Director’s Corner: Tracking Your Character’s Emotional Arc

jeanneJeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, which is in its 20th year of operation.  She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles.  She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.

Find out more about Jeanne here and more about the Odyssey Writing Workshops here.


This post was first published in January 2015 at K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors” blog at: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/characters-emotional-arc/ 

Most authors try to understand what a character is feeling at a particular moment: He’s angry here. He’s happy there. Many authors also consider how the character’s emotional arc changes over the course of the entire story: He begins insecure. He ends confident. But few think about how the character’s emotional arc develops over the course of a single scene.

Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Tracking Your Character’s Emotional Arc”

Graduate’s Corner: World-Beginning Rust and Confidence, by Rhiannon Held

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Author Rhiannon Held graduated from Odyssey in 2006.  She is the author of the urban fantasy Silver (Silver, Tarnished and Reflected) series from Tor.  She lives in Seattle, where she works as an archaeologist for an environmental compliance firm.  Working in both archaeology and writing, she’s “lucky” enough to have two sexy careers that don’t make her much money.  Visit her author website at www.rhiannonheld.com.


I’ve recently started writing a new novel series, after spending nearly five years completely focused on my first series to be published, the Silver series. Now, I know some writers love bouncing among a variety of different worlds when choosing the setting of their next project. I’m not one of them—when I say focused, I mean focused. Having finally stepped out of that series’ world to write in a new one, I learned a couple things: without practice, skills get rusty, but you shouldn’t let that chip away at your confidence in striking out into new territory.

When you think about it, rust makes sense: some writing skills you use only at the very beginning of the process of building a world.  If you continue to write in that same world, your world-beginning skills decay through simple disuse.  For me, my rustiest skill was pinning down character voice. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: World-Beginning Rust and Confidence, by Rhiannon Held”

Interview: Author Patricia Bray

patricia-bray-author-photo-2Author Patricia Bray will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She has written a dozen novels, including Devlin’s Luck, which won the 2003 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the field of science fiction or fantasy.  A multi-genre author whose career spans both epic fantasy and Regency romance, her books have been translated into Russian, German, Portuguese and Hebrew.  She’s also spent time on the editorial side of the business, as the co-editor of After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar (DAW, March 2011) and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (DAW, March 2012).

Patricia lives in a New England college town, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as a Systems Analyst, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard.  Visit her website and blog at http://www.patriciabray.com.


You are a multi-genre author: how do you find the writing techniques for epic fantasy and Regency romance compare? Continue reading “Interview: Author Patricia Bray”

Graduate’s Corner: Torture Your Character, Capture Your Reader by Elaine Isaak

Elaine Isaak is the author of The Singer’s Crown (Eos, 2005), and sequels The Eunuch’s Heir (Eos, 2006), and The Bastard Queen (Swimming Kangaroo, 2010). Her short fiction has recently appeared in Live Free or Undead and Escape Clauses. A graduate of the Odyssey Speculative Fiction Workshop, Elaine writes traditional fantasy in a mythic and historic vein, harrowing tales of complex human relationships in the realms of fantasy. Magic may offer the choice of transcendence–or tragedy–and the quest never leaves you untouched. Above all else, know this: you do not want to be her hero. She has written how-to articles for the Writer Magazine, and authored the Lady Blade fantasy writing column at AlienSkin magazine for three years. Her speaking engagements have included local chapters of Romance Writers of America, the World Science Fiction and World Fantasy conventions.


I am a strong advocate for the abuse of imaginary people–not because I am, by nature, cruel and wicked (at least–I hope not), but because it will make your characters stronger, your stories better, and you–a better writer. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: Torture Your Character, Capture Your Reader by Elaine Isaak”

Graduate’s Corner: The Growth of a Protagonist in a Series by Lane Robins

Lane Robins was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of two scientists, and grew up as the first human member of their menagerie. When it came time for a career, it was a hard choice between veterinarian and writer. It turned out to be far more fun to write about blood than to work with it. She attended Odyssey in 1999, and currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with an ever-fluctuating number of dogs and cats. She is the author of The Antyre Chronicles (Maledicte and Kings & Assassins) published by Del Rey. Under the name Lyn Benedict, she is writing the Shadows Inquiries series for Ace, which includes Sins & Shadows, Ghosts & Echoes, and the just-released Gods & Monsters. You can visit Lane’s website at www.lanerobins.com.


My standard comment on character goes like this: Character is the intersection of personality and plot. That’s a fancy way of saying that your carefully constructed person has to care about what’s going on in your book, and has to be changed by the events. Like plot, a character has an arc that should begin, progress, and come to a resolution. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: The Growth of a Protagonist in a Series by Lane Robins”

Getting into Characters’ Heads

Ask readers what makes a good story good and they are likely to say “the characters.” But how does a writer create characters that are engaging, believable, and distinct?  And how does a writer bring such characters to life on the page? We asked Odyssey graduates:

How do you get into your characters’ heads? Do you make all your characters similar to yourself in some ways? Do you use research to better understand different types of people? Continue reading “Getting into Characters’ Heads”

Podcast #42: Gregory Frost

Podcast #42 is now available for download here.

