Game of Thrones season 8 demonstrated a common theme of the “calm before the storm” of battle. Before everything goes to hell, the characters get their final moments together.Read More
October is finally here. The leaves are changing color. There’s a crisp chill in the air. Pumpkin spice lattes waft through cafes. And the countdown to NaNoWriMo has begun! Whatever will you do?
Let’s start with the basics. What is NaNoWriMo? This is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge that writers around the world take on every November. The goal? Write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel or novella) in a single month. You track your words on the official NaNo site, and at the end of the month, you confirm that you reached the word count. If you win, you’re showered with all kinds of awards including discounts on writing programs, editing offers, NaNo swag, and more!
Sounds crazy, right? It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but thousands of people give it a shot each year. I personally have won NaNoWriMo about 8 times, but that’s usually because I prepped through October.
How can you get ready to write your novel during NaNoWriMo?
Pantser or Plotter? First, you have to decide whether you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a plotter (someone who outlines a story). What you are will determine how you prep your story. A plotter is more likely to create an outline while a pantser might be more interested in character development or world building. Sometimes, a pantser doesn’t know what he’s writing until the strike of midnight on November 1st, and that’s completely okay. We all work to our own speed.
Outline: One of the best ways to prep is to create an outline. It can be a brief sketch of the chapters in the book, a paragraph about the story, or a 10-page long analysis. It’s completely up to you. Having something at the start of NaNo can help give you an edge and guide you when you inevitably get stuck.
Character Creation: Who are your characters? How will they act in the story? What do they look like? Knowing the information about your characters before you even get started can make the writing process much easier. You’ll spend less time hemming and hawing over small details and dive right in with your characters.
World Building: Whether you’re writing an urban fantasy, a science-fiction adventure in space, or a contemporary romance, your story is going to require world building. Gather that information in October so you know where to start in November. As with character creation, you’ll spend less time wondering what the world looks like and more time writing.
Research: If you know you’re going to need to research to create your book, do it in advance of NaNo. This can save you precious writing hours. Jot your notes down, and make certain your information is easily accessible so you’re not wasting time trying to find your research after you’ve already done it.
Create a Schedule: If you write 1,667 words everyday, you’ll succeed in completing NaNo. Realistically, though, real life can get in the way of that. Writer’s block, a bad day, sickness, a broken computer can all complicate your schedule and force you to play catch up. One way to prepare yourself is to set up “buffer days” where you’ll have more time to write than usual. Stick to your schedule, and you’ll have a better shot at winning.
Schedule Breaks: Not everyone will agree with me on this, but you should schedule breaks during NaNo. You’ll need time to recharge after writing furiously for days on end. It’s okay to take a night to hang out with friends, read, or, heaven forbid, sleep. You don’t want to burn out halfway through.
Find Your Region/Support Team: One of the cool features about NaNo is you can connect with people in your area! You don’t have to work on your novel alone. A Municipal Liaison (ML) will set up writing times for people to get together, and that includes October prep. Don’t be surprised if there’s a NaNo kick off right at midnight on November 1st. You can also communicate with one another over the NaNo website and encourage each other. Creating a support team can inspire you to finish your book even when you want to quit.
Pep Talk: Prepare pep talks to get you through the tough times, because there will be moments when you’ll want to hurl your book out the window. We face it every yearly, usually around the half-way mark. The NaNo site will provide inspirational speeches from authors, but it doesn’t hurt to have your own positive mantra.
Sleep: Seriously, make sure you set up a sleep schedule for yourself for November. And get plenty of sleep in October so you’re rested and prepared for writing. We usually joke about spending every waking moment writing in November, and that’s not too far from the truth. Make plans to take care of your mental and physical health so you don’t burn out or get sick.
No editing: NaNo is all about writing, so prepare yourself not to edit. There are no rules against going back and fixing mistakes, but the fun of NaNo is spewing out the story without worrying about grammar or showing vs telling. Editing comes later! Get used to taking off the editor gloves and go ahead and word vomit all over that page (a beautiful image, isn’t it?).
Playlists!: Create musical playlists that will keep you focused while you write in November. Maybe you work better with the tv on in the background, or you need a movie soundtrack to hold your attention. Whatever you need to do, October is the time to plan it! I have a playlist that’s nearly two hours long. Each song reminds me of certain characters in my book, thus creating an environment that encourages me to write.
NaNo Prep Page: Check out the NaNo Prep Page for more ideas to help you prepare your novel.
Keep in mind, these are all suggestions, and you can use what works for you. NaNo is supposed to be a fun (albeit stressful) event. If you don’t reach 50,000 words, that’s okay! The fact that you wrote anything is an accomplishment. You can do this! Happy NaNo prep to you!
