What The Heck is an AGONIST?

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Files

  • 17 people in attendance.
  • IDEA: Show and Tell: how do you organize your novels?
    • mindmaps
    • index in a book
    • index cards
    • card wall with strings connecting them
    • chalk paint to make it writable

Introduction

  • Welcome to Agonist, a workshop for writers
  • Kat Stepp (Kat's Meow)
  • John (johnthetech)
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes and to be kind to yourself
  • Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (1667 words per day)
  • Start on November 1st
    • used to be you had to start a new novel November 1st, but those rules are gone
  • NaNo rebels
    • rework a book written in a previous NaNo
    • finishing other books
  • Sign up at nanowrimo.org (join the USA::Illinois::Naperville region, serving the cities and suburbs west of Chicago)
  • Put your word count in every day
  • Build up your buddy list for a support system
  • Online support structure on the forums helps keep you motivated
    • try not to spend too much time on these
    • some forums are helpful
  • E-mails from main HQ and from our region
  • Reference desk -- lots of expertise is available
  • Local events
    • http://naperwrimo.org/prep - five preparatory workshops in October 2016
    • http://naperwrimo.org/events - full calendar
    • http://naperwrimo.org/crawl - Library Crawl
    • Plainfield and Bolingbrook have joined in (have some additional events)
      • Indie Author Day next Saturday
      • Plainfield: a couple of our folks are in the panel (Mary Lynette and Melinda)
      • Bolingbrook - some events later in the month (Oct 12: moving from concept to manuscript; Writing prompt workshop)
      • Thursday, October 27 events
      • Saturday, kick-off pot-luck lunch party, October 29th, Naperville Municipal Center
    • naperwrimo.org
  • Community wordcount graph - watch for a thread in our forum in November
  • Special offers
    • when you've validated, you can become eligible for sponsor prizes
  • Please donate, buy stuff at the nanowrimo.org to help keep the site going.
  • After NaNo, you can join the writing Journey, our a la carte writing group.
  • Library Crawl - a write-in scheduled almost every day in November; most are in the libraries. Collect a card at these write-ins; trade the cards in for raffles for prizes at the TGIO.
    • Q: Will libraries provide laptops?
      • A: Sometimes these are available; call the library ahead of time to check.
  • With all these write-ins, we need some hosts; if anyone is interested in hosting these, come talk to Sam, Tim or Melinda

Agonists

  • Kat: my third year participating in NaNo. Have written two books but haven't won NaNo yet (this is the year for me!). Everyone gets different things out of NaNo. I like writing with people around me. Take what you want from NaNo and leave the rest.
  • Working on: Building characters and scenes
  • How do you use your agonists to move the story forward and keep your readers captivated
  • Nonverbal character development
  • Give and take of the agonists
  • Conflict of the agonists
  • Two main agonists:
    • protagonist (hero)
    • antagonist (mirror of the protagonist)
  • The relationship between agonist and the reader; and between protagonist and antagonist; will keep the reader involved in your story.
  • For NaNo, don't get hung up on details, but this should help get you in the mindset of how to pain that picture. Doesn't need to be perfect in the first draft; could jot down notes so you don't get hung up.

Non-verbal character development

  • Breathe in life into this non-existent being. Get the reader to think of your agonist as a real person. Make them three-dimensional.
  • A reader who can visualize the character will be more engaged and will enjoy the book more.
  • Scenery: one way of non-verbal character development.
  • Object and property interaction.
  • Inferring psychological traits through habits.

Scene/background

  • E.g., two houses, described
    • bright, dreary, gloomy, decrepit
    • verdant, lush, boring
    • dead, atrophied, decaying, haunted, fun
    • musty
    • like Lysol, sanitized
  • Careful not to dump on the reader all at once.
  • Concise adjectives are your friends. Be more specific. Bring an image to someone's mind.
    • you want to stay away from words like because or liked or hated
    • filter words; lazy writing
    • allow the reader to use their imaginations to fill in the blank to adapt themselves to the story
  • Use multiple senses.
    • seeing
    • physical touch
    • smell
    • sound
  • What do you want to stand out in the reader's mind?

Interactive items

  • Sets the stage for personality
  • Something the character regularly interacts with
  • e.g., a lighter (infer that person is a smoker)
  • e.g., a little thing with screwdrivers and USB cards (infer someone who works on computers)
  • ask yourself these questions about your character up front
  • Clothing
    • ratty or patched clothing -> implies they are poor or hipsters
    • wear and tear
    • brand (some clothes have the brand right on them, like Coach purse or Nike)
    • E.g., the Breakfast Club: the criminal, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the brain
    • give a style (fits their personality)
    • how it fits can also say a lot about the person (if too big, they recently lost weight or they have self-conscious issues; Armani suit that fits loosely--newly into money)
    • don't want to judge a book by its cover in real life; but in a story, that's what you want to do (you spoon feed information to them)
    • feed people just enough information for them to fill in the blanks (on things less relevant)
    • you could do the opposite, but you have to make it clear from the get go that it is pointed out
  • Useful items worn or carried regularly
    • pen
    • glasses
    • how many keys they have on their key ring
    • doesn't have to be seen, it could be something no one actually sees (e.g., lucky necklace worn under the shirt)
    • mannerism infers something about the character.
    • notepad, computer, tablet, book
    • type and care of shoes
    • headgear (drivers cap, scull cap, cowboy hat)
    • a knife (different types of knives)
  • any self-expressive decoration
    • like jewelry
    • tattoos
    • hairstyle
    • spray-on tan
    • piercings
    • cologne
    • manicured nails
  • physical traits
    • visible scars
    • receding hairline
    • vibrant eye color
    • ears too big
  • Mode of transportation
    • type of car
    • do they take the bus
    • do they hitchhike?

