National Novel Writing Month starts on Tuesday, which means that we’ll be spending every available moment working on our novels. We’ll try to post updates as we go along, as always, but don’t be surprised if the entries are a little shorter than usual.
I’m finishing up my usual NaNo prep, so I spent last weekend and the first half of this week writing character prompts. I’ve blogged about these before—you write about the character in some random situation that has nothing to do with your plot. It’s a way of focusing on the character alone, free from the restraints of your outline or the necessities of your story. You can just think, “What would Susan do in this situation?” rather than thinking, “Well, Susan has to decide to do this, because otherwise the plot won’t go where I want it to.” I’m constantly changing the list of prompts that I use. These are the ones I’ve used this time around. (I’ve given credit where I can; some of these I can’t find online anymore except in older posts of mine.)
- Write a scene in which your protagonist is stressed due to a death in the family, a financial crisis, or an unraveling relationship. Place your protagonist in a grocery store at the express lane for customers with fewer than 10 items. Have a lady, pushing a cart full of groceries, jump in line just before your protagonist. “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry,” she explains.
- Background and Family
-Unearth your character’s roots. What is the character’s ancestry or cultural background? How does ancestry shape your character? Is the character at odds with family traditions?
-Write a series of short paragraphical biographies of each of the character’s closest family members: spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, etc.
Where Leaving Takes Us
Sometimes we are emotionally imprisoned by the ones we love. Overbearing parents, paranoid spouses, and needy children can make us—and our characters—feel trapped in an intolerable life. Write a scene where a character in your writing leaves a loved one behind and begins life anew. Use details to express relief, guilt, and anger.
Write a brief summary of a critical moment in the character’s life. This is a pivotal moment, something that shows why the character is the way he or she is today.
Motivations and Goals
-What motivates your character? Money? Love? Truth? Power? Justice?
-What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What is he or she searching for?
-What other characters or events are interfering with your character’s goals? What obstacles are in the way?
Flaws and Fears
-What is your character’s single greatest fear? How did your character acquire his or her fears?
-What are your character’s flaws and weaknesses?
-How does the character’s fears and flaws prevent them from reaching their goals?
-What does your character look like? Make a list and include the following: hair, eyes, height, weight, build, etc.
-Now choose one aspect of the character’s appearance, a detail (bitten nails, frizzy hair, a scar) and elaborate on it.
-How does your character feel on the inside? What kind of person is your character and what does the character’s internal landscape look like?
-We don’t always present ourselves to others in a way that accurately reflects how we feel inside. We might be shy or insecure but come across as stuck-up and aloof. How do others perceive your character?
-Write a scene with dialogue that reveals your character’s external and internal personalities. Good settings for this dialogue would be an interview, appointment with a therapist, or a conversation with a romantic interest or close friend. Write the scene in third-person omniscient so you can get inside your character’s head as well as the other character’s head; this will allow you explore how your character feels and how he or she is perceived.
Write a brief job description for your character. What is his or her job? How did the character get it? How long has he or she held it? What does he or she like and dislike about it? What kind of language would a person with this job use? What kind of equipment? Where would the office be located? Who would be the boss? What would the job title be?
Come up with a short synopsis of the novel.
And here’s the synopsis that I wrote for A Tincture of Silver, the first of the two novels I’m doing this time around:
Seeking to escape their families, two young ladies dress as men and sign up to fight as mercenaries in a distant war over vast new silver mines. When they are captured, one makes it her business to escape; the other isn’t quite so sure she wants to. But with the war reaching its inevitable climax, she might have to be rescued whether she likes it or not. The world’s greatest spymaster sends his lover and best agent to investigate, even as their relationship falls apart. Our heroes learn that sometimes running away actually can solve your problems, and that in war, there’s no silver for second place.
So now that I’m done with character prompts, I’m just reading through my outline yet again. I’ve probably read it five or six times in the last week, once I finished my character prompts. And I’ve been doing a little work on my maps for my story. I’ve got a general view of the region, a narrow view of the valleys and towns where the story takes place, and then a map of the castle where much of the story takes place (I based it on Himeji Castle in Japan).
Good luck in your own noveling, and if you haven’t gotten signed up for NaNoWriMo yet, go do so posthaste!