FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.
My protagonist must find his unknown father and discover the key to his own identity.
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.
My antagonist is the protagonist’s mother who has refused to reveal the truth about his father to keep a dark secret of her own from her son.
THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).
THE SHANGHAI KADDISH
FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?
Comp: # 1 Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. In that serio-comic novel the plot revolves around a daughter’s search for her agoraphobic architect mother who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica.
Comp: #2 America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. Another serio-comic novel that presents as a travel story that is really a story about strangers in a strange land, the strange land sometimes being the American characters’ own. It is also a story about the search for an absent family member, in this case the estranged gay son of an Indian family.
My novel, The Shanghai Kaddish is a serio-comic novel about a mixed-race American son’s search for his mysterious father in China, where his mother lived as a teenager and young woman, where he was conceived, and where his father, a Red Army officer, lived.
FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.
After a string of failed relationships, a Chinese-Jewish stand-up comic, whipsawed between his two ethnicities, travels to Shanghai against his mother’s strenuous objection to discover and confront the unknown father whose absence he believes has defined the trajectory of his life.
SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.
Inner Conflict: My protagonist is a mixed race character; he has been raised by his loving but secretive mother in the absence of a father or father figure. My protagonist has also pursued a career that makes it hard to form permanent connections because he is on the road so many days a year. He sees himself as being an unreasonable choice for love because of this, though he desires a relationship.
In an early example of the conflict my protagonist experiences, is the conflict he felt being half Chinese as a pre-teen when his classmates were making anti-Asian remarks that conflated all Asians including him with the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. His reactions was to name one set of toy soldiers American and the other Chinese and always have the Chinese soldiers win.
An example of his reaction to his conflicted feelings about his parentage is that he tells jokes on late night TV about how he imagines his Jewish mother and his absent father would react to the news that he had a real girlfriend.
Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?
In an airport security line, the protagonist makes an inappropriate joke about hijacking which is in keeping with his comedian persona but really arises out of his attempt to explain his travel plans to a fellow airline passenger. While the immediate result is that he is nearly Tasered and arrested, it is the event through which he meets the woman who will become his love interest.
FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.
There are multiple settings for my novel: Shanghai during the Japanese occupation in the late 1930s and through the 1940s during World War Two, during a time of when Shanghai was the city that saved the most Jews from the Holocaust by allowing 20,000 plus immigrants from Europe to live there; Shanghai in the 1950s after the Communist takeover; Shanghai in the 2009 when as a booming commercial metropolis my protagonist travels there to search for his father; and New Jersey in 1974 and 2009; New York City and elsewhere in 2009 on the set of the Haberman After Hours Television show and on the stages of various comedy clubs around the country.