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The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

NaNo Prep: Character Cheat Sheets October 27, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:41 PM
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This is the least prepared I’ve been for NaNoWriMo since eighth grade, when I read about it in the paper on November 5.

I have no plot outlined. I have no carefully drawn maps and plans. I didn’t even have characters or the inkling of an idea until a week ago.

This is going to be fun.

Anyway, this weekend I’m finally doing some very brief character cheat sheets, because I can’t bear to go in completely blind. I am not a pantser (NaNoing by the seat of my pants, if you need a translation). I need some semblance of structure.

Even if you like to go in blind, having some idea of what your characters are like is good. What’s more important than anything else, though, isn’t what they look like or how they dress or even what they lie awake thinking about at 3 am. (Although knowing all of these things will help.) The most important thing to know is this:

What do they want?

But let’s back up and go through this step by step. My super short cheat sheets are structured like this:

Name. Seems obvious, but I’m terrible at them. Names are hard. Sometimes I pick something that sounds nice or occurred to me randomly. Other times, I look up something with a little extra meaning. The site has been a lifesaver for me. You can search names by gender, first letter, meaning, ethnic origin, and more. Of course, if you need something fast, grabbing a phone book is also handy.

Age. This is generally nice to know. What can your character legally do, and what would he or she get arrested for? (Note – if it’ll get him/her arrested, I’d say go for it. Those escapades are always the most fun to read.)

Appearance. This isn’t super important. You don’t need to tell us that he/she has ‘flowing ebony locks and eyes like limpid tears’. Still, having some clue of what they look like for reference is probably a good idea. Otherwise you might mess up and have a character refer to ‘that redhead’, leaving your readers utterly confused, since ‘that redhead’ is a brunette. I like to hint at the character’s personality with their appearance. Someone reckless might constantly be sporting bruises. A guy with big plans is constantly jiggling his leg or playing with a pencil. A girl with a secret has a posture more locked down than a quarantine.

Personality. NaNoWriMo is a rough draft, yeah, but you want it to be salvageable. (I have yet to have that happen, but I live in hope!) Characters’ personalities are not set in stone. No one acts exactly the same every day in every situation, but you should have an idea of their baselines. How does your character act around strangers? Around friends? Alone? Why do they act the way they do?

Desires. This, as I said earlier, is the most important part. What does your character want? His or her actions should be focused on this goal. Of course, the goal can change as the story progresses. The whole idea behind plot is figuring out what your character wants and throwing every obstacle you can in his or her way.

Arc. You may not know your characters’ arcs yet. I’m a little iffy on them myself. Ideally, you have at least an idea of where your character starts and where he/she ends. They should progress (or regress  throughout the story, and all of their experiences, interactions, and scenes should push them one way or another on this path.

Quirk. No, I don’t mean make them a quirky ManicPixieDreamGirl, but giving a character a distinguishing trait can make them stand out. This quirk might be verbal, behavioral, whatever. In my last project I had a guy constantly popping breath mints – he’s a reporter, don’t want to scare a source away with nasty breath – and an insecure guy constantly ending his sentences with ‘am I right’ or ‘right’.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. It’s just a way I organize my thoughts before I start writing. Other people may do it differently. Whichever way you plan – if you plan at all – good luck and happy NaNoWriMo!


NaNo Prep Tip# 3: Point of View October 28, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:56 PM
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Just a few more days until NaNo starts. I’m already having second thoughts – I already have too  much homework. What will happen if I fail? – but that’s part of the experience. You just force a smile and keep on going, using the idea of utter humiliation as a motivator.

A good thing to know before you start your book is what point of view you’re going to be writing in. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

First person limited: All you can see/hear/know/understand is filtered through the head of one person. This helps readers connect to a character faster, but it limits you. If there’s some crucial piece of information that the character doesn’t know but the reader should, you’re stuck. Some authors make up for this by doing the cursed split POV story, which I shall never speak of again. Another shortcoming is that if the character thinks too much, is rather dull, or whines a lot, readers might get sick of it and put the book down, as they have no escape. This is best for a character with a strong, original voice.

First person omniscient: Very rare, unless the character in question is a mind reader or some sort of outside observer. The only example I’ve seen is The Book Thief. It’s a tricky POV to do well.

