Category Archives: Writing
As we hurtle towards the first week of November, you should have your main characters figured out, the foundations of your world built, and a basic plot line figured out. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll have already done all this stuff and be able to spend this week relaxing. If you’re scrambling to get ready still, never fear; thousands of Nanowrimo participants don’t find their plots until November’s already begun.
That said, there are some things you should try to do this week. With just a few days left before November 1st, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared–and not just on a story level either.
So what should you do this week? Check out my handy to-do list:
1. Name all important characters. Even if this means just picking placeholder names for now, it’s important to name your characters so they’re easier to keep track of when you’re writing. This is especially important if you have a large cast.
2. Map your main character’s town. Try to map any other important places you can think of, too. This will help you when characters are traveling and you need to keep track of their direction. Knowing your towns pretty well also adds a layer of realism to your novel.
3. Finish any outstanding projects. Whether these be projects for school or intensive novel edits, try to finish all your big projects before November first. It’s best to start November on a fresh slate, so that while you’re writing your Nano you don’t have to worry about so many projects.
4. Stretch your writing muscles. It’s a good idea to do some writing exercises over the next few days to ease into the crazy writing routine you’ll have to keep up in November. Try answering prompts online and setting yourself a daily goal of something like 500 words. This is enough to be a challenge without being totally insane, and you can use these exercises to develop your characters and learn more about your world.
This week we’ll go over several other things which you should do while getting ready to write your Nanovel. In the meantime, make sure you’ve got the basics of your story worked out as we begin the final countdown to November 1st.
With only twelve days before Nanowrimo start, there isn’t much time to finish building your world and planning your novel, so you have to focus on the important details. Creating a map for your world–anywhere from a basic map establishing cities and borders to a complete road map–and a fact sheet to bring together all your knowledge of the world you’ll be writing your novel in is a great way to figure out what you need to know to begin your novel without hours of hard labour. The fact sheet also provides you with a place to put notes when you discover new things about your world. Today I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a bare-bones world with these tools.
Mapping is incredibly easy, though you can make it as complex as you like. I always do a simple map on graph paper. Trace out odd shapes–too round or square is odd for land–and turn them into continents and islands. Start by drawing out the physical features of the lands where your story takes place. Use upside down Vs for mountains and draw blue lines and circles for lakes and rivers. For forests, draw small triangles or other simple tree shapes. This is a rough map, so don’t worry about how it looks.
Now, create borders for your kingdoms and label each one. Mark your towns with dots and your cities with stars or other symbols. Castles, bays and docks should be given special markings as well. Drawing in a few roads to give yourself a guideline for how people travel between cities is a good idea, but don’t worry about a complex map with every trail named at this point–unless, of course, you’d prefer to do that.
You might also want to create more local maps, or if you’re working in a real life setting find maps on the internet. Local maps are easy to create as long as you establish symbols for special buildings such as libraries or schools. Of course, real artists can always draw the buildings in more detail so each one stands out, but that’s a lot of time you probably don’t have before November first, so don’t worry about it. You can make pretty maps later; right now what you need is functional.
Creating a Factsheet
For every world I create–and depending on the world, sometimes every culture and even every character–I create a factsheet. This compiles everything I know about the world through writing exercises and brainstorming in one convenient place that I can easily refer to while working on my novel.
Expect that your factsheet will likely be more than one sheet. Odds are as you write down every fact you can think of, you’ll discover more and realize you need to answer more questions. Writing down everything you know about the world makes your notes more accessible and gives you an idea of what you still need to figure out. Armed with that knowledge, you can spend your last few days of preparation filling the holes in your knowledge.
Write down everything you can think of, even if it doesn’t seem right. You can always cross it out later. It’s also a good idea to leave a few blank sheets at the end of your list. This way, you won’t have to squish your notes together or go hunting for paper when you discover something new about your world.
This is also a good time to go back and create factsheets for each of the characters you’ve established and to create a similar sheet with a point form outline of your plot. None of these sheets need to be detailed. Spontaneity in writing is often a good thing, at least in the first draft. Don’t get too attached to these facts either; keep a red pen ready in case you find out some of them aren’t true.
While these simple exercises won’t build a detailed world all on their own, they’ll give you a basic framework from which to build your novel. By the end you should know who lives where and have a good idea of what life is like on your world. That’s the most important thing–after all, half the fun of writing your first draft is the things you discover along the way. And half the fun of Nano is flailing around in a world you don’t yet understand, along with all the other participants.
