Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Squeezing plot to develop character – or vice versa!

Boy, does Tex Thompson know how to put new twists on creative writing issues – witness such discussions as her analogy of book revision to Dante’s tour of the Inferno which I blogged about earlier this year. She didn’t disappoint with a world premiere of her newest program – Juice Box Hero: Squeezing Plot from Character – at this month’s meeting of the Writers Guild of Texas .

Because nothing can equal the actual experience of being in the same room with Tex, I’ll only provide a brief summary in this post. If you want to hear the full deal, you’ll have to urge your own writing group to book her next performance.

Which comes first in creative writing – character or plot -- she asked her audience. The fact is, both are essential, but putting too much emphasis on either results in a story as dry as a squeezed-out lemon.

Enter Tex’s “10 Big Ideas” for extracting the maximum juice from both elements:

1.   Dial up the contrast

Whether it’s contrast between the main character and another, between characters and their environment, or a character’s “other self” – the person they want (or fear) to be, “this works for any manuscript problem,” Tex assured us. “If the contrast has been sitting at a 3, try dialing it up to 11.”
2.   Turn “and then” into “but” or “so” (or “therefore”)

If the plot has turned into what I once heard an editor call “a bus ride” (“A happens and then B happens”) try changing the format to “A happens, but then B happens.” Or “A happens, therefore B happens,” to create a domino effect of consequences.

3.  Take away the “reasonable” option or add a conflicting gain

image: pixabay
Either forget that old “lesser of two evils” choice by taking the “right” choice completely off the table. Or, set up “mutually exclusive good” choices. And yes, you can do both! 

4.   Add a different kind of conflict

Given the three major kinds of conflict characters can experience -- internal, interpersonal, and external – give them more than one. The effect of internal and interpersonal conflicts is to elicit sympathy from readers. External conflict elicits admiration for the character. Now juice things up by adding a temptation or cost for each decision the character makes during the conflict. Think: “is there something a character would never do but that he/she must do to accomplish a goal?”

5.    “Force the wizard to throw a punch”

That thing your character is absolutely worst at? Make that the thing she must do. Tex noted that when a masculine character is forced to perform a job with feminine associations, the conventional result is comedy, i.e., Kindergarten Cop. On the other hand, when a feminine character must perform an act conventionally considered masculine, the usual result is a drama, i.e., Aliens or Kill Bill. Tex of course, being Tex, urged us to subvert these conventions.

 Whew! How about allowing yourselves (and me) time to consider and practice these possibilities? I promise to return later this week with the final five of Tex Thompson’s 10 juicebox ideas, including her final bonus idea. But first, a few words about coming attractions.
Fresh in my inbox this week: a chance to win a free writing workshop or novel edit from editorial guru Lorin Oberweger’s Free Expressions group. To promote the group’s Breakout Novel Intensive program (with author/agent Donald Maas) in San Antonio, TX, and its Emotional Craft of Fiction workshops in Philadelphia, PA and Las Vegas, NV, Free Expressions offers to pay with workshops and/or editing for promotional services, with the possibility of commissions in the near future. If you're a writer in/near these cities plugged into your local writing community and willing to do some legwork, or a social media whiz comfortable on multiple platforms, write to Lorin at lorin@free-expressions.com.
Also:  registration is now open for the 2019 LoneStar.ink writing conference in the Dallas area, February 28-March 2, at the DFW Airport Marriott North, 8440 Freeport Parkway, Irving, TX. This little conference that could will be greatly expanded after its debut earlier this year. Discounted admission applies for registration through January 31, 2019. See the site for details. 
And a final promo: my podcaster son-in-law Kevin Phelps was delighted to meet Tex Thompson at last weekend’s FenCon sci-fi/fantasy convention. Check out his upcoming podcasts at Assuming Positions for more Tex!

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