Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Breakout Characters? What makes them special?

Well, according to Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel, Breakout characters are larger-than-life? And just what does it mean to be larger-than-life?

Maass breaks a larger-than-life character into characters who ooze four elements.

1) Strength--"virtually all readers unconsciously seek out novels for an experience of human life that is admirable, amusing, hopeful, perseverant, positive, inspiring and that ultimately makes us feel whole." Pg 106

We need to write characters with moral conviction who are greater than their circumstances. They may have to struggle to find that greatness in them, but that struggle consistently reveals their inner strength and growth as the story progresses. Larger-than-life characters are people who the reader would love to imagine themselves as. They are someone we might strive to be.

2) Larger-than-life characters exude inner conflict. They may not like revealing their inner conflict, but somehow on the page they do. This is a sure fire way to gain reader sympathy to anything, for anyone. Show us how the character struggles, right or wrong, how they process what they've done, or what they're planning to do. The pros and cons they fight with along the way and the consequences they take to heart when they cause a mess. Conflict is the lifeblood of any novel, both internal and external. Reveal your characters internal struggles and watch them grab hold of your reader for the ride of the story.

3) Self-Regard. Larger-than-life characters are self-conscious about themselves. They care about what emotions hit them, they respond to their emotional self. "A compelling hero does not deny his feelings but instead is immersed in them." (pg. 111) I don't know about you, but I love hearing what goes on inside the characters head/heart. That's what makes a book so much more compelling to me than a movie, especially when the actors fail to depict the larger-than-life character intimately.

4)Wit and Spontaneity. I love this element, even though it is one of the most time consuming tasks for an author, I think. But I absolutely love taking days, even weeks, to devise the absolute best comeback. One that reveals exactly who my character is, what matters the most to them, and what can put the secondary character right where they belong, down under. Maass says: "Let loose with the snappy remarks and New York attitude." (pg. 113) I say, I love New Yorkers, even though I'm as far from being one of them as anyone could be! But I love it when a character I'm routing for just has the right response at exactly the right time.

So there you have it. Strength, Inner Conflict, Self-Regard (respects their emotions), and Wit and Spontaneity are all the inner makings of a larger-than-life character who as a result can also become a breakout character. What character(s) in your fictional worlds come close to revealing these four elements? Any? If not, how can you alter your ms and character chart so that they do?

Surrendering to Him,



Lazy Writer said...

My biggest struggle with revealing the characters inner thoughts and feelings is that I end up telling instead of showing when I do this. I'm trying to accomplish it without the telling part.

I think I've already mentioned this, but I really love this series you are doing on the Breakout Novel. Love it! Love it! Love it!

Terri Tiffany said...

I am really enjoying this series as I constantly compare what you say to what I've written so far and then I know where to make the changes. Thank you!

Rebecca Nazar said...

You're right, four is the clincher when it comes to nailing a likable or engaging character. A few of my characters in the comical stories I've written have been quippy--fun stuff.

Jody Hedlund said...

As I've been plotting out my next novel, I've been trying to think of all of these things! Thanks for the great reminders!

Girl in My Own World said...

This was a really good post! I am really more of an emotional writer so I could really relate to this and it was really helpful. Both of the novels that I am working on have these types of characters in them. So, I feel like I should be taking notes on this post to help make the novel richer! Thanks for sharing the info. :o)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

this post made me think if julie lessman's character Faith in A Passion Most Pure. She levels the guy she almost married with the best comeback in a book i've read in a while. he's late to a meeting that she's in attendance at, and when his attention turns to her and her qualifications for the job, he eventually asks, "what can you do, Ms. O'Connor?" she meets his eye and says, "I can be on time." HYSTERICALLY FUNNY! and of course, he falls for her after that. :)

Where Romance Meets Therapy

T. Anne said...

Sounds like all good qualities good people should employ themselves. I wonder why Donald doesn't write fiction?

Thank you for these posts! I use them in concordance to reading Maass' book. You've really helped me with what sometimes amounted to hyroglyphics (sp?) in his book ;)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

This is an area where I need to improve. While I do show inner conflict/emotions, I don't do it enough.

Thanks for a great series.

Susan :)

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm in the process of trying to create characters right now, so this is a great thing to keep in mind. Thanks, Eileen!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Love this!
It's always good to get a refresher course on what we need to be doing. :)

Stephanie Faris said...

Great tips! Now you have me second-guessing my characters!

Kara said...

I love this series as well. I always get hung up with the conflict, my characters have them, but sometimes I struggle with the balance.

Keli Gwyn said...

Wonderful points to remember as we write. I do OK on the first three, but the fourth is more of a struggle. Try as I might to write witty dialogue, I'm a mite too serious. Makes it hard to write funny characters. I'll just have to keep reading Mary Connealy's books. She's got #4 nailed BIG time. :)

Lily said...

I loved the part about the New York attitude. A fun part of writing fiction for me, is having my characters say and do things that I would NEVER say or do! ...but sometimes we think it in our heads. ;)

Katie Ganshert said...

This is SUCH an awesome recap, Eileen. Thanks!!

I just read a book, Just Between You and Me, by Jenny B. Jones, and both the hero and heroine are larger-than-life. The book is phenomenal! Halarious, sweet, gripping. I loved every page. But mainly, I loved it for the two characters. Their witty exchanges were addicting!

Jessica said...

Wow, great post! I think my hero shows strength and is very aware of his emotions. Not so sure he's witty. LOL
I'm not sure how to work on that either, because what might be snappy to me sounds dull to someone else.
But I def. love some witty repartee, in both movies and books.
Thanks for the post Eileen!