they wrote three different scenes.
[Mary] I do the same thing with my students with the same goal, so they don't have to... But they have to do it in three sentences. Which is why I'm a short story writer and you're a novelist.
[Brandon] Epic fantasy.
[laughter]
[Mary] [inaudible] Chihuahua.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.
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