Wednesday, May 14, 2014

YOU CAN WRITE A MYSTERY: LESSON THREE




LESSON THREE: YOUR PROTAGONIST

It's time to spend a little time on your protagonist (fancy name for your hero/detective/sleuth). He or she will be the driving force of your story. A compelling protagonist will be more than just a detective. She needs to be a real person, with real problems to work out in addition to solving the story's mystery. I start with a quick brainstorm list of facts (that usually change before I'm finished).
NAME  AGE  FAMILY  PETS  TOWN  PROFESSION  FRIENDS ENEMIES
SECRETS PET-PEEVES   HOME   ETC. ETC. ETC.  ETC.  . . .

I also try to answer the following questions.

1. Why is it important for my protagonist to solve the crime?

2. How is the crime connected to them?

3. If she doesn't solve the crime, how will it affect her future life?

Everything that I write down at this point is usually in flux. It changes and morphs as I explore all my options. This means that I am careful not to overwork my character in the planning stage. I've learned the hard way, that sometimes once I start writing, my preconceived protagonist will refuse to fit into the tight mold I've set. To avoid this pitfall, this is when I do what I call my Last Look exercise.

Why a last look? Because it implies that something has radically changed for your hero and that nothing will ever be the same. This short paragraph exercise forces you to include the internal conflict, external conflict and their new problem. You may discard it in your final rewrite, but for now it will help flesh out your character and transform them into a real person with real problems.

LAST LOOK EXAMPLE 1

Last look: Maria took one last look at her bedroom, knowing that she’d never return.
Question: Why did her mom have to take a job in New York?
Answer: The only thing adults cared about was money, position, and its status.
Thought 1: When she grew up, she’d think of her children’s happiness.
Thought 2: She’d never drag them away from their best friend or their dad.

Rewritten in Maria’s Voice
Maria took one last look at her bedroom, knowing that she’d never return. She frowned. Why did her mom have to take a job in New York City of all places? Okay, so it was a ridiculous question. Everyone knew the only thing adults cared about was money. Money, position, and its status. When she grew up, she’d think of her children’s happiness before she did something so totally stupid that it ruined the lives of everyone around her. She’d never drag them away from their best friends or from their father.

Think of what you can learn from one short paragraph.

LAST LOOK EXAMPLE 2
Last Look: Marvin took one last look at his dragon, knowing he’d have to keep her a secret.
Question: Why did people fear them so much?
Answer: Just because they breathed fire, people thought they were dangerous.
Thought 1: His older brother Abel had a dog that bite Marvin when he was three.
Thought 2: They hadn’t made Abel get rid of the dog, but then Abel was their favorite son.

Rewritten in Marvin’s Voice
Marvin took one last look at his tiny yellow dragon, knowing he’d have to keep her hidden. Why did people fear the harmless creatures? Just because they breathed fire didn’t mean they were dangerous. Not anywhere near as dangerous as the dog his older brother Abel had when Marvin was three. It’d bit Marvin and left a gruesome scar on his chin. His parents hadn’t made Abel get rid of the dog, but then Abel was their favorite son.

Think of what you can learn from one short paragraph.

YOUR TURN. THINK OF YOUR PROTAGONIST AND WRITE A LAST LOOK BASED ON WHO YOU PLAN THEM TO BE.

Last Look:
Internal Question:
Attempt to answer the question from their viewpoint:
2 significant thoughts - the second one a reveal:


NOW WRITE THE LAST LOOK PARAGRAPH IN THE VOICE OF YOUR PROTAGONIST.


Come back next Wednesday for Lesson 4
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