If you’ve followed my writing posts for any time, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Donald Maass. I’ve written a few times about his books (like here) and other prompts (like this one…) His books have helped me tremendously as a writer, and I love the way he makes you think about your writing. With NanoWrimo coming up, preparing or at least thinking about the work before you write is a must.
I found this writing prompt written by the amazing Donald Maass quite some time ago …. for the life of me, I can’t remember where it was. If you know, drop a link in the comments. But this prompt helps me all the time, so I wanted to share. I look for ways to answer these questions for my protagonist for each book and it always helps me find the deeper levels of myself and why I’m telling a story.
One of my favorite writing books (actually quite a few) are from Mr. Maass — Fire in Fiction. I highly recommend it.
But as for this prompt….
DONALD MAASS ASKS
Why is your main character here, in this story that you’re writing?
Your character is here for the same reason that you are. Answer the question for yourself and you’ll answer it for your character. You will also discover your character’s deepest inner need, which in turn points to what must happen in order to know, thwart and finally fulfill that need.
Why are you writing this story? How does it connect to you? What in your protagonist’s experience parallels your own? What need is most like yours? What fear is closest to your own darkest dread? What decision has an impossible cost, a cost you’ve paid yourself? When in the story could you be sitting in your protagonist’s place? Why there and then?
Write all of that down. (No, I mean write it down right now.) Look not for generalized empathy but for specific ways in which your own life and your protagonist’s life are in parallel. Find the moments of strongest connection. Now make them stronger. Remove the distance between you and your character. When you feel the most for what your character is going through, let your feelings flow from inside you onto the page. How do you get it? What can you say? What do you want your character, and us, to know? How can you convey that you understand? What can you show your character to do?
What you’re writing down is the key to your main character’s most fundamental conflict—and its solution. From here you can build backwards and pour that conflict into the very foundation of your character’s life at the story’s start. You can construct the story events to draw your protagonist both toward and away from what he or she needs to resolve that conflict. The inner yearning and outward journey will feel real because they are: They are yours.
What, ultimately, is the purpose of your story? It might be a story of extinction but probably it is a story of survival, if not growth. It is a grappling with life and death, actual or spiritual or both.
It’s that big. It is.
You know that because you’ve lived it.
Now write it.
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