Saturday, February 09, 2013

Writing this Novel - Characters

As I only post monthly to the ERWA blog, my series on Writing This Novel left out a few interesting topics. Luckily, I can address them here as they occur to me.

I've mentioned many times that I'm not much of an outliner, but some things I know before I wade into a novel, and one of those things is my characters. Or, at least, I've learned that it's better to start that way. And me being me, I learned it the hard away.

I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel writing month) that I actually outlined. Except for one character. I couldn't get a fix on him. So as I wrote the novel, he behaved in a scene as the plot required. I figured he'd reveal himself to me over the course of the story, but he was a slippery sucker. Hard to pin down. What I ended up with was a two-dimensional character with no consistency. I also finished NaNoWriMo with a 60,000 word novel and it was total crap because of him. Oh wait. it's unfair to blame the character. it was total crap because I didn't know who he was. (and for other reasons, but that was the huge glaring mistake) But I didn't realize that. So I rewrote the entire novel and once again ended up with crap. At that point, finally, I figured it out. After a long think about him, I sketched out his character and rewrote the damn thing a third time. Much better. (the novel will be published under a different pen name in a couple months)

You'd think I'd know these characters pretty well since they're in a series now, but as I've learned my lesson about characters, when I wrote the second in the series, I created a one page tear sheet for each of the important characters.

It goes something like this:

Name of character
What does character want?
How can they get it?
What stands in the way?
Where is the character physically/emotionally/economically/etc at the beginning?
Does the character get what they want?

You don't have to write it down, but you do need to know who your characters are before you start writing - unless you want to rewrite your novel three times. (HINT: You don't) Knowing who they are will help you write them acting in a way that's consistent with who they are. All actions should flow from their 'natural' behavior, not because it fits the plot. You know what I mean. You've tossed a book across the room with the disgusted cry, 'Oh come on George would never do that!'

While you're writing, if you're stuck and have the time for a little exercise, try creating a new tear sheet for your characters that sums up where they are now. They should have changed over the course of the chapters. Maybe their goals changed or their circumstances or even their feelings. That could help you figure out what their next move is, confirm that you're on the right path, or make you realize that somewhere a few chapters back you headed down the rabbit hole.

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