Dawn Montgomery

Annihilate Boredom with Interesting Characters Pt 1

In Workshops, Write Talk on October 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm

NaNoWriMo Workshop 2013

We’re continuing my spontaneous NaNoWriMo 2013 workshop today with building characters that you’ll actually like to write about. What you’ve missed so far:

Getting Started and how to Annihilate Boredom

As an experienced novelist I can tell you the absolute worst feeling in the world is disliking (loathing, hating, etc.) your main characters. Perhaps that was too strong. The worst feeling is finding out you hate them IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK. He’s too boring. She’s too angsty. He has habits that annoy me. She’s acting too childish about everything.

As the writer you maintain creative control of your characters. That sounds cool doesn’t it? Creative Control.

If you’re new to writing (like my kids and husband are this year), there’s an analogy I want you to think about. Writing a book is like taking a road trip.

  • We’ll call creative control the car you’re driving.
  • The road is your story (with or without a destination or road map in mind).
  • The characters are behind the wheel and you’re in the passenger seat directing their actions.
  • The speed the car travels is your writing pace (why do I suddenly have flashbacks to high school math?).

Some of you have never written a thing in your life. A few have tried and put it aside for whatever reason. Some regular writers like myself maintain at one pace for most of the year and then ramp up word count output during November’s NaNoWriMo.

This means writing before and during NaNoWriMo is like comparing a Sunday leisurely sightseeing trip against the crazy speed and curves of a Grand Prix.

If you’re riding shotgun during a breakneck race to the finish, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of what you wanted your characters to do. Midway through the book is a terrible time to find out you don’t like your characters. I’ve been there. Trust me.

Take some time, then, and think about a character (or characters) you’d find interesting to learn about.

When I talked to my family and friends about developing their characters a bit, this is what I got:

  • A teenage boy caught in the undertow of a wave ends up being saved by a mermaid’s kiss. – Great one sentence explanation or “log line” of the book, but it doesn’t tell me about the character. 
  • The hero will go here and do this. And then this. And then this. – Knowing all the places your character travels is pretty cool. I’ll expand on why this isn’t a character development in a moment.
  • She wants a normal life. – Great goal, but what’s keeping her from having a normal life? The reply was “I don’t know.” 

Have you ever been on a road trip with an annoying person? The girl that screeches every time she laughs. What about the backseat driver who keeps kicking the back of your passenger seat in an attempt to push down on the pedals?

I remember one trip where I spent two and a half days with a business associate who would. not. shut. up. about the importance of water conservation and how wasteful the world was with this resource. Now I’m big into water conservation so don’t lose your minds, but imagine it…two and a half DAYS. That’s at least 500 miles per day. From breakfast. To lunch. Through dinner. The only break I had was when we went to our separate hotel rooms to sleep.

My nightmares involved water. Lots of water. And then deserts.

There’s a point to this…I promise.

You’re going to be in the passenger seat for thirty days AND nights. 😉 How terrible would it be to have Mr. Water Conservation mumbling in your ear for a week? Two? A month? You want to create characters that interest you. Ones who will be comfortable (if not necessarily happy) at the beginning of the story.

Then you’re going to put them in an uncomfortable situation and make them act. Their reaction sets them on the road trip.

There are three questions I ask are based on Lynn Viehl’s original post HERE with a modification thanks to Morgan Hawke HERE (note, Morgan’s site is not work or kid friendly).

  1. What/Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What do you want?
  3. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you?

So let’s look at the three examples above.

A teenage boy caught in the undertow of a wave ends up being saved by a mermaid’s kiss.

What are you, and what do you do? 

Answer: Human water-loving Teenage Boy who likes to surf – We specified human here since he’s rescued by a mermaid.

What do you want? 

Answer: To escape the bitter divorce between my parents and get things the way they were in my head – His isolation caused him to not pay attention to his location and he got hit by a wave he wasn’t ready for. The author came up with this the moments she answered this question. 😀 

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you? 

Answer: Find out you’re the reason for the divorce in the first place. – She surprised me with this one. I can’t wait to see how his surfing, love of water, and the mermaid saving him fits lays out with the story! 

What did we find out about the character? He loves water, is dealing with some crazy stuff at home, and then finds out (as a direct result of his interaction with the mermaid) that he’s the reason they split. Is this enough to make you like the character? No. Not yet. But it’s a good start.

The hero will go here and do this. And then this. And then this. 

What are you, and what do you do? 

Answer: I am a Princess in charge of a tiny but important kingdom – I’m a fan of fairytales in any form.

What do you want? 

Answer: To stop the invasion of the shadow king – Good. I like it. 😀 

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you? 

Answer: Fail to stop the invasion – totally works. 

What did we find out about the character? She wants to protect her tiny and important kingdom from invasion. Failing to stop the invasion would lead to bad things. Do we know enough to like the character yet? Not quite, but we’re getting there.

She wants a normal life.

This goal isn’t specific enough so it’s hard to figure out your character. A normal life for me would be phone free, hanging out with my family, writing all day, and chatting with you all online. A normal life for a dear friend involves 24/7 access to a phone and texting, traveling all over the world, and rollerderby when she’s home every other month or so. See what I mean? What is normal? When you figure out what your character specifically wants…then you can move on. 

Rogue from the Marvel Universe wants to be able to touch someone without 1. draining their power and 2. killing the person she touches/loves. Her version of normal is definitely different than mine. 

Now, you’ll need to do this for each of your main characters (this includes your villain/villains if you have them). This may take longer than you expect or you may breeze through it. Keep these notes close by as we’ll be revisiting them in the next few posts.

If you’d like to see the entire workshop list of posts click HERE.

Disclaimer: My experiences aren’t your experiences. If anything you read here helps, fantastic! If not, take what works and discard the rest. Writing is an individual process and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to get it done. 

If you’d like to see the digital graphics I made for this year’s NaNoWriMo, click HERE and scroll down to the bottom to grab them (right click on the picture and either copy URL for your site or download to your computer).

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  1. This was awesome! Thank you 🙂

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