NANOWRIMO starts in a week and it’s a good idea to have a few things down before you get started on trying to write your novel. The first item I addressed yesterday in my blog: The Idea. Today we’ll focus on the best part of writing development: The Character.
You can never really go overboard on this part of novel development. You can never know too much about your characters. It’s better to have more information than you need than not enough. There are a TON of character worksheets out on the internet. A lot of role-playing sites have very thorough worksheets. You might like a Dungeons and Dragons worksheet, or a an rpg worksheet, or a romance novel character worksheet, do a search and find which sort of worksheet is best for you and remember that more is better.
There are a few things you definitely want to start with:
The name. Many authors agonize over the proper naming of a character. We all know how important a name is through personal experience. Many of our experiences are shaped by our name. Take mine for example: Noelle. Being named after a holiday has led to many, many, MANY experiences being teased and taunted with my own name. There are other names that bring a picture immediately to mind and will affect your character in a myriad of ways: Eugene, Grizelda, Aphrodite, etc. If you have trouble naming your character, start with something neutral like Bob or Susan. Don’t worry, you can always go back and change his name to fit the story.
There are a zillion sites for names with meanings, cultural references, and all sorts of other information. I have an entire folder in my bookmarks just for name sites. The one I use the most is one that can be sorted for girl/boy names and I can do a search by meaning: Baby Names World. Warning, this site is full of popup ad’s, pregnancy links and all sorts of other very annoying things that even new mothers wished they didn’t have to deal with, but it’s filled with really great information. Another site I use a lot is: Alfabet Zoope. This site doesn’t have a search option, but lists some rare, exotic names in alphabetical order. It has origin and meaning. It’s a great place to go if you want a name that isn’t typical.
Nicknames are another important way your character’s personality is set in a reader’s mind. While nicknames are often set by a characters real name: Rich from Richard, many are given by friends (Potsie), enemies (Ralph Mouth), relatives (Ritchie), and even ourselves (Fonzie). A great site to inspire you for nicknames (try not to get stuck just reading the entire site because it’s so interesting) is: Mafia and Gangster Names. If you can’t find some inspiration for a nickname on this site, you just aren’t trying.
Other vital information for your character includes:
How many in the family
How they became friends
Lots of character worksheets will have these and some will have much, much more. Fill in all the details you can, including vignettes where they pop up in your mind. Make sure you include their primary motivation. What is their external and internal goals. Make sure goals and motivation fit in with the plot you have outlined (see previous blog).
Spend a lot of time on your main characters. Get to know them. Create a history for them that has led them to the point of your plot Idea and make sure that they are vital to that plot. Secondary Characters are important too. Make sure that they are as realistic as your main character. Remember their presence will either compliment or contrast your main character. Where would Elizabeth Bennett be without Charlotte Lucas? Where would Cinderella be without the Fairy Godmother?
Explore your characters thoroughly, but give yourself a due date for completing your Character Worksheet (I suggest 48 hours, max). Time limits are your friend and exactly why NANOWRIMO is such a great tool for training yourself to write. Your Character will come to life, and more bits and pieces of their past will suddenly expose themselves while you are writing. That’s part of the natural process of character development.
Once you have your Idea and your Characters down, you can move to the next step (addressed in the next blog): Structure/Outlines.