In my blog last month I talked about Chapter Four from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass, which was about creating larger-than-life characters. Chapter Five shows you how to heighten these qualities. Maass says, "Larger-than-life opportunities can crop up everywhere; it only takes being alert to the possibility of sending your protagonist or point-of-view character beyond what is usual."

He gives an example from Barbara Freethy's Summer Secrets. Her protagonist is being questioned by a reporter about his late wife. Instead of telling the reporter about her, he has the reporter close his eyes and feel the heat, the sunlight, smell the scent of summer, all his senses heightened. Then he tells the reporter that's what his wife did for him. "She made me feel everything more intensely than I'd ever felt it before."

Wow! That's larger than life!

Last month, as an example of a larger-than-life characters, I used an example from Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, in which the heroine found the hero with two buxomy strumpets on his lap, and she scoured him with zingers.

That was larger-than-life, but the scene didn't stop there. That was just the beginning. This "sequel" in the heroine's POV sums up what happened during the scene:

Jessica Trent was a young woman who faced facts, and as she mounted,
dripping, the stairs to her brother's
appartement, she faced
them.

First, she had leapt at the first excuse to hunt down Lord
Dain.

Second, she had sunk into a profound depression, succeeded almost
instantly by jealous rage, because she'd found two women sitting in his
lap.

Third, she had very nearly wept when he'd spoken slightingly of her
attractions and called her "a ha'pennyworth of a chit."

Fourth, she had
goaded him into assaulting her.

Fifth, she had very nearly choked him to death, demanding the assault
continue.

Sixth, it had taken a bolt of lightning to knock her loose.

How is that list for enhancing larger-than-life characters?
Maass also advises writers to play with the volume. Where another writer would make a big deal out of a scene -- maybe one we've seen before -- your character gives it a fresh throwaway comment.

Maass says, "The protagonists in most manuscript that I read are too ordinary and predictable. It is hard to overdo larger-than-life qualities."

I just went through the third revision of my book and I turned up the volume in many scenes. It's what I usually do during my revisions. Between Margie Lawson and Donald Maass, I do more of that now than I did two or three years ago. I give my CPs credit, too. A lot of credit. I plan to turn up the volume louder in the next revision round. I'll watch for places to turn it softer, too.

In what way do you sharpen the larger-than-life qualities throughout your story? Can you name something specific?

25 comments

  1. Nightingale // June 17, 2009 at 10:56 AM  

    I love to write larger-than-life characters, i.e. vampires, fallen angels, sentient robots. So I'll bear this post in mind when revising my current WIP.

  2. Toni V.S. // June 17, 2009 at 11:02 AM  

    Can't get much larger-than-life than vampires or angels! My vampire hero Marek is a member of the species who originated the vampire legend which makes him larger-than-life whether he wants to be or not. When he gets exiled from his people and has to live among humans, the very things about himself which he has always considered ordinary suddenly become supernatural in the "real" world. It's fun to write about that and have him work it so everything appears ordinary when in truth they're not.

  3. Beth Trissel // June 17, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

    Has the Donald written a break out novel himself?

  4. Mona Risk // June 17, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

    Beth, I think he makes more money teaching around the States and in GB.

    I don't know how to interpret "the larger than life" description. I think he meant ordinary people reacting like heroes to overcome the conflicts we dump them in when we raise the stakes. MTC

  5. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

    Nightingale, I think that's why the paranormal heroes/heroines appeal to us. They're larger-than-life at page one. We just have to make them even larger. That's the fun part.

  6. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 12:07 PM  

    Toni, we're all thinking alike today. I love it when we show our world from the eyes of another being. It sounds like a great premise!

  7. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 12:09 PM  

    Beth, Mona answered. He gathered this information to help his writers break out. It worked so well, he wrote a book, which led to workshops, which led to the Workbook. Which led to this blog. lol

  8. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 12:18 PM  

    Mona, it can be ordinary characters that act like heroes, but some characters start out larger than life. Like Harry Potter, Stephanie Plum or Robert Parker's PI (can't think of his name right now).

    I wrote about it last month in my Pink Fuzzy blog. Maass says that larger-than-life characters are just more interesting. And he's right!

  9. Nancy // June 17, 2009 at 1:02 PM  

    Edie, thanks for this new look at Mass's book!

