Category: Writing (Page 1 of 6)

#Amwriting October 20: Brainstorming Scenes

If you have been following our  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, you should have at least a few characters, setting, an inciting incident, and a timeline started. Let’s move the story forward by brainstorming three different ways:  orally, visually, and by putting pen to paper (tactile).

 

1. Oral

Storytelling is an oral tradition, so why not brainstorm by telling your story? Yes, actually speaking out loud. Get the speech and hearing parts of your brain  activated and see where it leads.

Find a private place, like your room, the garage, the car, anywhere you feel comfortable. Start any way you like. Try “Once upon a time…”  The aim is to hit the high points. You don’t need to go deep into details.

You can simply talk to yourself, but if something golden crops up, it might be better if you record it.  You can use a tape recorder, a digital recorder, or the recorder on your phone or computer.

 

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If you have Google Drive and a Smart Phone with a microphone, you can even convert the audio to text. This is how it looks on my phone:

When you open a Google Drive document on your phone and start to edit, look for the microphone symbol. Selecting it will give you the option of adding text via speech.

Note:  If you pause for a breath, the translating app may stop. Glance at the text regularly and tap it to start again if that happens. Also, it won’t be a perfect translation.

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When you are telling your story, don’t aim to go smoothly from beginning to end. You might find yourself starting with backstory rather than the beginning. Go for it. Last night I discovered my protagonist’s secret backstory that I had no idea about. It completely explains her behavior later in the story.

You will probably hem and haw, repeat yourself and stumble a bit. That is fine.  If your story quits flowing completely, though, you might want to think about why that happened. What pieces aren’t working? What do you need to add or change? Think about it some and try telling your story again another day.

Drawing/Making a Storyboard

Do scenes come to your mind like video from a movie? Investigate a technique that comes straight from film making.

Start by drawing one scene from your novel on a piece of paper. Add colored pencil or markers.

The novel didn’t get written, but the storyboard was fun.

If you like how it moves the story ahead, consider a full storyboard the plot.

Wave.video Blog has an article that gives details on how to storyboard a video, and many of the ideas apply to novels as well. According to the article, a storyboard can help you get organized, save time, and identify problems in advance.

They suggest starting with how you want the audience to feel. Awesome idea!

 

 

Putting Pen to Paper (Tactile)

We are so used to creating on the computer, we forget that writing with a pen on a piece of paper gives us an entirely different tactile experience.

Pull out some three by five cards or even some large sticky notes. Start writing scene ideas, 1 per card or note. Add the setting, which characters will be present, the characters’ goals, and what conflicts will occur. Later you can order your scenes on a board or add them to your Scrivener file.

 

Hope you find one or more of these methods helpful. Which did you choose?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 19: Scene Basics

If you’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with us, time to consider scenes.

 

What is a scene?

As a reader, you probably already know what a scene is instinctively.  As a writer, however, it pays to have the nuances clear in your mind.

A scene is often defined as the basic building block of plot. What does that mean exactly? Envision a scene as a mini-novel. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, during which a action/incident/reaction occurs that moves the entire plot forward. In addition, there’s generally a concrete setting, point of view, and cast of characters. When one or all of those things change, the story is moving to a new scene.

Scenes can be fluid and different authors handle them in different ways, but they often follow a general template:

The Scene Beginning

Like the beginning of your novel, at the beginning of each scene you need to orient the reader, and perhaps give a quick summary of what has happened since the previous scene.

Make sure the setting, the characters, and point of view are all clear right up front. As a reader, I have read a few multiple point of view (POV ) novels where it took a long time to figure out which character was narrating a particular scene. If I have to skim ahead or look back to figure out whose voice I’m hearing, it takes me out of the flow. If I have to do that more than once, I’m likely to go find another novel to read.

With a little crafting, you don’t have to be obvious to show who is narrating. Make sure each character has a unique enough voice and circumstances to stand out once you have dropped a few clues. Also, be sure to introduce any new characters in the scene clearly and precisely. Make them easy to remember with a few carefully-chosen descriptive details.

All in all, make sure the character(s) have something they want to happen. Do they want to get a job, find a clue, or have dinner with their mother? What is their objective or goal?

