Lost my notes on a particular writing exercise that I learned in a Donald Maass novel-writing seminar. This is my attempt to reconstruct it, although I’m sure the original was much clearer and useful. The title above is mine wholly, however. Useful if the world of your story feels too thin …
This is outline form – where you decide how to proceed before
plunging in – but I think that the outline could be deviated from
during the writing – just as if it were a separate story.
1/ Find a character in the ms. that had little to do, but who’s:
(choose one or more) WANTS, or NEEDS, GOALS, or WORST POSSIBLE RESULT:
(choose one or more) MIRROR, or CONFLICT with, or PARALLEL, or BRANCH OUT FROM, or ENTANGLE With:
(choose one or more) Your HERO, VILLAIN, or OTHER MAJOR CHARACTER
2/(Optional) Decide how this character’s FLAWS or STRENGTHS differ or PARALLEL main F/L of HERO or other main character.
3/Decide what is the final outcome of this problem will be for this
particular character. (This doesn’t have to coincide with the end of
the story, or any other major turning point. This particular’s
character arc and this subplot can resolve at any point in the story.)
4/Decide and outline what the three steps to (choose one or more)
RESOLVING, ELIMINATING, TESTING TO THE FINAL EXTREMITY this outcome
is/are that can NOT POSSIBLY BE LEFT OUT if this arc is going to be
5/Turn this outline into scenes either by inventing new scenes,
retelling existing scenes from an additional viewpoint, and/or adding
beats to existing scenes and decide where these fit into the existing
This should generate enough material for the equivalent of a 3-5k
short story, but since everything will reverberate against other
existing characters – that might require some additional efforts to get
them back on track as well.
To put it in faux-Shakespearean terms: it is taking a spear carrier
and developing her or him into a foil for some important element of the
story such as a major character, plot line, or theme.
Macbeth is the
only Shakespeare without subplots, so it is safe to say that
Shakespeare knew when to include subplots and when not to.
Disclosure: I tried this with my current novel and it DIDN’T WORK.
But my novel is short, and has a lot of subplots already, one more
would probably make it impossible for the reader to tell what the MAIN
story is supposed to me. But I did find one by trying to do it that one
character important to the final leg of the story did not have any
beginning to his story. That is a scene I need to add, so the time