Think of your favorite story. Have it in your head? What makes it your favorite? Chances are, it’s the cast of characters. Whether you side with the hero or the villain–or even the winning sidekick–the characters make a story come to life.
So for NaNoWriMo, it’s important to spend enough time outlining and developing your character list. These folks will go through terrific ups and downs during the coming 30 days, the least you could do is show them a little love during Preptober 🙂 Here’s how I invest quality time with my NaNoWriMo cast of characters:
Choose Your Protagonist/Hero
Create a character who interests you, because you’re going to be spending a *lot* of time together. Think of the characters you love: the underdog, the late-bloomer, the misunderstood, the tender heart, the diamond in the rough. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to start building a wheel. Pick a starting point.
That point may be a question from real life that nags you. It may be a problem you’re wrestling in reality, one that begs you to explore it in fiction. Addiction and addicts keep turning up in my fiction because I live in an area that’s especially hard-hit by the opoid epidemic. While our city tries to solve this complex problem affecting so many of our families, it’s no surprise addiction is mirrored in my work. At least in fiction we have the ability to rescue a character…
Will your protagonist be an average person facing down an incredible crisis, or an incredible person trying to find their new normal? It’s your world; you get to create it.
The Antagonist Matters!
This is an area where I struggle. Often I don’t develop my antagonists well enough the first go around, and have to rewrite, revise, and rebuild. I guess I don’t like torturing my main characters, and need to work up to it 🙂
Save yourself the trouble and take time now to devise a worthy opponent for your protagonist. What motivates your antagonist? What does he/she/it want? And what will happen if anything stands in the way? What is the antagonist willing to do to get what’s most desired? Crank up the tension by offering the protagonist an antagonist that mirrors their own intensity.
Fill in the Gaps
Now don’t leave the protag and antag all alone. Give them each a mentor or confidante, someone to listen. Surround your protagonist with friends or family who will raise the stakes of the plot. Measure a secondary character’s importance by how much personal info you let slip about him or her. You don’t have to tell your reader the gas station attendant’s name, but your character might know it. It just depends on whether that cashier moves the plot action forward. How will you know? By carefully conducting the next step …
To help outline my novels, I’ve been using K.M. Weiland’s fantastic Outline Your Novel Workbook*. I have it as an ebook and start a new spiral notebook for each project’s responses to the workbook questions.
You can design your own set of interview questions, or you can just start having a conversation with each of your most important characters. I realize this has us veering into the hey-imaginary-friends-let’s-have-a-tea-party territory, but… What can I say? You’ll be amazed at what your characters will tell you. No wonder the ancients developed the concept of the Muse–sometimes it’s hard to explain where these voices originate!
I use the above steps to craft a cast of characters that will give my novel relatable emotional weight and rich drama. And when I finish my beloved characters list, I torture them 😮
Find out next week how to turn up the tension and make your characters miserable (at least for a little while)!
Now You: Are you ahead of schedule with your Preptober planning, or are you living on the edge and just jumping in this year?
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