Habits/mannerisms

  • Use your characters mannerisms to convey a portrait of who the person is. Reaction is more important than the words spoken. How others see your characters says a lot. Instead of telling the reader what they should think, let them make their own observations and deductions.
  • Presence
    • nice smile
    • how they carry themselves
    • posture
    • getting into people's personal space (proximity)
    • actively engaged or otherwise occupied (are they present in what is going on), e.g., glued to their phone
    • how they walk
    • limping
    • watch each other walk: sort out how poeple's walks are different form the next
    • picture a movie, what do you want people to see about your characters
    • Magnificent Seven 2016 - you can tell subtle differences in similar characters - each has a different method for presenting their salvation to the people (Denzel Washington: slow, methodical, strategic; movements are small steps, small gestures, slow movmeents, scanning, paying attentionn), (Chris Pratt: boisterous, shoulders back, eyes wide). How they proceeded in different was was very interesting.
    • Game of deduction: observe your server and try to figure out as much about the person just by watching them. It's a very good exercise to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Challenge yourselves on this.
  • Micro-expressions
    • Important: how they react is more important than what they're saying. Sometimes people say something different from what they feel.
    • Do they have a poker tell (if lying or nervous) or a tic? A lot of nervous energy?
  • Speech
    • infer their age (young people will more likely use slang)
    • shakier voice - age
    • could convey health
    • non-native, cultural dialect
    • vocabulary: classes of society/education
    • slower conversations for older
      • drawls: Alabama
    • faster conversation for younger
      • New York

What would your character do for a Klondike Bar?

  • Create an image of a character in your mind based on the notecard provided without using "Because"
  • random scenes
    • scene 3 - car, roomier, expensive; tight fit for this guy, Beethoven played loudly, focused on the task at hand. Everything empty except for the small case in the trunk, $20K in cash.
      • has a job to do, not the normal job; doesn't want anybody to know the result of it or the reason for it (like James Bond)
      • personality: music lover
      • uses music to keep a calm demeanor
      • not likely to make mistakes
      • bigger guy
      • maybe stole the car
      • maybe had a gun
      • meticulous
      • slowly roll the character out to your readers with little hints here and there
    • scene 4 - introducing a main character this way or the antagonist; mayor
      • wondered how he had gotten elected (probably has the power and the money)
      • in small towns, this is the way it is: if you're not one with power, you don't want the others to know you exist
      • sets the stage for a hero to come in and upset the status quo
      • selfish, doesn't care about ruining people's lives unless it benefits himself
      • a cross between Sunnydale and Mr. Potter
  • True first person present is trickier, then you won't bank on the character but the scenery, how the character does things, how they interact with the environment (what they pack up, what they do first vs. second). Your character thinks and reacts. Use your characters thoughts. You can't use the verbal. Get rid of because, let the reader figure it out.

The give and take of the Agonists

  • Interactions are what drives the story
  • connection between character and reader is so crucial
  • Connection between characters and each others
  • Some things to keep in mind when thinking of your characters
    • someone you want the reader to relate to? like Peter Gibbons from Office Space, a regular person most people could relate to. Or Bridge Jones.
    • fantasy, someone to aspire to? Like Captain America (the one for all)
    • A character for everyone
    • or one character for everyone
  • Harry Potter has a million characters in there, a bit more two dimensional
  • One for all: Sherlock Holmes - find a way to get different people to be connected or involved with his story
  • Doesn't need to be good vs. evil or right vs. wrong; they just need to be mirrors of each other, two sides to the coind, champions for separate causes. Hero doesn't have to be a good guy, they could be a bad person.

Story

  • The story is your characters development through that journey.
  • Don't let your character be a bystander.
    • Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark (Nazi's would have ended up with the stuff)
  • Things don't just happen, there is always a catalyst.
    • immediate reaction
    • counter action
    • consequence
  • E.g., Romeo and Juliet
    • catalyst is that Romeo and Juliet fall in love
    • immediate reaction is anger
    • counter action is the physical fight that the Capulets and Montegue get into; Mercutio and Juliet's brother are killed.
    • consequence: Romeo and Juliet have to run away and kill themselves
  • You could map these to the whole play/novel or to an individual scene
  • Best places to drop larger changes in the character (reaction, counter action, consequence)

Protagonist

  • Epicenter of the novel
    • everything ties back to the protagonist
    • main conflict for the protagonist must have some kind of resolution in one way or another
    • antithesis of the antagonist

