Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing intensive: Lisa Yee on bullies and antagonists

Lisa Yee, the hilarious and wonderful author of 10 novels for kids and young adults, made me cry during her session on bullies and antagonists.

But it wasn't on purpose.

She was just talking about the story she wrote for the DEAR BULLY anthology due out next month.

Her entry perfectly illustrated the importance of creating dimensional bullies: characters who have wants and needs, and who have reasons for harming those around them--getting as specific as identifying the day our antagonist was hurt badly enough to want to hurt others.

So, yes. Tears. But also lots of laughs as she walked us through the paces.

Lisa Yee
We started off with a rather thrilling promise: "We're going to tap into your evil side," she said.

And then we identified our favorite literary villains. Lord Voldemort, we love to hate you. The British press, meanwhile, really loves to hate Satan. They identified him--and not Camilla Parker Bowles (kidding! she's real!)--as literature's foulest villain. Which, when you think about it, seems kind of stereotypey.

We moved on to some key definitions:

A bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

"Bully" started out as a good thing, she mentioned. Over the years, the definition morphed and it changed.

A villain is a person guilty of capable of crime or wickedness.

That word, she said, is French. A villain worked in the fields in a time when everyone wanted to be a knight. When bad things happened, they blamed the farm people. “A villain did that.” Mon dieu!

An antagonist, who could be a bully or a bad guy, is a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something.

"Your antagonist in your story is going to be working against your protagonist," she said.

She shared with us seven story archetypes we writers use, from "man vs. himself" to "man vs. society," and we came up with examples of stories that fit each archetype.

Then she walked us through a couple of writing exercises: one in which we outlined a variety of characteristics we'd need to know about our antagonists (everything from their age, outward appearance, self-perception, wants and needs, as long as one word that best described them). We used that as the basis for a revealing paragraph about our antagonist.

My favorite part, and not just because I played a teen thief, was doing a Q&A with participants to figure out the characters' backstory and motivations. We then wrote a murder scene from three points of view--a third person, and first person from both the teen thief and her rich-lady murder victim. The effect was stunning. By having well developed characters with clear motivations, we ended up with richer writing that was more nuanced and compelling.

Lisa Yee
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Peepy looks scared because some participants did not survive Lisa's class.

1 comment:

  1. Great photo to end on, and great post! Thanks for sharing the information!