Originally posted on November 1, 2011
November 1 marks the beginning of what is known in the writing world as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). A person’s goal during this auspicious occasion is to write an entire novel in one month. I joked on Twitter last week that writers make such a big deal out of this event, but there are lots of writers who write a novel a month every month of the year. While that’s true, I shouldn’t poke fun at the efforts of others and now I feel bad that I did. So this blog post is to make up for my snide comment. (I was teasing my significant other about it, too, because he’s going to give it a shot. He’s always been a short story writer and he wants to take the challenge. I wish him—and everyone else going for it—lots of luck.)
So, for those of you tackling NaNoWriMo, here’s what little advice I can give you. If there are any fans reading this, you’ll get a little insight into how I write (even if you never intend to conquer NaNoWriMo yourself).
The best advice I can give you is to know your characters. You don’t have to do an actual biography or character sketch (although those things can help). But know their core…know who they are down deep, what they like and dislike, what motivates them, what they care about, what makes them tick. Know things about them they would never admit to in public. Even imagine scenes of their life (that you will never write). The more of these things you know before you write, the more three-dimensional your characters will be. But there’s more…
The next step is to put your characters in a situation. Then they will tell you what to write. Really! Once you know your characters, you’ll know how they’ll act in a situation. Sometimes you’ll like it; other times you won’t.
Case in point: I’ve been working on the next Nicki Sosebee novel (One More Time) for the past couple of weeks. I’m in the middle of several other projects at the moment as well, so this one’s going more slowly than usual (maybe I can get it done by the end of NaNoWriMo if I’m lucky!). I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here, but I do want you to see what I mean about how the characters control the story—because if you as the writer try to force the characters to do something out of character, your story will not seem real or true. So…here goes. As you know from the end of Right Now, Jesse and Nicki are together again. You have probably also figured out that Jesse is head over heels for her. Well, let’s just say this…Nicki finds out just how much Jesse cares about her and she reacts by putting up a few walls. She made me mad as the writer for stomping on poor, sweet Jesse’s heart (I personally have a hardcore crush on Jesse). Yes, ladies, he survived and nothing’s changed (they’re still together), but he laid it all out there and she didn’t respond the way he (or I) would have liked. So, in spite of what I want as a writer, Nicki decided to do her own thing. I’m not very happy with her right now. But I love her dearly and will get over it. I suspect you’ll feel the same way when you read this particular scene. You’ll be miffed with Nicki, but you won’t be thinking, “Wow—that’s so out of character.” No, instead you’ll think, “Geez, Nicki, what is wrong with you???” I’d much rather a character make me angry than pull me completely out of a book. I can handle frustration, but I hate when I read a book and think, “The character wouldn’t act that way.” That pulls me out of a story fast, and sometimes I’m unable to recover. It ruins it.
So…to all of you fellow writers beginning your novel for NaNoWriMo, I wish you the best of luck. To my readers, thanks for coming along for the ride. Now I’m going to finish up the two novels I’m working on and try to get to a third before Thanksgiving!