Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freewrite of the Week: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...

by Jacqueline Fauni

We had a great time at the UCLA Writers Faire last Sunday, and were intrigued by some advice given at the "Writing Your First Novel" panel. When asked about how to actually start writing a novel, mystery novelist Linda Palmer said she likes to begin by creating a cast of characters and exploring their opinions. We wholeheartedly agree with her character-first approach!

As important as the plot or situation is in a story, characters are the ones that are reacting to the situation, or even instigating it along with even more situations. Forming your characters' opinions and outlooks on life is essential because they dictate how your characters think, behave, talk to and connect with other people, and ultimately propel the plot. As interesting as a nun-in-training becoming a governess to a former naval officer's seven children sounds, it becomes a lot more interesting when the captain thinks it's best to keep his children at a distance with a strictly enforced schedule, the children think that torturing all their governesses is the only way to get their father's attention, and the nun-in-training thinks it's a good idea to butt heads with the captain to get the children the fun and affection they need. Throwing all these different opinions into the mix is what makes The Sound of Music such a great story as they interact, clash, and change each other.

Besides being important on the level of the story, your characters' opinions make up a big part of the connection between you and your reader. By creating a character with beliefs, values, and feelings, you make him/her more real, interesting, and relatable--someone your readers come to feel that they know. The "My Favorite Things" scene is a moment we witness Maria's belief in the unifying power of music, and we are swept away right along with the children in a carefree, whimsical recollection of favorite things. It's a moment when the children feel connected to Maria, and so do we.

Developing things as profound as your characters' opinions can seem daunting, but you can ease into it by thinking about fun and simple things first, such as their likes and dislikes (e.g. favorite and most despised foods, films, etc.).

Your task: In a 10-minute stream-of-consciousness exercise, list some of your character's favorite things.  And by "things," we mean anything: objects, pastimes, hobbies, interests, ideas, words, stories, songs, sounds, smells, memories, places, people, seasons, time of day, days of the week, etc. We're leaving it up to you!

*The next step: Explore your character's forms of "when the dog bites" and "when the bee stings," or situations akin to Gretel's fear of thunderstorms. What would make your character feel sad, angry, or scared? Write about an event that makes your character want to "simply remember [their] favorite things."

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