Photo from National Geographic. No, really.
So we finally come to the end. Sorry it took me so long to write about the last classes in this series. To refresh your memory, I took a 6-week course called Monsters and Mayhem at Grub Street, taught most evenings by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. Week Six was really just a workshopping class, where we read excerpts of the works we had been writing in connection with the course, and gave each other feedback. (To my classmates: you guys are fabulous. Really.)
Week Five was taught solely by KL, and was about how context creates plot. (See also character is plot and plot is conflict.)
KL argued that, by placing one's characters in different environments, we can create conflict, expose desires, and thereby tap into plot. After all, if you understand your character, you will know how they will react to any situation or context. What would happen if you took your character and put her somewhere unexpectedly modern? Or historical? Or alien/foreign? Someplace more lonely or more populated?
She asked us to write a number of exercises, but I was most moved by these three:
- Take a character you are working on and place them in a context in which one of their beliefs about themselves is irrevocably shaken or even shattered. How does your character react?
- Imagine that your character suddenly loses the ability to speak due to something the encounter in their environment. What would happen? How would your character communicate? Write the piece without dialogue.
- Take a character you've been working with an write a scene in which their surroundings make them feel with very young or very old.
What do you think? What are the environments you typically write? What would happen to your characters if you changed it up?