Tag: characterization

As I’m sure you can see from my last post, NaNo was a total blast on all fronts.  I learned so much, not only about myself but about how I approach writing–as well as picking up a few useful techniques along the way.  My plan, which includes a host of other fun and events waiting in the wings (more on that later), is to share a few of these lessons with you in the next few weeks.

One of the biggest things I struggled with in NaNo–and one of the biggest surprises–was getting to the heart of the conflict between my two main characters, Daisy and her father Kodi.  This was a new experience for me.

As you may remember, I tested a new approach for NaNo: I pretended to be a pantser for thirty days, just to see how the other (better?) half lives.  In practical terms, this meant I didn’t do many of the preparatory activities usual to my plotter approach, such as character background sheets, bios, and conflict identification (where I strive to identify points of friction between my characters).

It really affected how I wrote, to a degree much greater than I would have ever imagined.  For my 50k words, I wrote nearly forty chapters in total.  Of those, about fifteen are unfinished–and almost all of those were Daisy/Kodi scenes.

Throughout NaNo month, I tried again and again to get Kodi and Daisy to interact in a way that felt right, that possessed some depth and/or purpose, but nothing ever gelled. (I wrote loads of scenes between ancillary characters, some of them pretty key to the main action of the story, and I am happy with those for the most part). Since the Daisy/Kodi tension was the primary conflict of my novel, I was and still am less than pleased with the current disposition of my work.

I have been slow to recognize the central cause of my main character conflict troubles, but I think I’ve finally hit on it:  If my characters are meeting for the first time on the page in the draft I’m writing at the moment, I’m gonna have a heck of time getting them to act like they’ve known each other for most of their lives.  Maybe that’s obvious or overly simple, but it’s a revelation to me.

Though I’d been thinking about Daisy and Kodi for almost a year, I’d not written anything down about them–and that made all the difference in the world.  Bottom line: I’m returning to my plotter ways, and one of the first things on my Daisy to-do list is to develop character profiles for Daisy, Kodi and a few other key players.

What about you?  How do you get to know your characters?  For NaNo participants, how are you going about “picking up the pieces” after November 30th?

I like the way the title of this post rolls off the tongue.  Reminds me of Hot Tub Time Machine for some reason (an entertaining flick if you’ve not had the pleasure).

The link between writing and music has been a subject of endless fascination for me. The first novel I ever attempted–set in the Spain, if you must know–was written almost exclusively to the sounds of Dave Matthew’s first album.

In Iraq, my I-Pod was never far from reach, and it became my cheer-leading section as I churned out pages. Dragonfly, my favorite short story to date (at least in recent memory) was written as I listened to Switchfoot’s On Fire over and over again.

NaNo appears to be no exception.  As I work myself through the first several chapters of Daisy, I’ve decided on a theme song for Kodi, our dear hero, who finds himself in so much trouble and must dig himself out.

The lyrics aren’t necessarily literal when compared to the story, but I think the flavor of a chance lost–as captured so perfectly in this tune–is a feeling I don’t want to lose as I write.  It may even be possible that Kodi saves things in the end–but I’ve found that opportunity’s favorite brother is regret, so I push the play button over and over again.

Have a listen to Kodi’s theme song: Keith’s Urban’s Stupid Boy.  Oh, by the way, what’s the main character of your WIP’s theme song? 

A brief disclaimer: I’m still fiddling with my new template, so if you notice your comments showing up where my header should be or vice versa, please be patient.  With any luck I’ll get this all straightened out in a day or two.  Next time I’ll have better sense than to choose a template where some of the code is written in Italian!

As I mentioned recently, I’m just jumping into the first few chapters of my first-draft WIP.  Thus and expectedly, beside working hard to spell all the words properly and deploying my punctuation with both great accuracy and great verve (!?….:;), I am also devoting considerable brain power to the characterization process.

Part of our job as writers, in my opinion, is to put hearts in our characters. Each character’s heart is made up of a plethora of details and behaviors, some of which make it to the page and some of which simply influence how the writer “hears” the character. Choosing the proper details can be one of the most critical steps in the writing process.

At the moment, I am still getting to know my WIP characters.  We’re chatting, getting shot at together (the setting is a warzone), having a cup of coffee together (tried to include a Starbucks but it seemed out of place); we’re just starting to settle into a warm mutually beneficial writer-character relationship.  They haven’t yet figured out that it is I who sends them off to do all these dreadful things, so progress is good.

Back in college, one of my fav professors used to talk about the value of observing behavior in real life as a guide to getting your characters to act more believably on the page.  In one writing exercise, he sent us out into the world to write down snippets of conversation we heard or overheard (or underheard I suppose).  The whole process provided great fodder for learning to observe more closely how human beings interact, and also for beginning to frame in one’s mind how best to convey those happenings–how to separate the wheat from the chaff (or chaff from chaff as the case may be).

As a result, as I get to know my WIP guys, I am considering my recent experience in Baghdad, but also looking at photos, reading about war experiences online and in books, and also observing the interactions of those around me.  So far, all of these have been fairly fertile ground, and I’m happy with where things are headed.

How ’bout you?  How do you go about putting hearts in your characters?  Other than observing “real life”, what process(es) do you use to put the pieces of your characters together?  How do you ensure that the different characters in your story create conflict?  What is the most difficult part of characterization?