I went to a book signing and writing-workshop tonight at the South Towne Barnes and Noble in Sandy, Utah. I picked up a copy of The Green Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham, who is actually Clint Johnson this time around. R.D. Henham is the house name used in the Dragon Codex series.
Clint signed books for an hour, then he presented a writing-workshop for two hours in the B&N café. There were fifteen of us, and Clint did an excellent job making us all think, beginners and published writers alike. I’ve heard him on panels a few times and really admire his teaching ability, which is why I went.
He called the presentation: Triple Duty Writing, using characterization to accomplish multiple things in your writing.
The idea is that all of your writing, each paragraph of your work can use characterization to set the scene and advance the plot. Sometimes, we just do one thing. We write a page of description (boring), or focus purely on characterization (too one dimensional), or we advance the plot (not satisfying enough). By doing all of those things with characterization you make the work stronger.
A couple of good points he made: A great way to reveal character is to show how they respond to other characters. Also, setting and plot are catalysts to cause the character to change. One of the main techniques is a character commenting on their environment, internally or externally. Clint made so many points, and I can’t rehash them all here, but then he gave us a ten-minute writing assignment. He let us choose from four scenarios and told us to use characterization to reveal who the character was, emphasizing the character by how they respond to the setting/event. I picked this one: a reporter finds a body that washed up on a beach.
Here’s what I wrote:
Tiny red crabs swarmed on the man’s dead body, crawling up the strands of seaweed that wrapped around him like funeral linen. Pristine Mexican beaches, right. The only thing that kept the tacos and margaritas I’d just had at the Buena Vista hotel was that the sea covered most of the smell. As a reporter working out of San Diego I’d seen corpses pulled out of the sea, but never after they’d been in the water for this long, and then on beach for maybe longer. Coming south of the border to get away from work as a crime reporter seemed like the dumbest idea I’d ever had, and I’d actually married Sofi twice. All I had wanted to do was have a few drinks, find an empty stretch of beach to work on my novel. Now I was in reporter mode wondering who in name of Jesus Christo this dead amigo was.
Some of us read our passage aloud and we discussed the techniques we used. It was a good assignment and there were some good insights given to all who shared their attempt.
Then, we had our next assignment. Rewrite the passage with an entirely different character. Here’s what I wrote.
Tiny red crabs swarmed on the dead man’s feet, crawling up the strands of seaweed that wrapped around him like wet newspaper. Another good day, Dirty Juan thought as he dragged the fresh corpse out of the waves. Mexican beaches had been rich pickings since the bendejo Americanos had started sinking boats of refugees heading north. The dead usually had their whole life savings strapped to their inner thighs with duct tape and that’s where he would look first on this one. Too bad it took a stack of pesocreds to buy a months worth of tortillas and beans. It didn’t matter that much to Dirty Juan. He could always find something to eat on the beach. Once you ground up the meat, and put on some salsa, it tasted almost liked pork.
I never got to read the last one aloud, whew!
Anyway, Clint did a great job and I’m really enjoying his new book, The Green Dragon Codex. Check out his website at http://clintjohnsonwrites.com/.
Author of The Dragon Hunters
I always think it's so interesting how forceful an impression so few words can make. As a character I think I like Dirty Juan better, but then I'm sort of a sucker for bad guys. Great job!
I haven't read the Green Dragon Codex yet, but I'll add it to my reading list!
I agree I enjoyed the character of Dirty Juan better probably because he is not a norm. You expect a reporter to be looking at a dead body you don't expect someone to be looking for money on one. I look forward to reading your books.
Thanks, Suzanne and Kelly. I think the triple duty idea is a simple, and excellent way of approaching writing.
I also like Dirty Juan better. He's a much more interesting character.
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