Today is the last day of November, so I hope if you were doing NaNoWriMo (which you should have been), that you have 50,000 words, or are at least pretty close.
I finished my second NaNo novel, From Under the Shadow, this past Tuesday, and since then I’ve been revising it and my first novel, Last Outpost. S and I read through Last Outpost on Friday and Saturday, and she seemed to like it. So it has the unicorn stamp of approval, at least. I suppose we’ll start reading the other one tonight, or perhaps this coming week. I regret to say I have work that I have to actually do for my day job, so that may interfere with my revision time.
While I was writing From Under the Shadow, something rather interesting happened. I’ve lately been in the habit, whenever I have the time, of “casting” my books before I write them as part of my prewriting process. I’m hardly the first person to do this.
There’s a thread in the NaNo forums about this, as a matter of fact.
Some people object to this idea (and you can read their arguments in the comments at that first link), but I think that it gives me a real, tangible idea of what my character looks, acts, and sounds like. Rather than just a vague ethereal sort of being, the character becomes a bit more like a real person. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how I describe the character to the reader–it’s best to keep the description to a minimum and let the reader get his or her own idea. But limits are important for me, as a writer. If I want a character to say or do something, rather than just going with my gut feeling at that moment, I can ask myself, “Can I picture Sean Connery (or whoever) saying this?”
Here’s an example of how this helps. When I outlined my second novel, I had an idea of the antagonist in my mind–she wasn’t a particularly nice person. She manipulates the main characters into breaking the law for terribly selfish reasons. Toward the end of the story, the two follow characters basically turn on her and become snitches. With my original idea of the character, this was fine–she was so unpleasant that I’m sure the reader would totally understand why she deserved what she got. The trouble was that when I “cast” the book, I “cast” Candice Accola as this character.
This was mainly for physical reasons–Candice Accola just had the “look” that I pictured the character having. Once I’d done that, though, it was inevitable that elements of Caroline Forbes would start sneaking into her. Without really meaning to, I started making her a bit nicer and more sympathetic.
You can probably already see my problem here, but I didn’t spot it until I was almost 3/4 of the way through the book, and I was about to write the third act and the showdown. Suddenly, my Caroline-esque antagonist wasn’t the horrible person I’d originally thought she would be, and consequently, my two follow character would completely lose the reader’s sympathy if they betrayed her. So I had to revise the ending a bit and have the two follow characters try to convince her to switch sides with them and do the right thing.
You might be wondering why I couldn’t just have written the character the way I originally pictured her. I suppose I could have, but looking back now, that first idea of her seems totally boring and one-dimensional. She has a more interesting, well-rounded character now, and that would never have happened if I hadn’t decided to “cast” her.