Agency is the word for a character’s central role in pushing a story forward. Often a first draft traps us in a story with characters who are victims, who are passive, or who just can’t figure out what to do next. But responsibility for one’s own fate is a big part of making a character memorable. How do you assess your protagonist’s agency, especially if your character is in trouble? You build character struggle that comes from obstacles between what is desired and what seems possible. You upset the equilibrium and put good things at risk. The quality of a protagonist’s goal and the tenor of the struggle to achieve it influence the satisfaction a reader has in the protagonist’s transformation. Does that mean every novel has to be about a hero? Absolutely not. A character can fail and still become, just as a character can achieve but discover he has lost himself.
In this workshop, we will consider the journey of your protagonist as the spine of the novel; we will look at passages from your manuscript and assess plot points in terms of agency, struggle, and transformation. You will write new scenes and summaries that up the ante and deepen the meaning of your protagonist’s journey. We will also build scene sequences (how to get from here to there) so that you go home with concrete plans for writing. Bring your novel draft; you’ll need at least a solid summary or chapter outline and 50 pages. More is better.
Sandra Scofield is the author of seven novels, including Beyond Deserving, a National Book Award finalist. She has written a memoir, a craft book for writers—The Scene Book—and a book of essays about family, Mysteries of Love and Grief, Reflections on a Plainswoman’s Life. Her book Swim: Stories of the Sixties is forthcoming in May, and her craft book The Last Draft: Revision Strategies for the Novelist is forthcoming in September. She has extensively reviewed novels for major newspapers and has edited and coached many novelists. She is on the faculty of Pine Manor College Solstice low-residency M.F.A. Program and has been a member of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival faculty for many years. She is also an avid landscape painter. She lives in Missoula, Montana and Portland, Oregon.