Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Your Character's Internal and External Quest

Last Friday, I blogged about the revision retreat I recently attended led by award-winning authors Julia Durango and Linda Sue Park. Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is a follow-up to that post. So if you haven't read it yet, please do so now. I also recommend you read this blog post by teacher Keely Hutton at Writer's Dojo, in which she has her students identify the main character's internal and external quests in a recent Disney movie.
Welcome back! Now you're ready for Step 1 of today's Wednesday Writing Workout:
---Take one of your own works-in-progress and document your main character's: 
  • External Quest: what he wants to accomplish (the plot objective) and
  • Internal Quest: what he needs emotionally (this drives the character's emotional growth/change) 
Is this harder than you expected? Here's one more example, shared by Linda Sue Park at the Revision Retreat and in The Craft & Business of Writing: Essential Tools for Writing Success (Writer's Digest Books). Speaking of Tree-Ear, the main character of her Newbery-winning novel, A Single Shard, Linda Sue says: "Tree-ear's external quest is to find a way to make celadon pottery. His internal quest is to find a place where he truly belongs."

Okay, now for Step 2:
---Look at the first ten pages of your work-in-progress (or the entire manuscript if you're working on a picture book). Divide the pages into scenes. For each scene, ask yourself:
Does my main character make progress toward and/or face impediments to one or both of the quests?

If the answer is "no," you need to either revise the scene or re-examine your character's quests.

Repeat this step for the next ten pages and continue working your way through until you've analyzed the entire manuscript.

Optional Step 3:
---Remember the one-sentence synopsis Jill blogged about 2 weeks ago? Well, one way to come up with yours is to look at your main character's internal and external quests. Here, for example, is the summary of A Single Shard that appears on the book's copyright page: 
"Tree-ear, a thirteen-year-old orphan in medieval Korea, lives under a bridge in a potters' village, and longs to learn how to throw the delicate celadon ceramics himself."
This synopsis explicitly states Tree-ear's external quest while hinting at his internal quest by mentioning he's a homeless orphan. See if you can do the same for your WIP: craft a one-sentence summary that incorporates your character's external quest and, if possible, hints at his internal quest.

By the way, a book's one-sentence synopsis is very much like a "logline" used to describe a movie. For some helpful tips on writing loglines (including examples from well-known films), see How to Write a Logline at Cracking Yarns, and the follow-up post, How to Write Better Loglines.  

In case you're wondering, I found the following logline at Write2Reel for the movie Keely Hutton discussed with her students:
A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives. 
This incorporates the very external quest Kelly's students identified! 

Don't forget--today is the last day to enter our Book Giveaway! You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel’s and Melissa Sweet’s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray).

Happy writing!


Keely Hutton said...

Thank you for the nod in your blog. My students are still referring back to Ralph's external and internal quest even as we move on to classic literature like Jack London's "To Build a Fire." Internal quest is an abstract concept. Teaching it with a familiar, non-threatening vehicle like Wreck It Ralph made it accessible to 13-year olds. Now that they understand the concept, they are finding it easier to apply it to more complex texts. And to be honest, Wreck-it-Ralph is an engaging, funny, heart-warming story.

Another great movie clip to use to demonstrate a character's struggle between internal and external quest is this clip from Despicable Me:


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the additional info, Keely. How great to know your students are applying these concepts to other texts.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Hopefully we managed to enter the contest.
Thank you for the post as i am (sigh) (brave smile) once again revising Tasha.
If any of you are revising right now, Camp NanoWriMo starts next week.
You can also start a new novel there.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Thank you for this awesome post -- just what I needed this week!

Carmela Martino said...

Good luck with your revision, Pen and Ink Blogger, and thanks for sharing the Camp info.
JM, glad to be of help. :-)