Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo Prep: Character Profiles

The Scrivener Character Sheet.
This is all I really need to know about a character before
I start writing. That said, the notes section can get
pretty detailed with little things as I think of them.
Something I learned (yet ANOTHER thing, I know) from last year's very successful NaNoWriMo 'win' is that I need to have some idea of who the main characters are and what their motivation is.

I struggled for a long, long time trying to figure out how best to do this. I looked up character sheets on the web (overwhelmingly numerous and tedious in any number of respects) and I played with things like D&D character sheets because they briefly appealed to my inner teenager. Nancy Kress' character worksheet in her book Dynamic Characters was too much. Too detailed. I liked it, I tried to use it - I did! - but it just didn't work for me. I didn't need to know everything she did or wanted others to know, too.

I remember a very brief, like 20 Questions, kind of character sheet that I had in one of my writing reference books but I never found it. It might have been in one of the books I gave away or sold. I don't know.

And all the other books I have on writing, each one of them has valuable things about character and developing that character throughout the stories one writes. I had a plethora of information at my fingertips if I could only figure out how to use it.

But NaNo is about writing as much as you can fast as you can. You're not supposed to over think things, just blast 'em out and worry about scraping the crap off your shoes later.

After my first win at NaNo, I downloaded one of the 'goodies' - a little program called Scrivener. I've touted it here and at the Confabulator Cafe, too. One of the goodies in this program is their character sheet. Because I can just keep it to the left of the window I'm writing in, I use these sheets to help me keep things straight. Yes, I work in things from the other character sheets I've used in the past, but only if they occur to me. If I have a sheet that has forty-seven things I simply - must - know I feel overwhelmed.

Writing is supposed to be a comfortable occupation. There are times when I squirm because of what I have to write (a short story for the Cafe as a recent example) but setting everything up to start writing shouldn't be uncomfortable at all.

A long time ago (god, has it been thirteen years?) I sat at a dinner table with my friend Rob Schamberger and a bunch of other wannabe creators (not a derogatory term, I assure you) and he gave me a bit of wisdom that I use in every story: Your main character has to tell an anecdote in the story. Has to be done. He's right. I adds a lot to any tale to have something like that in there. Story within a story.

So I include that in the notes. It's almost always a line like "Tells a story about a family pet" or "remembers the one that got away". It's never detailed. I wait to find out what that story may be and how it might be relevant. It's a revealing moment for a character. Try to work one in if you can. Sometimes it's difficult but if you can do it, use that to show something about your hero. Or villain. Or a key supporting character.

I gotta git, though. I have to build some people up. November 1st is getting closer and closer.

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