Building Better Characters

I’ve been working on a new project. Like many proto-stories, I have a few scenes in mind, some setting details, and some characters. And, as I’ve talked about before, I’m an outliner. And each time I outline a story, I aim to make it better, stronger, a really solid outline–one that can demonstrate conflict, pacing, tension, character arcs and growth, etc. However, when putting together this outline, I noticed that it was falling flat.

When I studied the outline to figure out why, I realized that I didn’t have a good sense of my characters, particularly my protagonist. This is a big problem. If I don’t know who my characters are (their past, their motivations, the lies they tell themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc.), then they are just puppets dancing from beat to beat, in service of the plot. However, well-defined characters drive the plot. If I understand it correctly, plot should the result of characters’ acts and choices instead of the thing that forces the character to act or choose certain things.

So it was interesting that while I was working on getting to know my characters better, I came across a couple of great articles. The first Your Text is by Charlie Jane Anders on io9.com (and really, you should always check out Anders’s writing advice). The second Your Text is by C.S. Lakin. Together, these posts talk about creating characters, making them suffer, and creating high stakes for them to face.

So that’s what I’m up to these days. Getting to know my characters, so I can make them suffer, struggle, and fight. Ah, writing. Imaginary sadism at its finest.

Interesting Times

Sorry about the radio silence. Last week, I was dealing with a bunch of job stuff, and then I traveled over the weekend to visit my in-laws. To make up for my absence, today I planned a big post about character development and making characters suffer (something I’ve been wrangling with in my new project), but my dog is experiencing a medical issue. I’m writing this while I wait for our appointment. So, sorry folks. I’ll post when I can, but right now, I’ve got to focus on some other stuff. The absence will continue.

“Can’t” vs. “Don’t”

I’ve been paying more attention to my reading and writing this year, looking at when I sit down to write or read, how long I write/read, how carefully I write/read, and other metrics. And when I looked back at my notes, I found myself making certain comments about the data. Things like “I can’t write for long periods” or “I can’t write without some noise in the background from music or TV.”

That word kept popping up: can’t. But then I wondered if it was really true. I can’t? Or is it that I simply don’t? Is it that I can’t write for long stretches, or am I finding excuses to stop writing? Is it that I need noise in the background, or is it that I’m building distractions into my routine?

So I started making changes. I turned off the TV and Pandora. I forced myself to stop checking Facebook and Twitter and Gchat. And you know what? I was able to write. A lot. And that’s when it hit me. I was falling victim to Steven Pressfield’s idea of “resistance.” Resistance is any limit you put on yourself or any easy out that lets you quit instead of doing the work when it’s hard or uncomfortable or challenging in some way. It’s something he talks about in his book THE WAR OF ART, and it something he talks about overcoming here:

I don’t know if this will work for you, but I found it helpful. Next time you find yourself saying you can’t do something, stop and ask if you really can’t or if you simply don’t. And if it’s the latter, try doing it anyway. You might be as surprised as I was to find that you’re only limiting yourself for no real reason at all.

And knocking down those limits feels really good. All right, that’s enough for today. Back to work.

NaNoWriMo is Over. Now What?

So it’s December. NaNoWriMo is over. Did you reach 50,000 words? If you did, great! If you didn’t, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, focus on this: did you develop a daily writing habit? Did you learn something about yourself? Excellent!

But what now? Well, go to Fantasy-Faction, and read my new article. You’ll find plenty of helpful hints over there.

Good luck, and keep writing!

T-Minus 10….Thousand Words

This will probably be my final check in for NaNoWriMo. I figure it’s the final stretch, and most people will either want to sprint through it or make up for lost time, so I won’t waste too much of your time–just cheer you on. If you’re on pace, you have just under 10,000 words left. Keep pushing. Heck, push harder so you can relax a bit on Thanksgiving. And if you’re not taking a day off on Thanksgiving, at least push ahead as insurance against a carb coma.

And, if you’re already thinking about your post-NaNoWriMo writing and editing, you may want to check out Chuck Wendig’s NaNoWriMo Bundle. He’s selling six books at a steep discount until the end of the month, and his books are full of great advice. I reviewed the first volume in the bundle–250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING–here. Check out the review if you want a taste of his advice. If you’re feeling wiped out and in need of a boot to the ass, or if you just like your writing advice with tons of colorful cursing, this is for you. I really enjoyed the first book, and I can’t wait to read the rest.

Good luck, finish strong, and I’ll see you on the other side.