The Scene Middle

Here’s where the character runs into trouble. Some sort of obstacle gets in their way, making it difficult to achieve their objective. A crisis becomes a bigger crisis, which causes reaction or change. The change might be something like they discover or learn how to use a tool that allows them to progress against a bigger problem coming up later. On the other hand, it might be an argument between boyfriend and girlfriend that drives them apart.

The Scene End

The author has the most flexibility with the ending. Generally, the scene ends when something changes, like the characters split up, the setting changes, or the action jumps to the next day (time changes), etc. The story is moving on. You can wrap up things and set up the next scene, or you can leave on a cliff hanger, with a question that will be answered at a later time.

No matter which ending you chose, try to end on your strongest line. Hook your reader to turn the page and keep reading.

Scene Nuts and Bolts

A typical scene is 750 to 2,500 words, but you control the length of your scenes.  Some authors suggest that shorter scenes make the pacing quicker. Others suggest that shorter scenes work better for readers using electronic devices. If your scenes average longer, don’t worry about it. Some readers prefer a slower pace. You can also mix up the length from scene to scene. Your voice and style is your own.

Another way to individualize your scenes is by controlling the amount of action, description, dialogue, thoughts and feelings you include. One scene might be largely action, the next heavy with dialogue. Keep in mind what is appropriate for what is happening overall. If you are at a climax in your story, action is probably going to work better than long pages of mostly dialogue.

Hopefully, you have a clearer understanding of what a scene is and how you write one.

Exercise:  Go to a scene you have written in the past and analyze it for the components we discussed. Do you have a clear beginning, middle, and end? How did you handle the ending? How much description did you include? How many lines are devoted to action or to dialogue? Did your characters reflect on what happened and formulate a new plan or did they move on?

Now that you have studied it, would you change anything?

Tip:  Analyze a scene or two from your favorite novel for the same components.

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 18: NaNo by the Numbers

If you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, you are going to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  Let’s check the numbers.

 

Slow and Steady

If you plan to write each and every day, then that is 1667 words for 30 days.

How much time you will need to set aside every day depends on how fast you type. Note that I didn’t say write, but type. Even if you’re feeling creative and the words are flowing like magic, it takes a certain amount of time to set them down on the page. If you are a slow typist like I am, it will physically take you longer than someone who can type fast. That is why I never win sprints or word wars. I – type – slowly.

Let’s do the numbers. I can type between 500 and 600 words in an hour. That means I will need three hours every day to achieve that goal. That doesn’t seem like much if you are thinking the average work day is eight hours, but I already have a busy life. Things are going to have to go.

Exercise:  Keep track of how many words you write per hour over the next few days. Then calculate how many hours you will need per day to write 1667 words. Make a schedule now for setting that time aside.

Tip:  To be even more organized, write the exact hours you are setting aside for NaNo on a calendar or into a planner.

Reverse NaNo

November is a tough month because of the holidays. There’s a lot going on at the end. If that is the case for you, consider doing a reverse NaNo. Start piling on the words at first, with roughly 3000 words a day for the first week, then gradually taper off (link shows exact number you will need per day). So, for me, that’s roughly 5 to 6 hours a day for the first few days.

Even if you don’t do a full reverse NaNo, piling on the words at the beginning may make it easier to achieve your goal.

The Scenic Route

Let’s take this number crunching one more step.  If the average length of a scene in a  novel is 750 to 2,500 words, you will be writing on average 1 to 2 scenes per day. That ends up being roughly 30 to 60 scenes over the full month.

At this point you probably know whether you are a pantser (discovery writer) or if you outline ahead of time (planner or plotter). At the very least, you’ve probably heard proponents of both camps. The reality is, however, writing that many scenes is a daunting task, so a bit of planning now makes it more likely you will succeed.

Dear Plotter,

I’m not worried about you. Charge ahead with your outline. You probably had your outline written last month, right?

Dear Pantser,
No need to be scared. Don’t call it an outline, call it a plan. As you know, plans can change. Or call it a recipe. You always tweak recipes when you cook, right?

 

Exercise:  Get a calendar for the year(s) your novel covers. Start a timeline of events both during backstory and after the novel begins. Being able to picture the events unfolding over time will help keep the words flowing. Plus, you won’t end up with eight day weeks (has happened in real novels) or pregnancies that last three months.

