We’re halfway through the month of October, which means there are just a few weeks left before NaNoWriMo kicks off on November 1. In order to prepare for what I hope will be a successful month of writing I’ve been doing a bit of prep-work these past few weeks.
As I mentioned in my first post in this series here, I began the countdown to November by working on the outline for the story I’m planning to write. As the outline developed, I found I needed to clarify the setting, in order to get a big picture view of how the story will progress. If you missed it, you can read that post, and the helpful suggestions from commenters, here.
With a general outline and the story setting(s) nailed down (kind of, sort of), I still have a pretty large gap that needs to be addressed before I start trying to put words on the page. I need to know who these people are who will inhabit the story. My heroine needs a hero. My antagonist needs a supporting cast. And I need to know who that random assortment of secondary characters is and what roles they are going to play.
Piece of cake, right?
Not surprisingly, this week my focus is on: Character
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about how important it is that characters have strong goals and motivations (we’ll talk more about that next week). Before getting to that point, however, you need a clear idea of who your characters really are. The posts here, here, and here provide some practical exercises for learning about your characters. You can also Google “character worksheet” and find links for lists of character attributes that you may want to think about when defining your characters. From basic information like name, age, and physical characteristics, to the more in-depth strengths, weaknesses, and experiences, the worksheets can help you develop interesting, believable characters. An example of a very robust character worksheet can be found here.
Conveniently, while I was randomly surfing the internet catching up on my news-feed recently, I came across a brainstorming idea from a screenwriter friend of mine that I thought would be very helpful.
Exercise: “Make a list of 100 things you see your main character doing. Before you start to freak out and hyperventilate, I’m not talking 100 scenes or plot lines or settings at this point; no need to get that fancy about it. Just things like taking a bubble bath, swing dancing, slicing onions a certain way, sharpening a knife, pinning on a badge, lounging on the couch, arguing with a spouse, etc. Not earth shattering stuff; just everyday actions they would take or ways they would act/react to something.” ~ Kari
Obviously this exercise is not going to give you completely defined characters, but it can be a good way to begin to get into their heads. When you look at the list of things you’ve written down for various characters, you may notice that some very different styles have been revealed. That can lead to interesting conflicts down the line in the story or, in my case, may help me decide if any of my secondary characters are going to wind up pairing up (of course they are!).
So, what do I know about the characters in my story so far?
Not a lot, but I’ve just started working on them. I have my heroine (she was a supporting character from the last NaNo story I wrote), but she’s currently lacking a love interest (the front runner seems to be a nerdy guy with glasses but that may change). I have an antagonist, of sorts, but I definitely need to learn more about him. Then, there is that pesky cast of secondary characters. The story starts out with a group of about 12 on a sailing trip, but not all of those will remain for the whole story. Someone is going to get sick and leave; someone is going to have an emergency and need to go home; one or two may decide they want to stay at one of the stops along the way instead of continuing on with the trip. I need to figure out who all those “someone(s)” are.
I know what I’ll be working on this weekend.
So, how do you get to know your characters? Do you “learn as you go” or do you define them up front?