Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekend 4: The catalyst

catalyst.jpgFourth weekend with The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery: The catalyst.

Unlike the previous three characters, the catalyst character isn't as clear cut. In fact, I read the explanation in the book several times and it was difficult to get a clear picture because the role is relatively vague.

In chemistry a catalyst participates in a reaction but isn't itself one of the parts reacting and it remains unchanged. They explain the catalyst character as someone who "makes things happen", "a change agent, a motivator driven by a deep inner need that drives the plot."

Which seems pretty straight forward until they start giving examples ;-)

So, my interpretation is the catalyst is someone who has a personal connection to the case who gets the sleuth asking questions and keeps her energized. The catalyst adds an extra dimension to the sleuth's hunt for the killer beyond a search for justice. The catalyst might be the victim's mother, the sleuth's boss, the scapegoat's father. It can be a cop, a reporter, the sleuth's assistant. It can be the possessor of what the killer's trying to get. (What the authors call the resource base.)

The authors say a litmus test for the catalyst is:
1. Connects to the other characters.
2. Connects to the resource base.
3. Helps with the plot.
It might be easier to think of the catalyst not as a vital character (like the killer or sleuth) but one that helps you write the story :-)

So once you've picked a candidate for your catalyst from the extra characters that have arisen from the previous three weekends or made up fresh, there are four parts to work on:
1. Connections.
2. Resource base.
3. Profile.
4. Scene cards.
1. Connections

Explore (and develop and create and make up) the connections between the catalyst and the other characters. You can start off on the surface and then dig deeper into motivations, shared experiences, hurts and dreams. Think passionately. The stronger the connections, the more strongly the characters feel, the more interesting they are. A desire to hold onto wealth that represents what amounted to love from a distant father is more captivating than "Cuz it's mine."

A tiny sampling of possible connections:

family
money
business
guilt
love
passion
revenge
fellow students
friendship
barkeep
debt of honor
blackmail
hobbies

2. Resource base

Explore the connections between the catalyst and what the killer is trying to gain possession of. The authors suggest you write a narrative exploring the background of the character and their first entry into the story. Explore details of dress and manner. For that you write in present tense, such as, "Irina is my catalyst, She enters the story dressed like Cinderella ..." What does she want? Does she want the resource base? Does she want to protect it?

3. Profile

Some of this you may have come up with as you were developing the previous characters or during the previous two exercises. "With a profile, your goal is to discover motive." Start with physical details and work up to need and desire and want, to create an agenda for your character. She's the one helping the plot. So figure out why she's doing that?

4. Scene cards

Create scene cards where the catalyst appears. Make notes about time, place, season, weather, objects, others in the scene, who talks to who, essence of their discussion. Note wardrobe that reveals weather, season, personality, background, status and so forth.


Next week begins 5 weeks on plotting with charts and circles and arrows and 8x10 color glossies.
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