Antagonist

  • Main characters catalyst into the world our imaginations
  • Pushes the protagonist to their limits
  • Shows us what they are made of
  • Reveals moral values
    • main conflicts should reveal this of your main character; should make them question those values in the decision they have to make
  • Exposes cracks and weaknesses in our protagonist (may not be obvious); occasionally breaks the story wide open
  • Divulges whether the protagonist has a fight or flight instinct
  • Will affirm the level of conviction of other characters
    • do they rally around the main character?
    • does the MC rally around them?
  • This relationship (sad? uplifting) is the meat and bones of your characters.
  • E.g., many times there is a sad connection between protagonist and antagonist (they were very close at one time)
    • this sparks emotions in us, the reader
  • Maybe the antagonist is a bad guy and the protagonist is able to bring them to the side of right (uplifting relationship)

Conflict

  • The protagonist/antagonist interactions
  • Best plot points causes tension between the main character and their own identity
  • Causes moral dilemmas and difficult choices
  • Will deepen the readers connection to the main character
  • There should always be a variety of conflicts
    • man vs. himself
    • man vs. Nature/environment
    • man vs. man
  • Doesn't always have to be protagonist vs. antagonist
  • Using these conflicts: different readers will connect to your characters differently.

Man vs. himself

  • You are your own worst enemy
  • Inner demons often interfere with personal achievements
  • THe greater the urge, the greater the turmoi, conflicts and rewards
    • New Years resolutions
    • overcoming addiction
    • Bettering yourself
    • changing a bad habit
    • going back to school
    • putting the past behind you
    • character is a nail biter; someone close to her knows she wants to get over that, they correct her on this
    • subconscious: a character has a marble with a trapped demon with dialogue between the two (becomes a subconscious reliance on never being alone, constantly plays with the marble)
    • one of the main characters is a native American; ex-military, now a drunk; trying to put the past behind him; dealing with what is going on in his life (helps develop his character)
  • Not all your conflicts should necessarily span all your novel. Most people find successful using the smaller conflicts to help carry your story when there isn't as much going on with the main conflict. When you get to that climax, that's where your main focus should be. Depends on what you want to do with your character.

Man vs. nature/environment

  • The environment will always win the war of attrition; just surviving the environment is considered a victory.
  • Active: disaster directly working against the protagonist (volcano, tornado, earthquake, hurricane, flood)
  • Passive: character introduced to stable but inhospitable environment
    • jungle, desert, alien planet, home alone
  • Long term environmental failure
    • famine, dying planet, disease

Man against Man

  • This is what it's all about. People suck generally. Main character has a goal and the other character stands in his way.
  • The important thing to remember: you need to build the conflicts between those characters in a deeper way. Can't have a one dimensional character you only mention here or there as your antagonist--then why does the reader care if the hero triumphs over them. Don't go directly from A -> Z. Hitchcock. Start small, work through it over time. Batman vs. Joker (vs. Batman vs. a bank robber). Building the drama is great (The Dark Knight).
  • Length of rise of action needs to match the intensity of the conflict.
  • Personal stories have a greater impact on the reader. Make something personal. Make everything personal.
  • One way or another, there must be a resolution.
    • clear victor
    • distinct consequence
    • agreement is formed to end conflicts
    • root of the conflict is resolved (not necessarily the antagonist is gone forever)
  • What if you have more than one antagonist? Treat it as two separate character conflicts?
    • if not working together as a team, there need to be separate build ups.
    • main climax might bring things together
  • Q: How do you build things out of biographical material?
    • I was trying to figure out how to resolve things? Who is my real life antagonist? In that case it was man vs. himself. In a biography, if ther eisn't a person who is your conflict.
    • You've had doubts throughout your life, Read Mary Karr Art of the Memoir
    • Some is Man vs. Environment; depends what you think the biggest part of your struggle is
    • Castaway is mostly man vs. environment, but throughout we are engaged with man vs. himself. This happens when we're singularly focused on one character.
    • What do I want my readers to know about my characters' journey? What do I want to leave them thinking about? The actual moral of the story is about fighting good and evil within herself. Need to ensure it is brought back to that.
    • inner conflict
    • decisions you made, what pushed you to make those decisions (good or bad)
    • those things could be what you are bounced off

Exercise

  • Scene 1 - room among 12 in a mostly empty mansion; old carpet, damp wood; one room has been upgraded. House had > 100 years of occupants; this one occupant had changed. This one man managed to give the person.
    • who is the MC? the person who maintains the house or the house itself.
    • The places and things could also be part of your character
  • Scene 2 - road a dark world unto itself; mansion - scary
    • MC: house
    • characters need to be in the story still
    • could be a setting to a fantasy novel
    • tells about the smells, the feels, what they hear, what they see, what they would do
  • Towns are characters; people interact there.
  • Better to reveal and introduce the settings and characters, layering the depth rather than just telling the reader everything directly.
  • During November, once you've prepared, don't get bogged down on what your conflict is. Get the draft down. Edit in December or January.
  • Arbitrary number on a wooden plaque: wordcount for the day.
  • If you get stuck, work on another scene a bit.