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"Patch of Dirt:" Writing Stuff

From the Vermont College Postgraduate Writers' Conference August, 2010 "Taming the Shaggy Beast: Letting Your Novel Write Itself" A Craft Talk by Lee Martin

Writing Prompts:

Begin writing a description of an unforgettable character. Here's a line to get you started: "He (or she) was the person who " Our objective will be to articulate the basic nature of the person before we go on to look more closely at him or her.

See if you can recall a moment when you saw your unforgettable character (or heard something about him or her that you couldn't believe) in a way you'd never known him or her previously. You might begin with, "I thought I knew exactly who he (or she) was, but one day " . . The objective here is to highlight an action that will suggest a past, present, and future. Something that will make you curious about this person and a particular journey he or she was on.

List any concrete details that you remember being connected to your real person (white, straw cowboy hat, pointy-toed boots, eyeglasses) and then allow those details to suggest others from your imagination (a Parker 51 Fountain pen, a purple Martin bird house, a powder blue 1965 Mercury Comet). Think about how at least one of those details becomes expressive of how the character wants to view him or herself and what he or she wants, fears, hopes, etc. Often a character becomes extremely interesting and also invites trouble because of the tension that exists between what he or she presents to the world and what he or she carries inside. Spend some time thinking about the facade your character operates behind. Choose a single detail from your list and then complete the following sentence: He or she liked the (detail) because. . . .

Then find a place to add and complete this sentence: but there were times when. . . . And, finally, a third sentence, One day....

Think about the setting of the novel and how the details of landscape and the culture of place create interesting possibilities for trouble for your characters. Highlight some aspect of landscape or culture by completing the following sentence: He or she loved the____________________________,but had always longed for (or wanted, or feared) ___________________________________. The objective here is to see how a character's action can create trouble by being in overzealous allegiance or resistance the place he or she occupies.

#5 Write an opening that makes you curious.

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