Thursday, October 4, 2012

BREAKOUT Notes - Part 2

For those of you just joining us, here's the link to Part 1 of my notes from the The Breakout Novel Intensive V2.0 put on by Free Expressions and literary agent Donald Maass. And now, on to Part 2 . . .

Maass gets his students to go deeper into the story by having us ask questions of ourselves and our characters and our stories. Here are a few examples:

What is your protagonist's bad habit, weakness, vulnerability, blind spot, etc? When does this embarrass your protagonist? Who notices? How does your protagonist react?

What is something your protagonist never told anyone? What was your protagonist's worst mistake? Who would your protagonist most not want to let down? Who would be most disappointed in your protagonist? Would knowing the truth be a devastating blow or a revelation?



Immerse the reader in characters' feelings. Try doing an "emotion draft" and ask what is the strongest emotion of the POV character in this scene, in the next one, etc. What's right about this feeling? What's wrong? What are the secondary emotions? What feeling is the POV character avoiding? All of this creates a fresh emotional experience for the reader. 

How can we approach feelings in a way that feels FRESH? Obvious emotions are not needed on the page. It's the secondary ones that bring something different to the page. 

But it's not enough to just put emotions on the page. Use them to create conflict inside the character. Counter expectations, push the reader off balance just a little. We can create uncertainty and move the story forward just as much with emotions as we can with high action. 


  1. More great advice. I think the points about secondary emotions and inner conflict are invaluable.

  2. Simon - I can't even begin to tell you how many "aha" moments I had during this conference. This post is just one small example. :)

  3. I agree with Simon. Secondary emotions and inner conflict are so important in creating characters that work.

    Cool conference. Thanks for sharing what you learned. =)

  4. MJ - you're welcome! It really is about going deeper into the characters and who they, what they feel, what they want etc that makes them come alive.

  5. Hi Madeline,
    Thanks again for being so generous in sharing your notes.

    And I just wanted to tell you that the other day I clicked on your link and read your flash fiction winner "Delicates." What an amazing story. Wonderful, vivid writing filled with emotion and conflict.

  6. Donna - you're very welcome. And thank you so much for your kind words re "Delicates." I think it's one of my favorite published stories. :)

  7. awesome advice *jots down notes*

  8. Tara - you're
    welcome! You don't even want to know how many pages of notes I have. :)

  9. Great advice -- all part of creating that line-by-line tension, right? I like vulnerable characters; they're more real, more dynamic when we watch them grow through difficulty.

  10. Milo - one of the things I learned is how to make a vulnerable character not be too whiny, how to make a dark character not be too brooding, etc. It's a tricky balance - something I'm working on. :)