Time to map out that novel!

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 17: Emotional Content

If you have been following our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparation series, it is time to consider your novel’s emotional content.

The emotional aspects of novels can be complex and confusing, but if done properly, can lead to a hugely successful novel.

Considerations When Writing Emotions and Feelings

1. Emotional Response of Readers

Authors want novels to evoke emotional responses in readers. That is the goal. What makes it tricky is each response will be unique to an individual reader at a given moment. What angers one reader will make another sad, for example, or what makes a reader laugh one day may make them cry the next. Moreover, writers may or may not be able to guide those emotions by what they put on the page.

2. Inner Journey of the Character

On the other hand, writers do control the inner or emotional journeys of their characters. What those journeys look like is tied to genre. A hardened spy in a thriller will exhibit very different emotions and feelings than the heroine of a romance or a young adult novel about death and dying.

3.  Emotions versus Feelings

To make things even more complicated, some references use the words emotions and feelings interchangeably, whereas others suggest that there is a difference. The idea is that true emotions are basic and instinctual (hardwired), whereas feelings are more likely the result of some mental processing, possibly intermingled with thoughts.

Early researchers categorized the basic emotions as happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust.  Recently psychologists have found 27: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire and surprise (Science News Article).

I’m no expert on all this, but I have assembled some resources that you might find helpful.

Resources

General:  7 Tips for Writing Emotion in Your Story

Creating Emotional Connections introduces how to make a emotional connection  with readers by creating a empathy with the character, and grabbing the reader’s attention through conflict and tension. Her ideas are based on brain chemistry.

Writer’s Unboxed Blog has several articles:

The last three articles are by Donald Maass, who has a book on the subject:

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface* by Donald Maass


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression* (Second Edition) (Writers Helping Writers Series) 2nd ed. Edition by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman (Note:  they list 75 “emotions”)


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

TIME The Science of Emotions: Love. Laughter. Fear. Grief. Joy* Single Issue Magazine – October 27, 2017


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

 

Exercise:

Find a novel in your genre and highlight the passages relating to a) thoughts, and b) feelings and emotions (see Helping Writers Become Authors for more details).

In the upcoming days, while you are setting down the physical or external journey of your character through scenes and outlining,  use what you’ve learned to track your character’s inner/emotional journey as well.

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 16: The Research Bear

Research for a novel can be a real bear because it is critical to get the facts right for your readers, but too much can derail your writing completely. How much research do you need and when should you do it?

 

Maybe you think you don’t need to do research at all. It’s fiction after all. You make it all up in your head, right?

A few months ago while engrossed in a mystery novel, the main character stated the official language of Hong Kong was Mandarin. It popped me right out of the story like I’d hit the button of an ejector seat. The official language of Hong Kong is Cantonese (don’t ask how I remember that). How did the author make a mistake like that? I did finish reading the novel, but in a corner of my mind I started questioning everything about it. If the author was that sloppy, what else was wrong? It destroyed my enjoyment of the book.

What should you research prior to writing?

First of all, you should research the big items that move your plot.

For example, unless you are working in the same field as your protagonist, you will probably need to investigate the job description of whatever profession you chose for them. Find out what kind of education they would need, where they might work, jargon specific to the job, etc. If you have a friend or family member in that or a similar field, it might be a good time to write, text, or pick up the phone. You need to get it right or you will hear from every expert in that field.

Setting is important, so you need to review that. Do you have a concrete description of your setting in place?

Also, if you are going to add some special details to add depth to the story,  get those sorted. Yesterday I listened to a virtual talk by mystery author Ian Rankin about his new book, A Song for the Dark Times. He mentioned featuring a World War II internment camp in the book. If you are going to write about historic events or places, it would be a good idea to research those ahead of time, especially if your research will require trips to a university library for scholarly works.

Tip:  Looking for different ways to learn more about a topic? Consider podcasts. Find one or two podcasts by experts in a field and listen while you exercise or do housework. Yes, you can sometimes multitask successfully.

Should you research while writing?

Ever clicked on your browser to look up a synonym of a word and come back 45 minutes later after you found yourself watching cute cat videos? Yes, the internet can be a distracting place. For the most part, you should plan to limit the amount of internet research you do when writing for an intense deadline like NaNo. Many writers turn off their browsers completely.

