So I hit a rut in TM, but I’m going to work through it in a minute. In the meantime, I’m doing a little exercise that a couple of friends suggested to me. They are represented by Mary Kole of Andrea Brown, who wrote a blog post about brainstorm ideas. One of the ideas there is to write 100 declarative sentences about your MC.
100 Declarative Sentences
This is a great brainstorm tool, and it’s really hard. This works best with a character or a setting that’s giving you difficulty. Maybe your critique group thinks it’s thin or flat or unconvincing, or it just doesn’t feel right to you. Concentrate on this place or this person and write 100 declarative sentences about her, him or it. Sounds simple, right? Well, it really calls into question how well you know what you’re writing about. A declarative sentence is just an informative sentence that states a fact. Let’s say I have a character called Claire who isn’t working for me. I would start my list:
- Claire plays JV tennis.
- Claire likes to eat ice cream but only after she wins a game.
- Claire wishes she had long hair like Abby does.
Etc. etc. etc. A lot of it will feel like you’re just riffing. You’re making things up. You’re improvising. But you’ll come up with some great surprises, like quirks of a character that you never thought of. Then, around sentence 80, you will feel like you will never finish this stupid exercise. And you will hate me. And you will probably give up and watch some TV. So it goes. But the point here is that you’re thinking of the place or person as something real. Declarative sentences are simple and informational. It will force you to think about things you haven’t been considering yet.
Who knows if you will use all of the 100 things you come up with? But the truth and beauty of fiction always lies in the specifics. Here, you have an opportunity to come up with specifics, quirks, tidbits and other things that will flesh out your character or setting and make them seem more real, more significant. Some of my favorite details about a character or place, the ones that stick with me long after the book is over, are small things like this. That Claire has the purple nail polish chipped off the big toe on her left foot. That Bellmeadows, the town where Claire lives, has three car dealerships but no gas station. Character and setting are in the details. Force yourself to come up with some. You’ll get maybe 10 or 20 new things to add throughout your manuscript.
Since I’m having a harder time connecting to Rosie than Taylor, I’m doing it for her.
So the first 15 were things I already knew about her. Things like how she wants to fight for BOIS rights and why and where her family works (for EDEN, the company that makes the BOIS) and how she feels about that. The next few were things I sort of knew. They were general concepts I had pictured but not put much thought into, or things that explained her reaction to Taylor but there was no history there.
Then I started going, “Well, I’m at number 24. What other things can I come up with?”
This is where I was worried the exercise would be worthless. I’ve done some of those surveys for your characters, knowing that sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. 100 facts about your character is a lot, especially when you’re within your first 3000 words of the novel. So I might put in “Rosie likes cats.” And, sure, maybe something will come from that, but probably nothing that I couldn’t have made up for plot purposes at the moment. In a book about a girl and her android boyfriend, I’m probably not going to have much use for that information.
But then I went, “Okay, well, I know Rosie is involved in at least two extra-curricular activities. Many people join those to add them to their applications.”
24. Rosie plans to go to college.
Speech and debate probably looks really good in those applications, and she just got through Regionals. For finals she gets to speak in front of the President. That’s got to get her a scholarship, right? Well…
25. Rosie hopes that she will get a speech and debate scholarship for college
Which led to:
26. Rosie’s not willing to sell out her beliefs for this scholarship, even though her defense of BOIS rights will probably lose her it, she wants to make the president think.
And then I changed 25 to:
25. Rosie hopes that she will get a speech and debate scholarship for college, but there’s only one available through the competition, and EDEN is offering it.
And all of a sudden, I had a new piece of conflict. Hello.
Of course some of this is probably going to end up being worthless.
39. Rosie has a cat
But, I guess the gems are worth the experience. I just hope I get at least one more gem in the remaining 55 sentences I have to do.
In other news, yesterday I had all yellow lights on my way back to work from lunch. I made it through all of them.
Currently on iPod: Bolero by Ravel
Tomorrow: I will post about my first offer, which was on March 28, 2009.
Lots of love,