You might have already gotten a few ideas for characters during your brainstorming last week. Or you might be scrambling to figure out who might fit into the plot you’ve been trying to plan. Whether you’ve got a host of characters and are trying to figure out who will be your main character or you’re just starting to delve into character, there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to create the best characters to match your story and your world.
But first, a warning. The best characters take on a life of your own, and will do unexpected things, occasionally drastically changing your plot. This can happen even in later drafts. If this starts happening–or you realize during this line of question that the person you thought to be your MC is actually just a sidekick–go with it. Don’t fight it; fighting the wish of the characters will only make your story fall flat.
Consider yourself warned. Now on to the questions!
1. Who has the most to lose in the scenario I’ve created and why? The reason you ask yourself this is to find your main character. The best main character is generally the one who has the strongest need and is willing to go the furthest to get it. Figure out who this is, and you’ve got your MC. If there are two characters with opposing but equally strong needs in relation to the story, you’ve got both your MC and your villain. See how easy that was?
2. What is this character’s prized possession? This is good to know because it adds depth. Sometimes you learn more than just what the object is when you ask this question. For example, my female MC Valtessa’s most prized possession is actually a hand-carved family of soapstone elephants given to her by her mother. By figuring that out I learned both that elephants do exist on her world–although nowhere near her–and that in spite of locking her up when she was a child, her guardians let her keep something to remind her of her mother. Often, even if you know nothing of your world yet except as it pertains to the story, you’ll learn more about it when you ask this question.
3. Has this character ever been in love before? This question will give you some background on the character. If they haven’t, find out why–maybe they’re from a religious order where love is a sin, or maybe they’ve never really been exposed to other people. Of course, they might just be incredibly cold and have difficulty with their emotions, both having and understanding them. If they have been in love, try to find out with whom, when, and what happened. You might discover there’s another character–a lover, lost or recent–waiting in the wings.
4. What does this character think of themselves? This is an important question. Everyone’s always telling you how important your self esteem is, so why wouldn’t your character’s be, too? You’ll probably figure out a lot more about this when you get into the world and figure out how they fit into society in terms of class, religion and gender roles. For now you’re just looking for a basic answer–do they like themselves or hate themselves? Perhaps they like their talents or their personality, but hate their body. Figure out how they feel about themselves, and you’ll have lots of fodder for introspection and an easy way to create a character arc.
These questions should help you figure out a little bit about the characters you’re creating and give you an idea who your main character should be this November. Over the course of this week we’ll discuss character arcs in more detail and go over a couple exercises designed to help you figure out more about your characters.
What questions do you like to ask your characters?
Earlier this week we went over a few ways to find ideas for your Nanowrimo novel. With any luck you successfully used one of the brainstorming techniques I mentioned on Monday and came up with a few ideas or managed to flesh out an idea you already had.
Today I’d like to help you organize those ideas. While having a mind map or a right brain left brain list is great and either can be used as a basic guide, a linear list of ideas–or a few lists consisting of different categories of ideas–is sometimes more helpful. Personally, my mind maps tend to be horribly disorganized and messy, so I myself will be doing this exercise as soon as I finish writing this post.
First, you need to find a good place to put all these ideas. You can use a folder, a spiral notebook, a binder, and probably a couple things I’ve never heard of. The important thing is that you find something large enough to hold all your ideas and small enough to fit next to your computer in your workspace. I personally keep binders for all my novel length projects. I like binders because it’s easy to put in dividers and keep them organized, and because my binders are big enough that I don’t want to take them everywhere but small enough that I can take them places.
Once you’ve chosen your storage method, it’s time to sort through your ideas. Create categories for plot, world and character on separate pages. With any luck you’ll have had a few ideas about each of these while brainstorming. Create a simple list. For example, your character page might look something like this:
- Young female MC–Potential names: Valtessa, Vamira, Kari.
- Tribal chieftain, MC’s grandfather, needs a name
- Young male MC–Potential names: Kormir, Thorin, Kaldon.
And so on and so forth. Make sure you put every idea you’ve decided to keep into one of these categories, and if you feel the need to create another category, feel free. Simply writing these ideas down into lists will probably give you more ideas–expand the lists as much as you can. The more you know about what you’re going to do with this novel, the easier it will be to write–or to decide how you want to change your approach.