If you have any topics you’d like me to cover (or any more NaNo advice you’d like to know) list them below! Feel free to share your NaNo prep ideas as well!
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to write about character development. I took you through different ways to create the character and a couple of templates that people might choose to use. Now, I want to go a little more in depth about character creation, so I’ll guide you through some of the do’s and don’t’s that I’ve learned.
Make Your Character Unique: You want to focus on making your character unique and easy to recognize in the story. This could come through physical appearance or through actions/personality. The character needs to be memorable otherwise your readers are going to grow bored very, very fast. It’s perfectly fine to make a character who is generic if he’s a background character because he’s not as important as say your main character. But at the end of a book, you want your readers to be able to tell you what your character looks like, or distinguish him from the others because of the things he does.
There are plenty of ways you can make the character unique. Does he have a special power that no one else has? Does he have unique hair color or eye color? Is he a warrior for the king, a cop, a pilot? I find that even throwing little things into the description like making him allergic to something is really interesting. It just makes him more unique and fun to explain. You also want to be able to establish what kind of character he is, like a villain, protagonist, comic relief, and so on and so forth. He has to not only be unique in appearance/attitude but unique in the story. You don’t want a bunch of characters to seem the same because otherwise the readers are going to get really confused. Flesh out the character and find out what makes him special.
One of the best ways to practice this is to think about your own quirks, or the quirks of your family members. Do you do something that might seem unusual to other people? Do you have interesting habits? Do you have ideals that are not part of the norm? If you can pick yourself apart, you can learn then how to also pick apart characters and give them a more interesting background.
I found this blog interesting about how to make characters unique: http://writetodone.com/how-to-create-characters/
2. Make Your Character Relatable: While you do want to make your character unique, make sure that he’s relatable as well. If you have someone who can move mountains, avoid every attack, survive any mortal injury, your readers are going to get either bored or annoyed. They can’t relate to this character because he’s too God-like. Even characters like Thor have weaknesses, which may be as simple as vanity or cockiness. You don’t want to Godmode, meaning you don’t to make a character who can do anything without repercussions. Basically, you’re making him a God and unattainable.
One of the easiest ways to make the character relatable is to give him emotions that the readers might understand. Is he powerful but fears that power because he might hurt someone? Is he smart, but because of this he struggles with his emotions? You need to find a way to reach out to the readers so they can feel like they can understand this character, otherwise why should they cheer for the character? This is especially important for your main character because he’s the one who drives the book.
On the other hand, try not to make your character so insanely unique, that your readers get overwhelmed. For example, giving a character a name like Zexaforgiolious D’Numarion, second son of Dibblio D’Numarion, with an appearance of golden skin, purple, blue, orange, yellow hair with lavender highlights, two-toned red and blue eyes, with the ability to turn star essence into new planets and…etc. etc. etc….is just a bit too much. Detail and uniqueness are wonderful, but please try to limit yourself if you can. While this may work for animated shows where the audience can actually see the characters, it might just be too much for a book. All the detail gets lost, and if you ask someone what the main character is like, she might just blink at you and respond, “Hair….lots of colorful hair.”
3. Give Your Character a Purpose: One of the most important things to remember is to give your character purpose. What is the point of creating that character if you’re not going to use him or her for a particular reason? There are such things as throwaway characters, those who need to be there to help move the story along, but who may not be brought back in again. However, if that character is needed to move the plot, then that character is important. Don’t just make arbitrary extra characters so that your main one has additional friends. I try to think of J. K. Rowling and how each of her characters seems to represent a feeling in her book. That’s how I want my characters to be. I want them to symbolize strength, courage, compassion, sacrifice, and so on and so forth. That’s their purpose. So make sure you give your character something to do.
4. Make Your Character Likeable: You want to make at least some characters likable, and this goes along with the relatable topic. Few will want to read the book if they can’t connect or care about any of your characters. It’s perfectly fine to have characters your readers hate, but you really need to have someone that they can cheer for and actually worry about. There was one book I read where I just did not care about any of the characters. They felt fake to me and were so hollow that I only read the story to see if it would get any better. I refused to pick up the sequel. You don’t want that for your books. Give your characters depth. Make them likeable and encourage your readers to really care, because then you’ll gain a greater audience.
5. Don’t Make a Mary Sue/Marty Stu Character: This applies more to fanfiction, but you can run into this problem in your books as well. A Mary Sue/Marty Stu character is typically one that is just annoyingly perfect. This character can upstage all of the others with her/his amazing skills, or becomes the whiny damsel in distress character, or just seems to be the convenient character that can solve everyone’s problems. This rule kind of falls in line with making a character realistic. You don’t want your characters to be invincible or be the “best” at everything. Flaws make them more interesting and also more relatable. Mary Sues and Marty Stus can just get extremely annoying and make your story feel hollow.
