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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Overview Character Development: Story Question Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Stories help us see what is true, and that visions of truth are nourishing to the human spirit.” Katherine Paterson


As mentioned last week a story grows from the character’s emotional core. What? Why?

Dwight V. Swain says a story is a succession of motivations and reactions. Every story deals with specific instance. Even sci-fi and fantasy are grounded in concrete realistic details.

An issue or stumble is not the event itself but how the character perceives and reacts to it will direct the degree of value to it. The character makes his own judgment and does this based on his own feelings.

For example, a single fact can cause a multitude of reactions such as a late BART or freeway delay. What are some personal reactions being experienced? By the adult driving? By a child passenger? How much of their emotional focus is tied up into where they are going, or a situation left unresolved earlier that day that one or the other fear the delay will be used to discuss the unfinished conversation?

For the story to work the reader has to care about the character and care if he succeeds or fails or at least identify with his need to succeed or fail. Therefore the reader identifies with the character’s feelings and struggles.

Because something happens as in a previous event #1, therefore Event #2 follows=cause and effect.

            Cause becomes motivating stimulus.
            Effect the character reaction.

The reaction contains three components: feeling—action—speech. Sometimes one of them is implied rather than stated outright.

Take some of the motivational sentences you’ve been working on since the segment on tone and expand them according to a deeper cause and effect that reflects and responds to your characters’ background.

Here is an extended motivational two-sentence structure from Dwight V. Swain.

a) The first sentence is a statement that establishes, character, situation and objective.
“When humans suddenly begin to grow to twelve feet height, John Storm tries to find out why.”

b) The second sentence asks a question while identifying the opponent and disaster.
But can he defeat the traitors in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extra terrestrial plot?"

 As you work up your story questions, themes, direction, and characters this form may become more succinct, but for now it’s a good start towards creative possibilities.

Examine Possible Conflict

There are two dogs but only one bone.

Examine many possible layers of motivation. Keep asking ‘what if’ questions to find the depth of motivation, both external and internal.

 Continue to write up potential story lines.

Andrea wanted to get a job at the ballet.

Then list twenty things that could go wrong. Include creative offbeat possibilities.

Put your character between a rock and a hard place, says Ronald B. Tobias. Forget easy solutions.

It applies from the youngest reader up. One of my youngest grandson’s favorite books is Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. As you can see the story question/conflict is in the title. The little dinosaur battles a pile of leaves and a bowl of spaghetti, a big slide and talking grown-ups, J and many other daily conflicts. And with every encounter he WINS! Except… guess what?

Action Steps:

1.     Practice reading openings or titles. Notice what details jump first.
2.     As you read stories beginnings write down what you think the story question is. See if it gets answered.

3.     Write down your possible story idea in the question form.

4.     List twenty possible obstacles—include really crazy ones.

5.     Write up in two as in two-sentence structure from Swain.

Note: Also look at the back cover or market introduction—does it fulfill its promise re the story?

Share: What was the funniest obstacle you wrote down?

                                                         Read deep, marcy

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