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Writing Lecture/Objective One
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Auditioning the Central Character

Vignette One List of Traits and Overall Prose Synopsis

Definition of Trait  Distinguishing quality or characteristic, a peculiarity

Definition of Synopsis 1) a condensed statement, as a narrative, 2) Rundown, summing up, summary, summation

         Pay Attention! This is Important!

It's OK to have an idea in mind for a Central Character (CC) and a general idea for a story line.  But its a whole lot better to have absolutely no preconceptions regarding plot and only the vaguest notion of who your CC will eventually become.  The problem with bringing developed material into the workshop is that plot and characters that are already firmly in mind brings with it some potentially worrisome baggage.  Whether you realize it or not already written stuff carries with it a preconceived mindset.  By this I mean the epoxy has already begun to set up and the manuscript is no longer fluid enough for what the workshop is hoping to develop.  This can turn into a huge problem down the road if you insist on pounding a square peg into a round hole.

So you start out with this interesting someone you have in mind and audition them for the role of CC in your novel.  You do this by writing three vignettes which are analogous to what the first three chapters of your novel could well become.  In the first vignette you show your CC paddling around in the story world.  Ideally you begin to show what his/her Wants/Needs/Desires (WNS) are.  In the second vignette you show your CC being drawn from a relatively placid pool into a fast moving current.  This current is carrying the CC towards the waterfall of a Life Changing Event (LCE).  Again, as a writer, you'll show more of the story world, and the Modus Opperendi of your CC, as events surge towards the LCE.  The third vignette shows the CC carried over the falls into a new and unexpected situation that will forever change the direction of their lives.  It is a situation where there is no turning back and the CC girds their resolve to face the challenge of a new adventure. 

This is the Character Development Model the Workshop follows, and as a writer you can use it over and over until you come up with whoever your CC is going to be.

Now what kind of a character are you looking for? Certainly not a stereotypical one.  Your reader has read about these characters a thousand times before.  The opposite of a stereotypical character is an enigmatic character.  All people have a weirdness about them that makes them enigmatic.  As a writer you have to look for it.  Often it is some unusual aspect of someone that makes them stand out as an individual.  Start pulling on this thread of their persona and the "Weirdness" will emerge into plain view.  This is your CC's "Resonance of Humanity" and the more you pull the string the more interesting, wonderful and unexpected are the things that pop out.

Not only will the unique qualities of your CC's character begin to emerge but this development process will provide great clues as to where the story line is heading.  Use this three vignette model, and it will give you an interesting CC and serve up what the first three chapters of your novel are likely to become.  Yes, you'll be developing a character template but the key to creating great characters is using the three vignette model. 

The Holy Grail of writing a novel is Character Development.  When I use the metaphor "Holy Grail" I mean that literally as well as figuratively.

By "Grail" I'm referring to its physical makeup as well as the substance the vessel contains.  So in character development a student needs to draw a visual sketch and then fill the character with all the psychological, moral, and those other internal values that exist inside.

The reader thus gets to see what makes a character unique from a perspective of both form and substance.

By form I'm referring to physical appearance.  The world is full of stereotypes.  A man is a plug and a woman is a receptacle . . . Duh!  It goes without saying that men and women obsess on their outward images.  A woman tries to optimize her beauty . . . a man his manliness. 

By substance I'm referring to the inner person.  A reader wants some sort of cue to what the physical appearance of a character is but is much more interested in what they are like inside.  Ironically this is in direct opposition to the priority a person often places upon themselves.

A reader quickly forms an impression of how the character looks . . . yawn . . . OK I get the picture . . . I know plenty of people who look like that . . . now show me those inner qualities . . . I didn't buy this book to see some Hollywood Stereotype.

Thus a reader is looking from the outside in, trying to establish a vicarious attachment, and the character is looking from the inside out... someone projecting a visual image while inside trying to appear as something else.

It goes without saying that a Central Character (CC) is a big deal.  This is the character who commands the story, not someone who tiptoes around the edges and peers in through the window.  Often who you think will be the CC to start with winds up being a supporting character instead.  A great example is the novel, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  If you read it closely you'll note the CC starts out being the Guy and later ends up being the Gal.

So as you pick up the pen or settle back with your laptop, realize your central character could be anyone.  Start out with who you think it is.  After all this is what the Workshop is all about . . . Exploring.

         Trait Template for Character Sketches
 Character Sketch Template  (E)
A template used for character development
#1829117 by percy goodfellow

Don't worry if you don't know everything about your central character at this point.  You will need to update the list of traits as you go along.

Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
percy goodfellow

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