Second person: Choose your own adventure style. I’ve seen bits of it used in Cry, The Beloved Country, but usually this POV is just tacky.

Third person limited: The most common type of narration. Think Harry Potter. It’s not told as ‘I’, but we only hear the thoughts of one character. This allows the writer more room to maneuver, but still gives the reader someone to focus on.

Third person omniscient: The narrator can see into all the character’s though processes at will. We usually don’t see all of them at once, but jump around. Think Runemarks. This allows the reader to know things one character may not, which comes in handy if some of the characters are idiots.  However, it’s generally best to still focus on one person, so we get an idea of a central character.

Mix it up: Is one POV not enough? Do several. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, after all, switches between third person limited and first person limited (with occasionally breaches of the fourth wall). First person books might occasionally step outward to third person for behind the scenes action.

That’s all for POVs. But as an additional bit of NaNo prep – now is a good time to notify your friends/family/significant other that you may not be around much next month. Also, stake a claim on a computer. I informed my family of which one I would use. If necessary, claim it by setting up residence there, creating clever booby traps, or leaving scent marks. (In perfume – what did you think I meant?) However you do it, make sure you have access to a word processor. In a few days, you’ll be needing it.



NaNo Prep Tip #2: Pre-Writing October 12, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:19 PM
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When it comes to pre-writing for your NaNo novel, there are three main camps of opinion:

1. Wing it. That’s right. Just go in there with no plot, no characters, no setting… and go crazy. I did this my first year – not because I wanted to (I’m a bit controlling, if you haven’t noticed) but because I couldn’t help it. I found out about NaNo in the paper on November 5. Not much time for prep. The advantage of this method is that you can come up with some crazy, awesome stuff you never would have planned. You’re just making up worlds as you go along, and you’ll be amazed at what your mind can create. However, the disadvantage is that if you find out you don’t have enough to write, or become unsure of where you’re going, you’re in trouble.

2. Plan… a little. This is the officially approved (according to the NaNo guide No Plot? No Problem!) version of pre-writing. It advises you to only plan in the month of October, reasoning that if you get too attached to your novel, you won’t be able to write with reckless abandon. This really depends on the person. I tried it one year, and it went all right. Still, personally I prefer…

3. Go plotting crazy! This is for the obsessive ones out there. *waves* I start planning my next NaNo in December. However, that’s mostly tossing out ideas, etc. I usually settle on one in about June or so. Then I begin character profiles, plot summaries, and chapter guides. This helps me, personally, because I know what I’m going to write. It speeds me up, that’s for sure – I finished in twenty days using this method last year. But for those who prefer the freedom and unrestrained imagination of an unplotted novel, that’s good too. It’s really up to you.


NaNo Prep Tip #1: Choosing Your Novel October 5, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:27 PM
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Now that it’s October, if you’re planning on doing NaNo, you should probably create some vague idea of what you want to write about. (If you’re like me, you’ll have come up with and discarded a minimum of three by now, finally forcing yourself to stop changing your mind.) If you haven’t chosen yet, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Research is Not Your Friend – While doing NaNo, you need to write large quantities of words very quickly. Stopping to look something up or check a fact will slow you down. Therefore, it’s a good idea to reject stories that involve a lot of research. Books set in modern times in a place you’re familiar with, or a fantasy world you can create completely on your own, are the best choices.

2. This is Not Your Baby – Do you have some grandiose, eternal dream of writing the great American novel? A perfect, Pulitzer-prize worthy idea stewing in your mind? Great. Don’t write it. At least, not now. NaNo is about the glorious freedom of just writing, abandoning crappy paragraphs in your dust as you move on to the next, possibly even crappier one. It’s hard to let your inhibitions go if you want to perfect every word. Save your story-babies for writing at leisure.

3. I Hear You, Dude – You need to stick with this story for thirty days and fifty thousand words. I’ve had many ideas that fizzled and died. Make sure you have a strong grasp on your story, and can see following through with it until the end. Make sure you ‘hear’ the voices of your characters clearly, and have enough to write about them to make it through. If it’s just a vague shadow of a plot, either refine it or try again.