If you have smaller points to fill in, there are ways to remind yourself to come back later and continue writing. Journalists use the abbreviation TK, which is shorthand for “to come.” You can also use your own code, but make it something that it is easy to locate via the “find” command.

“You’re going to Hong Kong? How will you communicate?”

“Don’t worry, I’m fluent in {{add language of Hong Kong}}.

Need to check something that is critical to your next scene, that you need to clarify to keep writing? Set a timer before you start your search.

Caveats

1. If you enjoy research, sometimes you want to share all the exciting things you found. The problem is that sharing can turn into an information dump, which will clog up your story and turn off readers. All those wonderful things you find out should support your story, but not weigh it down.

Visualize an iceberg. Your readers should see the exposed tip as if that’s all you created. You see the entire thing, including all the massive amount of material hidden under the water. That hidden mass is what stabilizes the tip and makes it work properly, but they don’t need to know it is there.

2. Sometimes the true facts just won’t work. Then it is time to fabricate. Don’t be afraid to own that,

3. Nothing is finer than reading a well-researched book that help you learn something new in the midst of a satisfying story. On the other hand, if you spend years and years gathering the background material, it can get in the way of actually doing any writing. Only you can determine the balance, when you are done and when you are ready to write.

Exercise:

The next time you are reading a novel, pay attention to the facts and details that the author shares. Do they talk about downturns in the economy, nuclear power, or how to get fingerprints off a cell phone? You might want to even highlight those passages. Begin to be aware of how much fact goes into writing fiction.

Now go do some research!

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 15: Discovering Theme

Today we’re going to explore whether you need a novel theme for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

What is Theme?

Theme is often listed as a story element, but what is it?

The theme is the main or central idea of a novel. To say it another way, it is the key message or an idea that recurs throughout the work. Novels may have more than one theme.

Theme is often confused with topic or subject, even by people who really should know the difference. Topics are usually one or two words and represents a category of story, such as a love story, a story about families, or a story about dogs. Theme represents an idea that is communicated by a phrase or full sentence.

Examples (made up):

 

Do you need a theme prior to writing?

Most authors agree that you don’t need to clearly define a theme before you start writing. Themes will arise as you write. It’s part of the process. Sometimes authors don’t know the themes they are exploring until they’ve finished a draft or two. Plus, readers may find themes in novels the authors weren’t even aware they had included.

In the past I never worried about themes and hadn’t planned on developing one for NaNo preparation this month. Earlier in the week, however, while I was running a few scenes through my mind, it hit me:  I had a theme for my novel! Wow! It felt like I had discovered gold for a few minutes.

The revelation was completely unexpected and it changed my mind a bit. Now I can see why having a theme ahead of time could be helpful. I can create scenes with the theme in mind. In addition, I’m going to pick up a few of books on the general topic to see how they handled similar themes.

Tip:  Don’t worry about having a theme ahead of time, but be aware in case one starts to coalesce.

Exercise:

If you would like to try to actively develop a theme, make a list of five to ten of your favorite books. Write down any themes that you recognize in each one. See if there are any themes in common or — at the least– topics in common. If so, you might want to consider exploring similar ones for your novel.

If your favorite books have nothing in common, did any particular book have a theme/idea that resonated with you? Keep it in mind when you are adding conflict to your novel and see if it builds or recurs.

Have you found your novel’s theme? Do you have more than one?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 14: Journaling and NaNo

We are nearly half way through our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparation series, and it might be time to set aside our novel for a moment and discuss journaling during NaNo.

You may ask, why would anyone want to keep a journal and produce even more words during the month you are supposed to be writing 50,000?

Back in 2008 when I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, I wrote a blog of my experiences. I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I had more fun blogging about writing a novel than actually doing it, so I kept quiet about it. That is, until last week when I attended a webinar where one of the speakers suggested journaling during NaNo. Turns out, what I was doing wasn’t as counterproductive as I had imagined.

Why Journal Before and During NaNo?

There are a number of reasons to consider it.

