Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: Character Interviews

Hello again, and welcome to the next installment of preparing for NaNoWriMo. November is barely a month away, and I hope your fingers are itching to get typing. By now you've been spending time brainstorming all kinds of ideas for things you want to include in your novel, and naturally that's going to include characters.

One of the things that drives me nuts when I'm writing is when I've forgotten a detail I know I've already written about. I can't handle having it wrong, on the off chance that I forget to go back and fix it later. So I have to stop the flow, go back in my document, and figure out what that minor character's brother's name is, or what year the main character's dog died.

Creating a "character bible," or a set of documents with information about your characters, can save you a lot of reference time. When used with character interviews, it can also deepen your understanding of a character's motivations and help you create conflict in your writing.

The writing program Scrivener has some pre-created character sheets where you can fill in what a character looks like, important dates, etc--but it's easy enough to create your own if you don't use or (gasp!) don't like Scrivener.

Take your main character. Make all the notes you need about things like what color their hair is, or when they graduated from high school. But then go deeper. "Ask" your character about their relationship with their parents. Their siblings. Who was their favorite teacher in school? WHY? How did they choose their career?

Go more specific to your book. If you know that you are going to kill one of the main character's friends, ask about them! Why are they friends? What will it mean to have that friend gone?
Figuring out these feelings helps you develop individual character voices as well as their unique feelings towards important events. Then when you sit down to write these events you have a feeling for how your characters would react, and how that might propel the rest of your plot.

Obviously there is room to be surprised, which is one of the most fun things about writing. It's okay if while writing you have an epiphany that completely changes things. But at least you are thinking about your characters and their feelings instead of writing a machine that just goes through plot.

An example from my very first NaNo project:
My main character was a 20-year-old girl who lived at home, and the main focus of the book was on having her open up to experiences that would allow her to leave home and strike out on her own.
She needed a reason to have stayed at home in the first place, so I killed her mother and made her dad a widower. Now she's sympathetic! She stayed home to be with her dad so he wouldn't be lonely!

And not a single time in the whole book did she have any feelings toward her mother whatsoever.

So when I rewrote the book, I talked to her. I learned that not having a mom made her feel isolated, which informed her choice of friends. She felt great pressure to go to the same university as her parents, because of how her dad felt about meeting her mother there. And on, and on. It made the book and character so much richer.

So before November, take some time to get to know your characters. Check back in two weeks to learn more about the benefits of both outlining AND pantsing.

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