Tag Archive | characterization

Moving Right Along

The last time I blogged, NaNoWriMo was nearly here.  We are now thirteen days in and the writing is going well.  My usual goal is 2000-2500 words a day, so NaNo’s goal of 1667 words a day is easily achieveable.

On a good day.  This is November, so of course, there are distractions, storms, and doctor appointments.  To say nothing of Thanksgiving and the need to do Christmas baking so it can be sent.

I find this takes ruthless planning.  I write from 9 am to 1 pm, go and bake, cook dinner, and come back from 7-10 to get my words in.  Most days I can get them in by 1 pm and have the evenings free, but last night it took me ALL DAY to get in 2566 words.  it was like pulling teeth.  I knew what would happen, was giggling my way through the scene, but what was in my head would not come out on the screen.  It was definitely like giving birth: long, slow, and painful.

I liked what I got, though, so I’m happy.

For many writers, NaNoWriMo feels more intense than our normal writing, probably because we who do it have set goals, some like one of my friends, are really high — she wants to write 100K words this month!  Wow, you go, girl.  I’m enjoying watching her word count mount each day.  Another friend successfully finished her 50,000 words in eight days!  I am content to do my 50,000 words by the time Thanksgiving gets here, because after that, I have company which is more important than writing.  People always are.

Another reason for the intensity is some of us challenge ourselves to see how many words we’re capable of in a month.  This is good, I think. I look at NaNo as a marathon.  Some people will naturally run from the front of the pack, others in the middle, pacing themselves, and some will fall off the back.  The fact that they entered and ran is good, no matter if they finish or not.

I’m a pacer.  I hit 22,750 words last night.  I’m ahead of the curve by a few hundred words.  That’s really all I want.  I don’t want to feel too stressed.  I need to stay within myself for health and stress reasons, so I’m writing as I normally do: 2000 words every day.  Takes all the stress out.  The novel I’m writing will be done before I hit the 50K word mark.  I’m writing the last “half” for NaNo.  If I get done early, I’ll write a series of short stories to add to the word count.

I’m enjoying NaNo this year.  As usual, my characters surprise me.  I had one throw a twist into the storyline I hadn’t seen coming.  Hmm.  Not what I thought he was.  I was left wondering if there was another twist coming, and there is.  I can see it glimmering out at the end.  I’m still not sure how it will all fall out, but when it does it will make logical sense to the characters (and I hope, to the readers, too).  I don’t plot a great deal in advance, but keep the action that has taken place in mind so I don’t drop something in the future.  This novel has a lot of moving parts in a lot of different places.  I keep notes of where my characters are at different parts of the novel and then pick them up when I need them.  I need them all together at the end, so I’m having to plot this a bit more carefully but still give them room to move.

We have a huge storm blowing through right now, high winds, lots of rain and 27′ beach surf.  Dangerous conditions outside, but just perfect for staying in with a cup of tea or coffee and writing my next 2000 words.  I’ll see you all again soon.

Paper People

What are Paper People?  Not someone who works at a newspaper.  Paper People are the men, women, and children we meet between the pages of a book.  In other words, characters.  Writers always struggle with their characters.  If there is one thing I hear most, it is “my characters won’t do what I say!”

Well, folks, that’s because characters are people, as real as we are.  They aren’t cardboard cutouts we push around or direct like a play.  Just because we plotted the novel a certain way, doesn’t mean they are going to follow our directions.  You know what I’m saying here.

Characters are funny.  When a writer gives them life, they become living, breathing entities, as real as you and I.  (If they don’t, you better start again).  We might think they have straight yellow hair and blue eyes, but suddenly they have wavy brown hair and gray eyes.  Not only that, but they don’t like the name they were given and want a new one.  (Ha!  Some of you just laughed.  It has happened to you, too).  Like children, they often want to go their own way.  If we try to pull them back (the plot says go through the woods, not the village, and I don’t care if you like the red-head in the shop), they will often just stop and the story stops with them.

“What is wrong with my character?” is another cry I hear.  My answer:  Stop and ask them and then really listen.  They will tell you where you went wrong.  They really do need to go to the village and see the red head in the shop.  She sent your hero a note about his long-lost sister you didn’t know he had.  He’s been searching for her ever since they were children and their parents split up, taking one each.  The red head was his sister’s best friend before he was taken away and she’s grown into a stunning woman who takes his breath away.  So, see?  He does need to go to the village and you’d be wise to let him.  Yes, this will mess up the whole plot but that’s okay. You now know what is wrong with your character.  Nothing.  It was what was a problem with the plot.

“But I liked my plot,” you wail.  It probably was a very good plot — until you put your people into it.  Then everything changed.  Well, some bits stayed, but the rest changed.  Don’t panic, this is a good thing.  You need three things to make a great story: People (characters), a path for their journey (plot) and the scenery (setting).  Remember that paths often take many twists and turns, and has  forks or detours for the adventurous.  Of course, there are pitfalls and snares, too.  A plot is often a dangerous thing for our characters to tread, no matter how pretty the setting.

I have learned to leave my plotting fairly loose because I know, absolutely without a doubt, my people will change things.  They will discover in the course of a search that Aunt Maud had stored rare golden doubloons in her closet safe (they didn’t know she had a closet safe, let alone a doubloon in it).  Where did she get them and now who inherits them?  I would plot the search but not who was where or what they found.  If I had, I would have missed the doubloons entirely, and they could very well be the reason Aunt Maud was poisoned in the first place. It is because my people are dynamic, living breathing human beings that I discovered this new piece of the plot.

If you really run into a problem with a character, do an interview with her.  Find out what she wants most in her life (not I want this, please let me have it, but if I can’t have this one thing, I shall surely die), what scares her to death, what she loves above all else, and what she hates with a passion.  What are her hopes and dreams for the future?  What breaks her heart and brings her (and you) to tears?  All you have to do is listen and then record what she says.  Keep talking until you have all the answers you need.  You can then write the scene as it should be done (and all your characters will say “Amen!”)

Please leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.  How do you work with your characters?  Do they obey your commands or often go their own ways?