Writing the Breakout Novel, Chapter 6: Character Turnabouts and Surprises

by RS on February 15, 2016

After three months, I finally started writing again and back to working through the exercises in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Now that I’m back to a solid routine, I’ve decided there will be days I revise, or write new material, or experiment and turn the story on its ear.

Say what?

Well, that’s what the Great Maass asks us to do in Chapter 6. It’s all about reversing motives. This is what he writes about an unexpected direction in a story:

“It’s too bad that some novelists don’t publish their early drafts. Or do they? Anyway, it would be interesting to compare early attempts at a given with what later is published.

Generally speaking, we don’t get that opportunity, but even so one sometimes see in some novels that do not play the way we would expect them to. The whole thrust is a surprise, or perhaps the scene turns in an unexpected direction, or a character does something we do not anticipate.

Such effects come from trying different approaches to a scene. In essence, that is what Reversing Motives is about: trying a different approach to see if it works better.”

I’ve been pondering taking a different approach, wondering what direction the story would go and if it would make it better. By tweaking a scene where Corinne confronts the FBI agents who have been tailing her has put the story on a different path and has shown a side of Corinne where she’s in control of the situation instead of being the victim of political harassment. But in addition to her change of motive, it also begins to fill in the blanks to two of the sub-plots. Once I made that change, I realized that I had to make other changes much earlier in the story.

My discoveries thus far: the story is better with more layers that add nuance, complexity and intrigue. A beloved but dead grandmother’s secret is part of the key to what comes next in the story. What about that impasse I reached that made me question the story? It’s gone, and I’m excited about this new direction. All it took was Corinne to get off her butt and go against her grandmother’s advice from long ago.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to apply what if scenarios to a scene that turns it completely upside down. You might be surprised at the positive change it will have on your story and what other possibilities follow.
  • As great as your first draft scene might be, reverse motivations can reveal your character’s true motives, and it also might fine-tune subplots connected to your character’s endgame.
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