LOFT CLASS TWO: A FOCUS ON CHARACTERS

At the end of the first class, our homework assignment was to read and/or listen to stories that intrigued us. Kate wanted us to list them, choose the top ten, and explain why they impacted us. As the members of the class got settled, she asked for volunteers to relate their favorite story. This time I kept mute as my classmates read theirs.
My favorite story related to my passion for science fiction. The article on physics discussed the discovery of the Higgins Boson or God Particle. As I understand the science, the particle, in theory, gives everything in the universe mass. So like the “force” in Star Wars it is all encompassing flowing through all matter. Fiction perhaps once again becomes reality. The Higgins Boson cannot be seen. Scientists can only detect traces of it once it has moved onward. An article like this makes my imagination run. It is why one of my characters in my novel is an alien microbe. It is also why I remained silent and apprehensive in revealing my sci-fi nature.
Once my fellow classmates related their stories, Kate briefly discussed several concepts. First was detail. A novel is full of detail. We must develop a system to write and retrieve ideas and details as they pop into our heads. She again talked about scope and tension. We need to let our creative side loose. Play with ideas. Use our imagination. At this stage, she admonished us to ignore the intervention of the editor on our shoulder.
Before moving onto the next topic, Kate encouraged us to read Michael Cunningham’s piece in the New Yorker. He wrote an essay on why the committee did not select a Pulitzer Prize winning novel for 2012. The first part of the essay described what the committee was looking for; namely, things that surprised and enlightened them.
Kate discussed the importance of developing characters within our novels. She stated that they make the story evolve. Characters cannot be one-dimensional. A good character is well rounded and complex and she instructed us to again base our characters on people we knew. The complexity of a character arises from the events that happen to them in our novels. We need to mix up the mundane with the unusual. She gave the example of Indiana Jones. He was a great explorer but was fearful of snakes. Finally, we need to discover our character’s wants, desires, and blind spots.
The balance of the class involved several exercises around character development. We started by describing someone we knew. We then moved on to fleshing out the characters we planned to use in our novels. I worked on the alien microbe and the female navy seal. It was an interesting exercise, which caused me to realize I have a lot of work to do.
The class ended with a discussion on our assigned reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. In this short story she uses the technique of withholding information from the reader to create tension. A very effective technique, which Kate encouraged us to consider.
Our homework assignment for the next class was to describe something unfamiliar. Kate wanted us to research an event or location and then describe it.

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