If you’re going all out and creating an intensive plan and world, this is a great time to grab and label some dividers and to make sure your binder’s well stocked with both lined and blank paper. Graph paper is particularly good for anyone looking to create maps. If you’re going to keep it basic, I’d still suggest stocking it with paper in case you find quotes you’d like to include online or decide to take on dares–or make notes to yourself for when you decide to edit the monster. If you decide to edit the monster.
Where do you like to store your ideas?
Today, my friends, is October twenty-seventh. Do you know what that means? It means Nanowrimo is pretty much standing on top of us. Don’t be afraid, it won’t hurt. Well, it won’t cripple you. Nanowrimo is not liable for any head, back or wrist injuries caused by writer’s block, the insane goal, or any of its participants. Neither am I just because I convinced you to do it. But, with any luck and a little help from me, you won’t have so many difficulties you end up bashing your head off of the wall.
During these final days before Nanowrimo, enjoy your freedom. Don’t shake in your boots fearing what is to come. 50, 000 words (or more) in a month is a noble goal. It is also perfectly achievable for the majority of people. Make sure you have a solid idea what your plot is about and who your characters are, but don’t over plan or spend all your time fussing over your outline. This is Nanowrimo. It’s not about writing the perfect novel. It’s about writing a messy but full-length first draft, which you may or may not choose to edit later. It’s about being able to say ‘I wrote a book once’, even if you never do it again. It’s about having fun. If it doesn’t end up working well for you, you can plan more next year.
Instead, make sure to spend the next few days–or as much of them as you can–doing the other things that you enjoy. If you know you have a big project of some sort due next month for work or school, do some extra work on it now. The idea is to get these things out of the way now so that you don’t feel the need for them as much during the next month. It’ll help, trust me. Go to a Halloween party. Have fun. Next month is going to be a long month full of trials, tribulations and hopefully victory dances. Be prepared.
This November, I will be posting pep talks every Monday, a dare every Wednesday, and some sort of tip/update/excerpt on Friday. I’ll be just as exhausted as the rest of you, but I’ll be loving it. After all, Nanowrimo to me is the most wonderful time of the year.
What will you be doing in the final days before Nanowrimo?
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Character is for many writers the driving force of their fiction. Knowing your characters thoroughly is just as important as knowing your plot. Sometimes, it’s even more important. When character comes second to plot, characters often seem stereotypical and dialogue becomes wooden. In order to make your fiction come to life you must bring your characters, especially your main character, come to life for the character.
I’ve compiled a list of exercises to help you develop your characters. You can do one of them or all of them for any and all of your characters. How much work you do to prepare for Nanowrimo is really up to you, but it’s good to have a basic grasp of your characters, setting and plot before you begin. It helps to make for less rewriting.
So how can you develop your characters?
1. Interview your character. This is a fairly common technique in which you interview your character as if for a magazine. Ask your character what their favourite colour is, what their childhood was like, and what made them who they are today. If your character is well known for some reason before the story begins, ask them specific questions about what it is that makes them so well known. Write what you learn down on a separate fact sheet afterwards. Fact sheets are very valuable resources to have when you’re in the midst of writing the book. It’s easier when you don’t have to look through pages and pages of prose to find a useful piece of information.
2. Write about your character’s first love. How somebody acts towards somebody they love, or at least claim to love, is usually a pretty good indicator of their personality in general. Focus on how your character feels about this person and how they express their feelings. If they’ve never fallen in love before, write about a very close friend or mentor who they are no longer connected to. By examining how they think about the person they love and how they communicate with that person, you can figure out whether they are trustworthy or not, whether they tend to obsess over people or things, and how they react to loss. Knowing how your character reacts in a number of different situations is vital to making them come to life on the page.
3. Map out your character’s family. Create a family tree for your character. Figure out at least who their parents and siblings are, and whether or not their siblings have children. I prefer to begin with their grandparents. As you’re mapping them out, write down one sentence about each person in the family. When you’ve finished, write a paragraph or two about how they all get along. Take as much or as little time as you need, and write it from anyone’s point of view–a random stranger is fine here, too.
