Quick Quote on Protagonists

Know what your protagonist wants, know why she wants it, and know why the thing she wants isn’t the same as the thing she needs. If you know those three things, the rest of your protag’s characterization will fall into place. ~ Xander Bennett

Symbols in Fiction

Why symbols are important in fiction, from the book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway:

People constantly function symbolically. We must do so because we rarely know exactly what we mean, and if we do we are not willing to express it, and if we are willing we are not able, and if we are able we are not heard, and if we are heard we are not understood. Words are unwieldy and unyielding, and we leap past them with intuition, body language, tone, and symbol.

“Is the oven supposed to be on?” he asks. He is only peripherally curious about whether the oven is supposed to be on. He is really complaining: You’re scatterbrained and extravagant with the money I go out and earn.

“If I don’t preheat it, the muffins won’t crest,” she says, meaning: You didn’t catch me this time! You’re always complaining about the food, and God knows I wear myself out trying to please you.

“We used to have salade nocoise in the summertime,” he recalls, meaning: Don’t be so damn triumphant. You’re still extravagant, and you haven’t got the class you used to have when we were young.

“We used to keep a garden,” she says, meaning: You’re always away on weekends and never have time to do anything with me because you don’t love me anymore; I think you have a mistress.

“What do you expect of me!” he explodes, and neither of them is surprised that ovens, muffins, salads, and gardens have erupted. When people say “we quarreled over nothing,” this is what they mean – they quarreled over symbols.

Pg 275, Writing Fiction, 4th Edition

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Have you heard of the The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? I hadn’t until a friend (thank you, Stan!) sent me the link to their 2012 contest winners. To give you a flavor of what the contest is about and why the winning entries are definitely worth reading, here is one of the Dishonorable Mentions in the Romance category:

“Chain-smoking as he stood in the amber glow of the street lamp, he gazed up at the brownstone wherein resided Bunny Morgan, and thought how like a bunny Bunny was, though he had read somewhere that rabbits were coprophages, which meant that they ate their own feces, which was really disgusting now that he thought about it, and nothing like Bunny, at least he hoped not, so on second thought Bunny wasn’t like a bunny after all, but she still was pretty hot.” – Emma DeZordi, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Check out the winners for more gems here.

CONCEPT with Scott Myers

I’m thrilled. I just got a spot in Scott Myers class on CONCEPT, starting on Monday. Here’s what his website says about the course:

In this 1-week online screenwriting class, you will delve into the mindset of Hollywood studio executives, producers, agents, and managers, and learn time-tested ways to generate and develop story concepts, as well as the means to evaluate them to help you know when you find a winning script idea.

  • Hone your ability to think like a script buyer and see what they look for in a story concept.
  • Workshop your own story concepts through writing assignments targeted toward improving your brainstorming and critical analysis skills.

Scott comes highly recommended as a teacher, so I’m thrilled about being accepted into this class. And I certainly need the help when it comes to understanding concept!

Weathering the transition… Keeping the faith

Stephanie Laurens, in her keynote address at the recent RWA conference, gave a speech worth reading, where she discusses the changes in the business of writing/publishing and the resulting opportunities for writers. Click here and enjoy! 



A thought on Villians

If your villian starts working against the hero instead of for themselves, then something has gone wrong. Keep the villain’s motivation consistent and away from being plot driven. They need to have their own goals, which just happen to be in opposition to the hero’s goals.

Nine Questions


Uta Hagen was a well known acting teacher who taught acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio. Below are the questions she taught generations of students to answer for each character study in order to define their roles. I think they can be as valid for fiction writers as actors:

1.  WHO AM I?  (All the details about your character including name, age, address, relatives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, description of physical traits, opinions, beliefs, religion, education, origins, enemies, loved ones, sociological influences, etc.) 
2.  WHAT TIME IS IT?  (Century, season, year, day, minute, significance of time)
3.  WHERE AM I?  (Country, city, neighborhood, home, room, area of room)  
4.  WHAT SURROUNDS ME?  (Animate and inanimate objects-complete details of environment) 
5.  WHAT ARE THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES?  (Past, present, future and all of the events) 
6.  WHAT IS MY RELATIONSHIP?  (Relation to total events, other characters, and to things)  
7.  WHAT DO I WANT?  (Character’s need.  The immediate and main objective
8.  WHAT IS IN MY WAY?  (The obstacles which prevent character from getting his/her need)  
9.  WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT?  (The action: physical and verbal, also-action verbs) 
I think  I might be presumptuous and divide up #7. In my opinion, what the character wants and what they need are usually two different things. The conscious and the subconscious goals are not often in alignment, especially in storytelling.
I’d love to hear if you have something to add to the list. Something that helps you figure out your characters?

The 2012 Page International Screenwriting Awards – Update

Oh my gosh! We made it into the Quarter Finals! There are 664 finalists left in the running, from 5176 entries. Not a bad achievement for a first screenplay. I’m smiling! Check it out here.

And now to force my mind back to writing… I have a blurb to write today, and Marina and I have a novel to finish by Tuesday!

“Your time is limited, so…

…don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” ~ Steve Jobs