Below are some links that will better explain a Mary Sue and also give suggestions on how to avoid making such a character. The biggest thing is that you don’t want to make your character the best of the best and you want to give her some flaws and depth.
6. Don’t Borrow Characters From Other Stories: We all have our favorite books and characters. The one trap authors may fall into when they’re writing is that they make their own character too much like a popular book character. For example, and this is just my opinion, Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle is far too much like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. If you don’t want spoilers, then please skip to the next paragraph. Both Eragon and Luke are supposedly parentless and live with an uncle (Eragon) or aunt/uncle pairing (Luke) until the bad guys come in and kill their remaining family members while hunting for the main character. Of course, this sets the main character on a quest to learn about his secret abilities (Dragonrider vs Jedi) so that he can avenge his family and also free the land of the horrendous tyranny of the main bad guy (King Galbatorix and Darth Vadar). They both have mentors who guide them and who are eventually killed (Brom and Obi-Wan/Yoda) which drives them to learn even more. They later find out secret brotherly/sisterly relationships (Murtagh and Leia) and then discover that their father was still alive (Brom/Vadar). Eventually they both lose their father figures after the father feels as if he’s redeemed himself. Obviously there are plenty of differences too, but you can see what I mean…these characters are extremely similar.
Once again, this falls under the rule of making your character unique. Try not to borrow from other stories if you can help it and come up with your own ideas when you design the character. Yes, you might find some similarities since few ideas are original these days, but so long as you try to really do something different and special with your own character, that’s good, and you’ll be able to avoid readers picking your character apart and comparing them to those from other books and movies.
7. Don’t Confuse Your Characters: This issue can happen if you’re writing multiple projects or just have way too many characters. I’m completely guilty of this as well. Don’t recreate characters by mistake. What I mean with this is that I wrote a series about a character and had her past and ambitions all designed. When I created a new series, I unintentionally recreated my main character, so much so that I will probably have to go back and redo a lot of the history in the other series. Likewise, I created two characters that are extremely similar (though they serve different purposes). I still need to go through and see if the second character really is needed, or if there are ways that I can separate them more.
Why is this important? You don’t want your readers calling you out for remaking your characters. Nor do you want your readers getting confused, thinking they’re reading about one character but they’re actually reading about another. If you repeat the characters, your story also might start feeling dull and predictable. Be creative. If you start noticing differences, slap your hand, regroup, and rewrite one of the character’s histories so that you can make him and the story unique.
That’s about all I have for now. As always, leave a note below if you have an idea you’d like me to write about.
When starting a story, everyone has a different way of developing characters. Some writers just jump right into the tale and see what happens whereas others write character sheets or biographies. I’m going to discuss a couple of ways that I, and friends, develop characters. Hopefully this will help some of you new writers or even some experienced writers who need further guidance.
Learn as You Write:
For the first series I worked on (note picture above), I really had no guidance for my characters. I may have created two paragraph character sheets, but otherwise, I just let them do what they wanted to do. This may sound strange to non-writers, but sometimes the characters just write themselves. You may have an idea of how a character will act, but once you start writing about him and letting him interact with other characters, you may realize that this person is completely different than what you had originally expected.
The more you write about the character, the more you get familiar with him or her. Sometimes I write short stories involving the character to see how she’ll act in certain situations. My favorite way to explore the character though is through roleplaying with friends. I’ll start an IM story and ask my friend if I can throw in one of my characters. As we write together, it forces me to explore how this character is going to see the world, feel, and think. It really helps me see if I know my character. Doing this also enables you to see if some of your characters are way too similar. Right now I have two characters, Elmaris and Kep, who seem too much like each other. What I may do is write a quick scene with just the two characters together and see how they act around one another. If I can’t differentiate between them, then I know I need to change one of them...or else merge them into one character.
Now, even if you create a biography or character sheets, that doesn’t mean that your characters are not going to change. Characters grow as you write about them, so don’t be afraid to write more with the characters even if you think you have them completed.
For my first series, I just learned as I wrote. With my current series, I decided to take a different approach and wrote biography sheets. Some of you may ask, what’s the difference between a biography sheet and a character sheet? Really nothing, but for me, a biography sheet is more heavily “story” oriented whereas character sheets are more “logistics” based. I’ll explain what I mean in both sections.
My biography sheet is pretty simplistic. It just has the basic information describing a character to help me stay consistent during the story, but it also has the biography of everything that has happened in this character’s life.
