I attended a writer's workshop this past week at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs. I selected just one of many excellent things I learned to share on today's post: character-driven action.
This wasn't a regular writer's conference with agents, editors, pitches, etc. Instead we got to pick from one of four published authors with years of experience, and join them in a small group for writing exercises, brainstorming, group feedback, and some one-on-one critiquing from the author. It was an intense three days! With all the writing books I've studied, critique groups I've been in, and past conference workshops, I was surprised at how much I still learned.
There's taking-it-all-in kind of learning, and then there is learning by application. This unusual type of extended small-group workshop gave me opportunity to immediately apply things and almost just as immediately get feedback and brainstorming. Amazing! It helped me work out some crucial turning points in my book, Raining Toward Heaven.
The most crucial thing I learned/applied was the idea of character-driven action. We all know how we need to start our first chapters with action to hook the reader. As soon as Kathryn Mackel, the author that lead my group, described character-driven action to me, I knew it was going to help my first chapter. It's putting your character in a situation that causes them to act, so we get to see something about their personality and their motivation.
My main character is in a coffee-shop that adjoins a flower shop and she sees a young man buying roses for his girlfriend. She feels envious because today is her first anniversary and she hasn't even heard from her husband yet - typical of his neglect of anything romantic.
My group helped me brainstorm character-driven action to start this first chapter. So far she sees something happening and reacts to it. But she's not doing anything. One suggestion was to have a kid come into the flower shop on the heels of the young man to purchase a flower for her sick mother. The kid counts out her change, but she's fifty cents short. My character offers to pay the difference. Now she's actually doing something that tells us about her character. I'm not sure if I'll use this particular example, but it definitely shed some light on the power of character-driven action.
Ending with a couple great quotes I got from the other authors at the workshop (James Scott Bell, Angela Hunt, Nancy Rue):
Good writing is where precision meets passion
Creating art is an interaction between you and God
We write a novel to evoke emotion
Just curious about that last quote, what do you guys think? Is storytelling about evoking emotion?
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