As a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010, Gregory Frost spoke about “Character, Viewpoint, and the Critical Voice of the Story: Why It Matters How You Tell It.” In this podcast, the second of two parts, Gregory continues his discussion of the properties, limitations, and challenges of each viewpoint, covering second person and first person. He describes different ways to use first person, such as the interior monologue, the dramatic monologue, the epistle, the diary, and the memoir. Gregory stresses the importance of considering the question, “Who is listening?” when a first-person narrator tells his story. He also provides a series of questions for an author to ask himself when choosing a point of view. Gregory explains the difference between viewpoint and voice. Voice is critical to establishing character and can create an image of the character more powerful than any physical description. He also describes the unique nature of voice and points out that voice can be a powerful source of originality in fiction. You can find part 1 of Gregory’s lecture excerpt in Podcast #41.

Gregory Frost Continue reading “Podcast #42: Gregory Frost”

Director’s Corner: Active Versus Reactive Characters

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Active Versus Reactive Characters

One problem many developing writers have is that readers don’t like their main characters and don’t care what happens to them. If you can get readers to become emotionally invested in your protagonist, then they’ll follow you almost anywhere.

Readers tend to like characters who are struggling to achieve a goal. This simple principle can be invaluable in creating sympathetic protagonists. Characters working toward a goal are active characters. Characters who aren’t working toward a goal are reactive. Reactive characters are much weaker than active characters, and we tend not to like them. Unfortunately, many writers end up unknowingly creating reactive protagonists.

Here’s a scene with one active character and one reactive character:

      Joe: “What do you want to do tonight?”

 

      Jane: “I don’t know.”

 

      Joe: “Let’s go see

Lord of the Rings

      .”

 

      Jane: “I already saw it.”

 

      Joe: “Well, let’s go bowling then.”

 

      Jane: “I hate bowling.”

 

      Joe: “We could rent a video and stay home.”

 

    Jane: “We did that last night.”

Joe is the active character, Jane reactive. Joe is working toward a goal (finding something pleasant for them to do together). Jane is just reacting to what Joe says, and is seemingly not interested in achieving that goal or any other. We relate to Joe, because at least he’s trying. We dislike Jane, because she’s not trying.

Some people certainly are reactive, and it’s fine to have reactive characters in your story. Just be aware that’s what you’re doing, and don’t expect your readers to like those characters.

Writing question: Character arc

Most writers are aware that the main character in a story is supposed to change; the course of that change is often referred to as the character “arc.” But making that change believable and right is often a lot more difficult than it seems. This is where many stories fail. Writers are often taught to write character “sketches” or create character charts, but those usually describe a static character, not a conflicted, changing one. We asked Odyssey graduates to discuss how they craft a dynamic character with a strong “arc.”

How do you create a strong character arc for your protagonist? How do you think of the “arc” or character change? What sort of internal conflict do you try to establish? How do you develop that internal conflict? How do you create a believable change in the character at the climax of the story?

Continue reading “Writing question: Character arc”

Podcast #32: Patricia Bray

Podcast #32 is now available for download here.

Patricia Bray was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2009, where she lectured about the uses of the sidekick in fiction. In this podcast, the second of two parts, Patricia explains how the sidekick’s characteristics can balance those of the protagonist, or contrast with those of the protagonist. She discusses the requirements for a good sidekick, and describes how the sidekick’s character arc can complement or contrast with the protagonist’s character arc. She explains the difference between a sidekick/protagonist story and a story with multiple protagonists. She also lists some of the very useful purposes a sidekick can serve in a story, such as making your protagonist more believable, providing an embodiment of the protagonist’s motivation, and serving as the external conscience of protagonist. She also reviews the various mistakes an author can make in creating a sidekick. Patricia discusses sidekicks in short stories as well as novels, and explains when you might want to use the sidekick’s point of view. You can find part 1 of Patricia’s discussion of sidekicks in Podcast #31.

Patricia BrayPatricia Bray is the author of a dozen novels, including Devlin’s Luck, which won the 2003 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the field of science fiction or fantasy. A multi-genre author whose career spans both Regency romance and epic fantasy, Patricia has had her books translated into Russian, German, Hebrew and Portuguese. She is a two-time co-chair of the Southern Tier Writer’s conference, and her articles on the writer’s craft have appeared in numerous publications, including Broadsheet, Nink, STARbytes, and RWA’s Keys to Success: A Professional Writer’s Career Handbook.

Patricia lives in upstate New York, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as an I/T professional, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard. Her latest novel is The Final Sacrifice, the concluding volume in The Chronicles of Josan, which was released by Bantam Spectra in July 2008.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.