4. Write about the first time your character meets someone–from the other person’s point of view. It’s important to know your characters very well: what they do for entertainment, how they see themselves, and how others see them. Sometimes writing about one of your characters from the point of view of a stranger tells you a lot about that character. It’s good to know how they are when meeting new people and how they come across to others when you’re in the thick of the book. The more you know about how your character interacts with people, the more realistic you can make their interactions throughout the book.
5. Write about what your character does on an ordinary day. Think of this as a Dear Diary post. It’s really up to the character and how they live what is said and how many words it’s said in. If your character lives a boring life or isn’t very wordy, this exercise might only be a couple of sentences. If your character likes to describe things intimately or lives a life of constant adventure, you might write a couple hundred words. Focus on what they do on a normal weekday, whether it be farming, bartending, or running a large corporation. It’s always good to know what your character does when they’re not saving the day in your novel.
I hope these exercises work for you. I’ve done each at least once and I’ve always learned something. Some characters are easier to learn about than others. Just like real people, some of them are shy and others are mean. Some have hard exteriors but are really all gooey on the inside. Some are waiting to kill you in your sleep. Some exercises will work better with one character than with another. Figure out what works for you, and figure out those characters.
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How do you develop character?
Now that you’ve finished your Dear Diary Project, there are several things you can do with it. They range from hiding it in a corner in your basement to trying to turn it into something publishable. But before you do anything with the file or manuscript itself, you need to properly extract all the valuable information from it for later use.
Extracting Information for your Dear Diary Project
Now, I don’t know about you, but my character profiles are pretty messy and I usually don’t have much room left on the page by the time I’ve written a Dear Diary Project for that character. So I like to create a fact sheet, which is a simple list of facts about my character. Things like their favourite colour, what kinds of animals they like, and experiences that changed their life that either weren’t important enough to be included in the profile itself or that hadn’t been thought of when you made it.
Reread your Dear Diary Project. Scan it for the things that are most important. Write down all the things you’ve learned about your character over the course of the month.
Once you’ve finished that, take a separate piece of paper and write down any new stories you might have gotten from writing or rereading your Dear Diary Project. Make note of any moments you think it might be important for your character to remember during the main project you’re working on. Pick out ones you might be able to turn into short stories. Write down as much about these ideas as you can, but try not to spend more than fifteen minutes on that.
Now you should be ready to start thinking about what to do with the project itself.
What can I do with my finished product?
There are a few things you can do with your Dear Diary Project. It’s possible that there are a few I haven’t thought of. In fact, writing that sentence I thought of something I’ve never considered before. I’ve created a list of things you should be able to do with your Dear Diary Project. Some are harder than others.
Leave it in a corner in your basement
Or in my case, a corner on my computer. I’ve never done much with my Dear Diary Projects. I’ve posted a few entries on my blog every year, but I’ve never done anything more than take knowledge from my Dear Diary Projects. I’ve thought about doing character blogs and all kinds of exciting things with them. But to be honest, other writing projects and school have always taken priority over transforming my Dear Diary Projects.
You know what? It’s all right if you do the same thing. Having a character’s diary stashed somewhere in your basement or your computer is pretty nifty. The important thing is what you’ve learned from working on your Dear Diary Project. Whatever you do with it, you’ll still have learned something about the process itself–and that was the real goal of this project.
Create a Character Blog
There are these nifty little things called character blogs. I don’t know all the history of them and I can’t tell you who wrote the first one, but I know they’ve existed for a few years now with varying success. Your Dear Diary Project can easily be turned into a character blog. At the very least you’ll want to clean up your grammar and spelling–unless you’re OCD and already have–and make sure that each entry shines, that each one is memorable.
If you want to get serious about character blogging, brainstorm what comes after your Dear Diary Project. Create a proper storyline around the Dear Diary Project. Decide how long–not exactly, but generally–you want to write your character blog for. Then go to great pains to make sure your character’s blog looks good and start putting your work up. You can generate quite a following with a character blog, but it’s a long and painful process. Then again, so is building a following in any kind of writing. If you want to do it enough, you should make it. But if you don’t want it bad enough, it’ll never happen.
There are books made up mostly or sometimes entirely out of diary entries. There are tons of them. Most of them are historical novels set in our world during some particularly interesting part of history. There are also books written entirely in letters, and depending on how you wrote your Dear Diary Projects, transforming them into letters and adding some return mail might not be too hard. You’re going to have to polish the crap out of it though.