Like I said, simplistic. I use maybe two sentences to describe the appearance, but that’s it. The biography can be anywhere from 1 page to 5 pages, depending on how detailed or important my character is. I also like to include “avatars” of the character. I pick actors that I think would work well and throw a picture in there to help me remember what my character looks like.
The benefits of writing a biography is that you know exactly what your character has been through. Some of the questions you may ask yourself are: Where was she born? Who is her family? What was her childhood like? What’s her adulthood like? What important things have happened to her? And so on and so forth. It’s good to know where your character came from so you know how she should act. So, if a character might have almost drowned when she was a kid and developed a fear of water, you don’t want her happily splashing around in a stream. If anything, the biographies help with character consistency.
There are plenty of character sheets out there that you can use to construct your cast, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll share one that I’m currently using. A.E. MacKellar shared this with me as we started writing our characters for our joint book. I’ve modified some of it to prevent SPOILERS from happening, but this is an example of what you can use to help you develop your characters in a more logistic fashion:
Character’s Full name:
Reason for Nickname:
Glasses or contacts:
Type of body/build:
Shape of face:
Character’s typical hairstyle:
Are they healthy:
If not, why not:
Relationship with him/her:
Relationship with them:
Relationship with her:
Relationship with him:
Relationship with each:
Most important childhood event:
Character's greatest fear:
What is the worst thing that could happen to them:
A Single event that would throw life in complete turmoil:
Depressive or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder):
Greatest strength in personality:
Greatest weakness in personality:
How character reacts in a crisis:
How character faces problems:
Kinds of problems character usually runs into:
How character reacts to NEW problems:
Daredevil or cautious:
When and how much:
When and how much:
How character spends a rainy day:
Character's favorite color:
Character's least favorite color:
Least favorite Music:
Use of expletives:
Can character defend self:
Can character use firearms:
Can character handle knives:
Space for Extra Notes:
Looking at it, the list can appear a bit daunting, and at first, it may be hard to discern what information is really needed versus what’s just extra fodder that you might be able to use down the road. The great thing about character sheets, though, is you can keep track of the character’s appearance. You know his family and what events influenced his life. You know simple things like if he drinks or smokes. What I also find exciting is how you develop particular quirks that your character does. For example, maybe Ray runs his hands through his hair when he’s stressed. Perhaps Melody bites her nails or starts to count during trying situations. Even including that a character is allergic to milk can be interesting because it adds something unique about him or her.
The character sheets keep all of your information in one place, too. You can add to it as you write, or refer to it to make sure you remember eye color or hair color. You may think that it’s easy to recall physical things like that, but once you have 10+ characters, it may be difficult to remember who has auburn versus red versus mahogany hair, etc.
This enables you to see how characters feel about each other a well, which I think is important. I like to know who my protagonist considers her best friend or worst enemy. It makes building relationships around different characters that much easier for you.
Character development takes a lot of time, and if you really want to create a well-rounded character, it’s important to take steps to finding what sort of path is best for you. Do you wish to learn as you write? Do you want to focus on a biography? Do you want to write a detailed character sheet. Or, do you want to do as I do and combine everything together?
Frankly, I don’t think you can ever truly know your character until you write about her. Some characters I have spent days developing and tweaking only to begin writing and realizing she’s not the character I had intended to create. You want to be consistent with your character’s actions, yes, but also don’t want her to do something that may be contrary to her character just because you ‘think’ she should act this way.
Writing about characters is very personal. These are people that you have created, people you must mold into something unique and beautiful. In the end, remember to give your character the time and patience she deserves because you want to create someone readers can relate to as well.
I think that will be all for now. I do have some other things I would like to discuss about character development, primarily the do’s and don’t’s, but I’ll save that for another entry. For those of you who still aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few other tips:
Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few other exercises you can try.
Write a biography or character sheet about yourself:
What would you want people to know about you if someone had to write a book about you? What features define you and what parts of your history were important in your development? What people were important in your life? This should be easier to do since you yourself are a character in this world.
Write a Scene:
Don’t know anything about your character? Try writing a scene, like I suggested. Grab a character that you want to create and throw him into an environment. Toss random events at him or different kinds of people. See how he’ll react and what feels “right” for the character. You might learn a lot more from 2 pages of writing than from trying to write a biography.
Ask yourself, what is this character’s purpose? Is he a protagonist or an antagonist? Is he a main character or a minor character? Do you want him to represent a “good” friend or a “funny” friend. Once you realize the purpose, you can start to build off of that character. If he’s evil, maybe bad things happened in his childhood that made him that way. On the flipside, maybe bad events made the character want to be good and make the world better so no one else would have to suffer as he did. Find a starting point and branch out from there.
As always, if you think of things you would like me to write about, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to write a response.