Monday, June 04, 2012

Notes from Paul Genesse's class on Plot-Storming from Character

I had the opportunity to befriend and get to know Paul Genesse on Facebok and even chat with him before I took his class at LDS Storymakers. I like Paul, he is a very nice guy, and the topic of the class he presented on was what I really needed to hear. If you would like to get to know Paul a little more feel free to visit his website at

His topic is the title of this blog post. The character in my WIP is currently a little flat so I did go out of my way to attend a couple of character-driven classes at the conference. Here are my notes for that class.


When you finish a book it isn’t usually the plot you fall in love with, it is the character. He strongly recommends that you focus on character. Figure out the character you want to write about first and then focus on the plot.,

Where does it start? It all starts with a name. If you can come up with the name of your character everything can flow from there. (Personal note: my current WIP pretty much started here)

Writers love negative stuff about characters and might be where you want to start. Think about their flaws right away and then think about what their strengths are.

One of the most powerful things he has learned to do in his writing career: write a biography from the character from their point of view. Write it in first person as if the character is writing it. In other words, use their voice. Ideally you want to go 2 pages, but it is best if you can do more.

Do personality quizzes on your character as well. Color-code them (red, white, blue, and yellow) or do the Myers-Briggs personality test. It is good to determine where your character fits so that you know how they really are in their lives. Work on Keirsey’s Personality Zones. (Guardians, Artisans, Idealists, and Rationals)

Note: I thought that was ingenious! Something I had never considered doing with my characters.

This was one of my favorite quotes, probably through the entire conference: "Writers who write very great plots write really great stories. Writers who write very good characters have really great careers." I put that on Twitter and it was probably the quote that was retweeted the most that weekend.

The seven-element story structure:

Character in a…
Context with a…
Tries to solve…
But Fails repeatedly until it reaches a…
Resolves (denouement)

Note: Does anybody have an example of this? I thought he posted an example but I didn't write it down. But I imagine it goes something like this (warning, Lord of the Rings Spoiler Alert!!): Frodo from the Shire has to destroy the One Ring. He travels to Mount Doom but encounters several difficulties along the way. Upon failure, Samwise steps in to keep things going. He finally reaches Mount Doom and the ring is destroyed. He returns home to the Shire but feel he doesn't belong there anymore. He moves on.

If you don’t have conflict early on in your story it is going to be boring. You need to have conflict and tension on EVERY PAGE. Ergo, don’t start your book with a discussion on the nice weather.

Make sure the stakes of the story are high (life at stake, etc). Make the stakes primal! Unless you are writing humor, don’t make the resolution easy. Work in some try/fail cycles. You should make it appear they are getting further away from their goal until they actually get to the climax.

Don’t write about orphans anymore, that is a bit overdone. Often you can get more depth in a character if you give him a big family with pets and etc.

If you have a strong character, have them save themselves. Strong characters make strong decisions. Your character should not be a leaf in the wind blowing to and fro. If so, that is crappy writing. I like this quote from Paul: "Your character needs to be the wind."

If you want to hook the reader right away, they had better be making a decision. After the decision, they need to have repercussions of their choice. A strong character will deal with the repercussions.

Don’t make them whiney. Nobody’s favorite character in Star Wars is Luke, it is Han Solo who feels he can do anything.

Three basic story structures:
  • Boy Meets Girl (Romeo and Juliet)
  • The Man who Learned Better (They figure out something. They are weak at the beginning but learns to become better)
  • The Clever Little Tailor (They have all the answers, like Indiana Jones) 

Six Fundamental Conflicts of Aristotle (can be applied to all genres of writing):
  • Man against man
  • Man against nature
  • Man against himself
  •  Man against society
  •  Man against God
  • Man against machines

It is fine if secondary characters are also making strong decisions because they usually impact the main character. Especially the antagonist. Make the antagonist, who is the hero in their own mind, a very good, strong villain by having them make strong decisions. Very rarely do the bad guys consider themselves the villains.

Another great quote: "If you marry a great character with a great plot then you have magic."

Six fundamental story types by Damon Knight
  • The story of resolution (the hero has a problem and solves it)
  • The story of revelation (something hidden is revealed)
  •  The trick ending story (surprising twist)
  •  The story of decision (ends in a decision, not necessarily action)
  •  The story of explanation (explains a mystery)
  •  The story of solution (solves a puzzle)

Fantasy and Science Fiction Plot Types per James Gunn
  • Far traveling
  • The wonders of science
  • Humanity/the individual and the machine
  • Progress
  • The individual and society
  • Humanity/the individual
  • War
  • Cataclysm
  • Humanity/the individual and the environment
  • Superpowers
  • Superman/superwoman
  • Humanity/the individual and the alien
  • Humanity/the individual and religion spirituality
  • Miscellaneous glimpses of the future and past
Fantasy Plot types
  • Far Traveling
  • The Quest
  • Strange Powers
  • People and the Powerful/omnipotent other
  • People and magic (or other unscientific sciences)
  • The individual and society
  • Wonders we can touch
  • Good vs Evil
  • Balance
  • Questioning Reality

1 comment:

Donna K. Weaver said...

What a great summary, James. Great information there!