You can use a journal to process your thoughts on the page. Can’t decide between two similar choices? Write out your ideas and feelings about each. Many times the answer will emerge.  This method can be useful to work through problems from your novel as well as real life.

Keeping a written record can be a form of self care. In a recent article, The New York Times suggests, ” …writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q.”

Journals also can be mined for your novel. Sometimes a quick glance through an old journal will spark an idea. Many authors record snippets of dialogue, descriptions, etc. to be used at some later date.

Use your diary to help remember past events and struggles, to learn from your own mistakes. For example, in my old blog I mentioned I had written 9000 words with no idea what my setting was going to be. It might have been why I failed. Therefore, many of my posts this month have been about developing a setting. (On the other hand, I said to never adopt a kitten during NaNo, but ended up with another kitten recently. I guess it doesn’t always work.)

You can use a journal to start a habit of writing each and every day and the momentum can help carry you through November. The webinar speaker mentioned she warms up each day with the journal and moves into the novel after ten minutes of so.

What’s the Best Format?

I wrote my first NaNo journal in a blog that I was sure nobody read, which had advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was that it was searchable and easy to add photographs. I like visuals. One of the disadvantages was that I felt obligated to use good grammar, spelling, etc. because it was “published” and therefore I spent more time on it than I would have scribbling in a private journal.

The webinar speaker said she kept her journal in the Scrivener file with her novel. She creates a folder where the research stuff goes, and thus it doesn’t go toward her novel word count. The advantage of writing in Scrivener is it also is searchable and if you decide to poach a piece of your journal writing, it is typed and ready to go. She didn’t mention this, but a disadvantage for me would be the temptation to click on my journal folder whenever I got stuck.

Over the years, I have returned to a composition notebook and pen for jotting notes and ideas.  An advantage is that it is easy to draw as well as write, so you can create diagrams, mind maps, etc. There’s something about the physical act of writing rather than typing that’s nice, too. A disadvantage, however, is that no matter how carefully I number the pages and keep a table of contents, I can never find that one paragraph I wanted to read again.

One Final Thought

Above I wrote that you might be tempted to journal rather than work on your novel. If that happens, turn lemons to lemonade and do a memoir instead.

Do you journal? Are you going to keep a journal during NaNo?

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 13: Setting in Layers

In our final post about setting for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparation, let’s discuss how to show setting in your novel.

 

Setting is something that you should reveal early in the novel, preferably on the first page or even along with your character in the first few sentences. How you do so will depend on your character’s familiarity with their surroundings and what tone/mood you want to convey.

Setting in Layers

We haven’t discussed point of view yet, but it pays to keep it in mind when considering how to include setting.

Did you look into the Onion Theory of Characters from our previous post on protagonists? In review, the idea is that how someone describes someone else depends on their relationship. If one person sees another in a store that she doesn’t know, she will describe that person superficially, that is by what they look like, what they are wearing, etc. A colleague will understand more about a character, such as where they went to school, what kind of car they drive, and how often they are late to work. A character’s mom, on the other hand, can reveal truly deep and hidden things about them. So, the longer they know someone, the deeper their understanding goes.

I recently read the novel Devices and Desires by P. D. James and realized someone’s relationship with setting will lead to the opposite in terms of description. In her book, the protagonist Commander Adam Dalgliesh is visiting the Norfolk coast to settle his aunt’s estate. Because he just arrived, he notices many things with fresh eyes. He looks out the window and describes the surrounding land and the houses of his neighbors in detail. Another character, who has been there a bit over a year, notices the things that are different or what has changed since last time she looked. The characters who have lived there forever hardly notice the setting at all. Yes, they know the setting intimately, but they don’t register it as a newcomer would.

How do you use this revelation?

If your character is in a familiar place, consider what they might notice. They would probably note the lighting, which changes daily and possibly the temperature of the room. They would definitely look at the new piece of art they put up the day before or the bulletin board they cleaned off. Maybe they would register the smell of cleaning supplies if they cleaned the bathroom or the lingering odor of the garlic bread from lunch. The bottom line is that they would pay attention to the things new or different from the day before.

What do you do if you need a deeper description of a place than your main character would realistically supply?

1. Create a character who has never visited the setting you want to describe. You don’t necessarily have write the scene from their point of view, but you can have the novice character ask about things she or he sees or hears, bringing the setting into a conversation.