    I love the example from SUMMER SECRETS. I write paranormals at the moment, but it's critical to remember larger-than-life isn't dependent on super hero status!

    Wonderful job!

    Light,
    Nancy Haddock

  10. Mary Marvella // June 17, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

    It seems that if I want to break out need to make my characters bigger. Hmmm. Food for thought, Edie.

  11. Kath Calarco // June 17, 2009 at 4:22 PM  

    I concur with Nancy Haddock. Great example of larger than life. I hope my characters are - I know they think their enormous; you should hear how they stomp around in my head. :)

    Well written blog, by the way. It serves as a great mini-workshop.

  12. Kath Calarco // June 17, 2009 at 4:24 PM  

    Oops! Coorection: I know they think THEY ARE enormous. (Not "their." Yikes, and I know better too. lol)

  13. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 4:48 PM  

    Nancy, Donald Maass gives great examples in all the chapters. He also gives a wonderful example from the Da Vinci Code on how to make a moment smaller in a fresh way.

  14. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 4:52 PM  

    Mary, I think Maass is right that the character needs to be larger-than-life to break out, even if, like Nancy says, she's not a super hero. Aren't we all larger than life in some ways? And maybe in other ways we might be smaller. That's what we need to show in the pages.

  15. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 4:54 PM  

    Kathy, too funny about the "their" and "they're." I know better, too, but sometimes I confuse them.

    Of course Nancy is right. She's a writing genius. ;)

  16. Marcia Colette // June 17, 2009 at 6:24 PM  

    Even though I write paranormal romance and urban fantasy, I don't feel like my characters are larger-than-life. I put them in situations that make them feel small and helpless.

    In STRIPPED, my heroine is half werewolf for a reason. Strength isn't everything, and boy, does she know it. Though she compensates in other ways, she knows without the smarts to back her and the passion to protect her loved ones, she has nothing.

  17. Mary Ricksen // June 17, 2009 at 6:30 PM  

    Larger than life. Hmmm. just someone who we remember for being or doing something noteworthy, in some way unforgettable.
    Make you think Edie!

  18. Barbara Monajem // June 17, 2009 at 8:35 PM  

    I think one of the keys to writing larger-than-life characters is making them do things you (the writer) or any normal person (that description may or may not apply to you the writer, LOL) wouldn't do, snd then exaggerating, pushing, taking even the unusual well beyond normal and real.

    I took a creative writing course in college, where I wrote a boring play about a girl who wanted to go against her parents' stifling rules about sex, etc., etc. The prof told me this is what everybody does -- why not make the parents go against the rules and the girl try to maintain them? He was right -- the switcheroo made for a much more interesting (but still mediocre) play.... I think because I made the switch but didn't push beyond that.

  19. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 11:23 PM  

    Marcia, YOU are a larger-than-life character. I can't imagine any of your characters being less. I can't wait to read STRIPPED!

  20. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 11:25 PM  

    Mary, all of the Workbook chapters make think!

  21. Edie Ramer // June 17, 2009 at 11:26 PM  

    Barbara, I'm sure Maass would agree with you and your professor! Great insight!

  22. Judy // June 18, 2009 at 1:30 PM  

    Excellent post, Edie. I look forward to them. I can never have enough reminders of how to make my writing standout. Margie's course was great, too. Thanks!

  23. Edie Ramer // June 18, 2009 at 1:56 PM  

    Judy, Margie is awesome! She and Donald Maass are the best!

  24. Dayana // June 20, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

    Edie,
    Excellent post. At first I thought, geez am I lost. Then I read the comments which made this concept so much clearer. I love Stephanie Plum and Harry Potter is an excellent example of characters that STAND OUT. Stephanie is just so outside the box that you just have to love her and her sidekicks and her family.

    Harry steals your heart and then whisks it away on a magical ride of up, downs, adventures and disasters, LOL

    I think the key is making ordinary characters special by giving them unexpected quirks and memorable uniqueness.

    Thank you for such an informative post. Very well done.

    Dayana~

  25. Edie Ramer // June 20, 2009 at 9:13 AM  

    Hi Dayana! I'm giving a summary of Maass's chapters. The Workbook is much better! lol Stephanie Plumb and Harry Potter are brilliant examples as larger-than-life characters that we love and believe.