Pre-Novel Character Building
Housekeeping notes: I’ll probably be blogging less frequently as I try to keep my life from falling to pieces. The cracks are growing and there’s news of a tsunami, so this might take a bit. Also, I added a new website to my “Foundation” blogroll: The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writing Life. Even if you’re not interested in the site itself, I suggest you take a look at The Lit Coach’s Guide to Great Blogs and Sites. There are several listed you might find useful.
NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and I’ve been doing what I can to prepare for it. Not long ago, I made post about Character Sketches. I’ve developed that idea and taken it a step further, combining writing practice with character backstories. The idea I propose to you is this: once you get a character sketch done and have a good idea of where your character comes from, write a short story about him.
From this story, you’ll have an idea of how your character reacts in conflict, how he relaxes, how he treats his friends, and how he makes decisions. By the end of the short story, you will know why he has his storygoal in your novel, because your story would show that. He will change as he journeys through your novel, but this short story will give you have a starting point for him.
Similar to NaNoWriMo, quality isn’t the goal. I jump through time, tell several things I should probably show, and my character’s choices don’t always cause the disasters. However, I write a few telling dialogues, show my character in a couple compromising situations, develop a solid motivation for her story goal in my novel, and I’m quite happy.
Contrary to NaNoWriMo, quantity is also not a goal. These stories are for your use only, and depending on how many characters you have, you may not want to spend a lot of time on them. I have five characters and I don’t intend on breaking 10k words per short story. I’ve been working on Reina’s and her’s might not break 7k.
If you’re having trouble with brevity, try picking a few key scenes to show your character in. I’m using a 3-disaster structure, so there are three of my key scenes right there (you don’t have to follow any structure at all if you don’t want to). I also picked a few others: adopting her cat, learning to shoot, moving to a new town, all of which come into play in my novel. Tell everything else.
There was one event while Reina was on the road that displayed her character very well, but showing it without mentioning the rest of the trip would seem out-of-place. Showing the entire trip, however, would be long and laborious. So I told the single event in question. Were I going for perfection, I would find a way to actively show it.
This is just something I came up with to help me plan and improve my craft simultaneously. I find it both entertaining and enlightening, but you might disagree. Try it out and let me know how it works (or doesn’t work) for you!
If you would like some more help on character sketches, try this questionnaire for writing character profiles from Creative Writing Now. There are several other resources there which also may help you.