Example:  In a recent television series, the protagonist invited a woman to his apartment for the first time. She immediately commented on the flashing neon sign outside the window, which he didn’t even register. He explained that was why his rent was so cheap, revealing something about his economic status.

2. Have your main character have a flashback, allowing them to describe a scene from when they might have first encountered it, as well as the emotions linked to the events that happened at that time.

“He remembered it from his childhood…on those long dark afternoons in winter before the Sunday school was released, when the outside light was fading and the small Adam Dalgliesh was already dreading those last twenty yards of his walk home, where the rectory drive curved and the bushes grew thickest. Night was different from bright day, smelled different, sounded different; ordinary things assumed different shapes; an alien and more sinister power ruled the night. Those twenty yards of crunching gravel, where the lights of the house were momentarily screened, were a weekly horror.”

As you might suspect, the chilling fear this passage evokes has to do with other things that are going on in the story, namely some grisly murders. Adult Adam would not express those feelings, but childhood Adam could.

Exercise:

Go to a familiar place that might serve as a setting for your novel. Spend some time taking in the details, making sure to consider all the senses. Write down what you notice first, second, third. Describe the place. How does it make you feel?

Now, if possible, visit a place you’ve never been before. Again, look, listen, smell, touch. What do you notice first, second, third? Write a description. Include how the new place makes you feel.

Go back to your notes a few days later. Do you notice and similarities in how you described the places? How about differences?

Tip:  If you are writing science, speculative, historical fiction or fantasy, Writing Excuses podcasts has a slew of information about world building. Unfortunately the episodes are listed under two separate tags which will give you different resullts: Worldbuilding (one word) and World Building (two words).

For example, for historical, one episode gives a great suggestion of printing out a calendar from the year your novel is set in order to develop your timeline. Yes, there are old calendars online.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 12: Setting at Home and Work

You should have already chosen your overall setting for your NaNoWriMo novel. Now let’s plan the specifics of where your protagonist lives and works.

Once again, the work you need to do for your setting will depend on your genre, but here are some general suggestions.

Where does your main character call home?

Where does your main character sleep and eat? Do they live in a home, apartment, spaceship, or are they homeless? What does where they live say about your character?

If you are writing speculative fiction, historical fiction, or fantasy, it is time to do some serious world building. It is possible to use some of the techniques for developing a contemporary setting to help you create your otherworldly one.

Ask some questions.

  • What kind of architecture is appropriate for the time and place?
  • What sort of building materials are used?
  • When were the homes built?

Research contemporary places to live.

  1. Visit real estate websites. These days you can take a virtual tour of homes anywhere in the world. Pick some locations in the area you’ve chosen as a setting and see where your main character should live.
  2.  Take screenshots or download images to record the look of the home.
  3. If there’s one available, download a blueprint. Otherwise, draw your own rough house plan to keep on file. You don’t want your bathroom to be upstairs in one chapter and downstairs in the next.

This is a public domain floor plan of an historic house.

Have fun with this part. Add furniture and amenities. You can even decide your character’s decor, down to the art on the wall, the style of coffee maker, and color of the fridge.

Where does your main character work?

Your characters will likely spend more time at work than at home. Plan the spaces accordingly, using some of the same tools as above. For example, if your character works in a police station, use Google Maps to see what the police stations in that setting look like.

Other tips:

Write down details you love from places you visit. Love the brushed metal door at the library? Take a photo with your phone and write down how the sound it makes  when it closes.  Does the mid-century modern house in the neighborhood catch your eye? Convert it into the office where your character works and add your favorite landscaping.

My main character has a service job that takes her into other people’s homes as well as businesses. I will need to nail down a few of the spaces she visits regularly.

Other places your character visits.

Do your characters have hobbies? Run regularly in the park? Meet (pre-Covid) on Wednesday nights at the library or local community center?

Start a running list of these places and what the spaces look like. You might even start a map of the town or city where your main character lives, marking the places she visits most often.

Conclusion:

You likely won’t use all or even many of the details you develop, but this preparation will come in handy when you begin to write scenes.

How is your setting planning going? Do you have any tips?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 11: Character Development 2.0

If you are following along with our series to prepare for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you should have already started working on your protagonist, plus other characters. Now is the time to fill in more details.

