1. NeeNee
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    NeeNee Member

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    Comparing and Contrasting Two Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NeeNee, Jul 4, 2016.

    Hi All,
    I am working on a writing submission for grad school. I am 51 years old and graduated with my BS in Sociology in 1998. Grad school wasn't even on my radar until recently until I learned that I can get a Master's in English, Creative Writing concentration. I am signing up for the novel writing course.

    I have 22 pages out of the 25 page submission written but I need to expand it by three pages. My son told me he thinks I need to expand on my protagonist a bit more. I am currently just trying to introduce the reader to a typical day in the life of my characters, things will get crazy later on in the novel.

    So here's where I am needing some suggestions.


    So I want to show my protagonist at work, just a typical day. I am giving her a job at the Employment Center, which is basically a place where people can use computers to do job searches, apply to colleges, and so forth. The center has GED classes, and resume writing assistance, etc.
    My main character, Tina, is a caseworker or whatever the job title is. She mainly enters in all the information for anyone new coming into the center who wants to take advantage of the free services.
    One of the services the center offers is documentation that a client can take to a welfare case worker or parole officer to show proof that they are actively seeking employment.

    So here's where I need some suggestions. I am trying to describe two women sitting in the waiting area as polar opposites of each other. One is a 21 year old, very pretty, high school graduate, dark skinned black woman who is about six months pregnant who is there for help with something like resume writing or applying for college, day care assistance etc. She is serious about what she is there for. She's nicely dressed, clean, quiet, etc.

    Sitting in the same area but a row over from her (picture the way the chairs are set up at the welfare office, just not as many of them).

    In the other row is a pale white woman who is a hardcore meth addict, dirty hair, stained clothes, can't sit still, her body jerks involuntarily, scabbed skin, etc. She's there because in order to keep her food stamps she has to show proof she is seeking employment - she mainly wants the main character to sign off on the document without her actually putting in any type of applications.

    I am looking for some ideas of how I can compare and contrast these two from an observers perspective. Any thoughts?
     
  2. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    One thing that came to my mind immediately, like a red flag, was that you've got to be careful with the whole "opening up with the character's average day" thing. This has the potential to be REALLY boring, so if you want to start with her job and her current status quo (or her "normal" before the inciting event) then there's got to be something really juicy and interesting to make people hooked.

    The obvious go-to for me would be to have the meth addict start harrassing the studious young lady.

    And start off with this interaction. I guarantee they'll take your book less seriously if you open with the main character waking up, eating breakfast and driving to work to get settled in at their day. Agents HATE this.

    Also, dialogue scenes are a great way to beef up an extra 3 pages. :)
     
  3. NeeNee
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    NeeNee Member

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    I agree a typical run of the mill wake up, eat breakfast, etc is very boring. I have actually been thinking about changing up the opening. Instead of her working as a caseworker type I am thinking make her a adult education teacher for adults who have to take her class to help them pass the GED and these two characters are in her class. I could start the story with some sort of confrontation between them.
     
  4. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I don't think the "caseworker vs teacher" issue is as important (just do whichever one works best for the story!), but the issue of creating a dynamic opening that doesn't use cliches. That's the same no matter what type of job the main character has. :)
     
  5. NeeNee
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    NeeNee Member

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    The scene that I am posting about here isn't my opening scene but it is in my first chapter. I am honestly not writing that so and so woke up, ate breakfast, drove to work etc. that would put me to sleep as well. The first scene with her is actually a sex scene - after the fact when they are heading out the door. I just need to show a bit more about what her typical day is like since she is the protagonist of the story I need the reader to know more about her.
     
  6. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Ooh I see. That does sound much better. My bad for being presumptuous.
     
  7. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    When applying for grad school writing programs the page number for the writing sample is the cap. You just can't go over the 25 pages. When I was applying to MFA programs, I used a 16-page story for my sample. And I got in. Good luck.
     
  8. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds okay, though the 'meth addict' of lore is a discredited kind of image among a liberal teacher audience - they might award something more modern?

    A meth 'addict' contrasted against a woman prescribed similar drugs through her doctor..? [even that's trite, really]

    Something immersive would be good.

    Can you not stretch the sex to the full 25 pages? What's wrong with you? :)
     
  9. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Change meth to heroin and you'll be totally up to date...at least in the area I reside.
     
  10. NeeNee
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    NeeNee Member

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    I am basing my meth addict character on a woman and her bf that lived next to me for over a year. Their fights were memorable - I can't stand you, get the fuck out of my face, you treat me worse than a dog.
    Him: I guess I'll go then.
    As he's walking out the door -
    "Come back I love you. I've always loved you. Please don't leave me" as she cries and chases him down the street.
    These two would snort, smoke and inject anything they thought would get them high and that's what I am thinking for this character.
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi @NeeNee ,

    I'm coming at this from a different angle to everyone else...

    Looking at a piece of work and saying "Hmm, I need to expand it..." isn't a good place to start; you're likely to put in padding. You need to look at it and say "Hmmm, I haven't done enough of..." e.g., my WIP has plenty of dialogue but it's short on scene-setting.

    This point may be irrelevant to your actual writing style, but, in your post, you've duplicated the two phrases (highlighted in red); and your descriptions of the women both contain a redundant phrase (highlighted dark blue).

    The other thing that bothers me is the excessively PC depiction of the two, and the clichés they depict. You may be able to do them both justice (and your post is just shorthand) but what you've written sets them up as caricatures of stereotypes.

     
  12. NeeNee
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    NeeNee Member

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    Thank you I didn't realize I had done that. I will try to keep an eye on that.
     

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