Over the weekend I had the privilege of attending a one day workshop with Donald Maass. Yep. THAT Donald Maass, of Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing 21st Century Fiction fame. So naturally, I’m thinking a lot more profoundly about my characters. How can you write your characters in a deeper way and why should you do this?
Writing Tip for Today: Maass gave a compelling (and entertaining) argument for stories. The way we connect to one another in a lasting, meaningful way. Here are only a few of the ways I learned to deepen a character:
- Ask LOTS of Questions. These questions and answers probably shouldn’t make it verbatim into your manuscript. Maass asked us to write down the answers to all sorts of questions concerning motivation and back story. Everything from our own fears and deepest secrets to the fears and deep secrets of the character. That’s right–to get passion on the page you need to know what your own conflicts, fears and secrets are. Don’t be afraid to dig deep–no one else has to see your confessions. But a question unasked is like a huge hole in your character–one where the reader has no idea what the character is like.
- Translate Q & A to SCENE. Maass repeatedly asked us to first list an answer to a question such as, “What is your character’s biggest fear?” But he doesn’t leave us there. It would be obvious and clunky to simply “tell” the answers for your character. Instead, Maass challenged us to write down one way in which the answer will play out on the stage of your story. That’s right. SHOW it.
- Put More in the Middle. Maass is a literary agent and he maintains that most of the manuscripts he sees need a lot more going on in them. Especially in the notorious middle of a novel or memoir. By questioning both yourself and your protagonist(s), you can help yourself invent more events to go in that saggy slow part where the reader’s attention tends to flag. Your character will become deeper, more human and ultimately, more readily connectible and sympathetic to your reader. You can read more of Donald Maass’ thoughts on the blog, Writer Unboxed. Or dig into his books. And if you ever get the opportunity to take his workshops, run, don’t walk. It’s worth every penny.