I don’t know how much of a market there is for this kind of story in genre fiction. I haven’t read or seen too many fantasy novels in the form of diaries, but I’m sure there is a market available for them. A book like this might do better in the ebook publishing world. It’s easier to find a specific group of readers with the internet and there’s an endless supply of people online. With dedication to your work and lots of revision, I’m sure you’d be able to sell a few copies, maybe a few hundred. With a little bit of luck, you might even be able to sell a few thousand. It might be worth a shot–you just have to decide how important this project is to you.
This is the one I thought of while writing this post. To make it into a script would probably take the most work, because your Dear Diary Project is probably mostly exposition rather than dialogue, and scripts are usually mostly dialogue. There’s more room for exposition in a screenplay than in a stageplay, and you can even take the most important parts and make them into a series of scenes for a screenplay. This is probably the hardest option, but it might just be the most entertaining. I, for one, think my Dear Diary Project would be a better movie than book.
The other thing about turning your Dear Diary Project into a script of either kind is that it’s really hard to start producing a play or movie. You have to do a lot of networking and you have to find funding for it. You have to find people willing to help you out on set, and you need to find actors. There are always lots of people wanting to be actors. It will be hard to turn some of them away, but you’ll only get one for each role. Finding people to help create your set, fund your project and film your movie will be much harder. Maybe even harder than getting a book published.
This is just the beginning of your options. With any luck, you’ll have thought of something I haven’t. Think about your options for a while before you do anything with them. You’ll need to get away from the story for a while before you can edit it anyway. Besides, Nanowrimo’s next month. It’s time to start planning–and I’ll talk to you a bit more about that on Friday.
What are you thinking about doing with your Dear Diary Project?
Today, September thirtieth, marks the end of this month and with it the end of this year’s Dear Diary Project. Hopefully today you’ll be able to give your Dear Diary Project an ending that will tie it up nicely. If not, don’t worry too much about it–after all, it’s not like your character’s life is ending, so why should their diary? If you have the time, you can even keep going with your Dear Diary Project. I won’t stop you, but I will tell you that now is probably a good time to move on to a new project, and unless you have the time to do both, I’d suggest ending your Dear Diary Project now.
What should you do once you’ve finished your Dear Diary Project? First, give yourself a pat on the back for finishing it. Then join me on Wednesday to talk about how to make the most out of your Dear Diary Project. Start something new–a short story, planning for a new novel, a new blog, whatever strikes your fancy. And don’t forget that it’s October now, and Nanowrimo is right around the corner.
Me, I have to work on Moonshadow’s legal code, but I hope to get a little bit more editing done before November starts. And I’ll be pulling out a binder with notes for a story idea I had last year but which I never ended up writing, blowing the dust off of it, and making sure it’s ready to be my Nanovel.
There are going to be some big changes around here, which I’ll talk more about on Monday, but right now what I can promise you for the next month is information on making the most out of your Dear Diary Project, how to prepare for Nanowrimo, and a couple of writing exercises I hope you’ll find useful. In the meantime, there are a couple questions I’d like to ask you:
What did you like about the Dear Diary Project? What do you think would make it better for next year?
Most of us, when we are very young, constantly change our minds about what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Even when we’ve thought we’ve decided on something, and we believe we’ve decided on it for a couple of years, our decision can still change. Some of the things that we want to do with the rest of our lives are perfectly achievable, like becoming a teacher or a nurse. Some of them are harder, like becoming a star ballerina or musician. Sometimes we change our minds because we hear about what it’s really like from somebody who’s been there, and we don’t like it as much as we thought we would. Sometimes we just realize we can’t do it, or that there’s something else that simply sounds like more fun.
In a medieval-type society, there might be many more reasons why your character will never achieve their dream: class, gender, colour all play into those societies in a way they no longer play into ours. In a science fiction society, your character might be capable of doing anything, but have realized somewhere along the way that their childhood dream is not really as glamorous as they thought.
This week I would like you to write a Dear Diary entry talking about your character’s abandoned dreams. Have them examine what they dreamed of as a child and why. Then ask them why they gave up those dreams, and what they’ve replaced them with. Explore all the possibilities of these questions. And remember that while you are aiming for a certain word goal, it’s perfectly acceptable to write much, much more on one day and a tiny bit less the next–as long as you write every day.
What were your childhood dreams?