 

 

 

How do you go from a rough sketch to a fully-rounded character? You can add goals, motivations, character arcs, secrets, lies the character believes, faults, and behavioral quirks, among other things.

Character’s Goal

The character’s goal is what they want to happen (in the future). It is imperative to have a strong goal because it will drive your entire story. Goals can be positive, like wanting to stop a killer or save the town or find a husband. Goals can also be negative, like keeping something secret.

If you are struggling with your character’s goals, K.M. Weiland has a good article about how to clarify your character’s goals.  If you don’t have any ideas at all, try one of a number of character goal generators.

Motivation

The character’s motivation is why he/she/they want the goal.

I recently started playing around with idea for a novel about an amateur sleuth who is called to a crime scene because of his expertise. He is reluctant to get involved in the investigation and in fact, has good reasons not to get involved, but the lead investigator keeps drawing him in. The conflict between the two carried the story for about four chapters or so. Then I got stuck. After trying a few different things, I realized my main character wasn’t motivated enough to see the problem through. He could easily walk away and there would be no consequences.

The bottom line is you want to have your character highly motivated to struggle with all the problems you are going to throw at her. There has to be a compelling reason why she doesn’t just forget about it and take a long bath instead.

Character Arcs

How is your character going to change through the story? Is your character going to discover some inner strength or superpower and become more confident (a positive character arc)? Is she going to be traumatized and spiral into addiction (a negative character arc)?

When I started writing, I read article after article that suggested a character absolutely, positively must change through the course of the story. It was a rule. Change or there is no story. That is law.

Except, as many things you learn about writing, it really isn’t true. If you have a pretty cool, together character, it might be that she changes the world rather being changed by it. Some people call this a “flat character arc” or a “static character,” both of which sound a bit negative. In truth, this is a great character to have (think Sherlock Holmes). Caveat:  It is likely some of your other characters are going to have to change.

Which arcs do you like better?

A: A somewhat immature character gains confidence and matures.

When Character A’s friends dismiss her suspicions about the accidental death of a local artist, she is driven to investigate. After uncovering more mysterious deaths, Character A must find the link and prove they are murders before someone else — possibly herself — is silenced.

B: A mature character reacts to life’s circumstances.

When a car crashes off the side of a mountain and kills his boss’s daughter, Character B must prove it wasn’t his fault before he’s sent to jail and loses everything.

Secrets

Having secrets can add tension and conflict to a story. Characters may behave weirdly if they have a deep secret to hide.

Make sure your character’s secrets add to the story and aren’t dead ends. Remember my reluctant amateur sleuth above? He had a really good reason for not getting involved in an investigation. It turned out he was in witness protection and needed to keep out of the spotlight to protect his identity. It was a great secret, but killed the story.

Self-Delusion (Lies the Character Believes)

We all protect ourselves by denying truths. Scour those mistaken beliefs for conflict and tension. For example, a character may believe she wants justice, but what she’s really seeking is revenge. Another character believes his friend will come through for him in his time of need, but in reality the friend is selfish and lazy.

Katherine Grubb at 10 Minute Novelists has a whole article of how to develop mistaken beliefs into story gems.

Quirks and Inconsistencies

Although we rarely notice it, real humans are inconsistent. For example, when I was in college a group of friends and I used to go to a vigorous aerobics class, then afterwards meet at the ice cream shop for desert and consume a bunch of calories. My husband regulates the thermostat with an iron fist, then leaves the refrigerator door open for 15 minutes while he makes a sandwich.

Develop those quirks and inconsistencies. A perfect character without any inconsistencies is boring to read about.

Exercise

Construct lists of your character’s faults, quirks, and mistaken beliefs. Try to mix them up and think outside of the box. When you have a few different ones, brainstorm how they will improve your story. Cross out the ones that reduce tension or take your character out of the story.

  • Is she afraid of butterflies?
  • Does he get hiccups when he has to lie?
  • Do they secretly love cats even though they have a dog?
  • Does she never clean out her email and has 16000 messages?
  • Does he write notes on pizza boxes, then throw them out?
  • Do they think their kids are terrible, when they are really pretty great?

 

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