The Fire in Fiction is the latest book from successful literary agent and author Donald Maass. In it, he explores the difference between a so-so manuscript and a novel readers cannot forget, and offers techniques for layering your story with passion and conviction.
Featuring original exercises, techniques, and examples from bestsellers, The Fire in the Fiction looks at capturing a special time and place, creating characters whose lives matter, nailing multiple-impact plot turns, constructing scenes that cannot possibly be cut, making the supernatural real, encompassing a wider world, and more.
In Chapter Two: Characters Who Matter, for instance, you’ll find out why secondary characters are so important and et tips for making sure that supporting characters appropriately influence your protagonist. Here’s a sample exercise from that chapter:
Creating Special Characters
Step 1: Look at the special character through the eyes of your protagonist. List three ways in which they are exactly alike. Find one way in which they are exactly the opposite.
Step 2: Write down what most fascinates your protagonist about this special character. Also note one thing about the special character that your protagonist will never understand.
Step 3: Create the defining moment in their relationship. Write down specific details of the place, the time, the action, and their dialogue during this event. What single detail does, or will, your protagonist remember best? What detail does she most want to forget?
Step 4: At the end of your story, in what way has this special character most changed your protagonist? At the story’s outset, in what way does your protagonist most resist this special character?
Step 5: Incorporate the above into your manuscript.
Discussion: Special-ness comes not from a character but from their impact on the protagonist. What are the details that measure their impact? How specific can you make them? The steps above are just a start. Whether for femmes fatales or any other character, it is those details that will bring their special-ness alive.