Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Get the most from NaNoWriMo -- Enlist your cast

With less than four weeks to go before the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it's time to accelerate our preparations. Although NaNoWriMo organizers like to have participants take off writing from a standing start, we've decided we'll organize ourselves, our thinking, and our novel so that we have more fun cranking out a 50,000 word draft and avoid "writing a lot of crap," to use the NaNoWriMo organizers' words.

Our first step, based on the Improved Writing Process found in the book Novelist's Boot Camp and taught in our Novelist's Boot Camp workshops, was to change our way of thinking and adopt an Author's Mindset.  We changed how we saw writing a book-length work of fiction; came to understand that doing so way a series of steps, each building upon the previous one;  resolved to not fight fair and so set our writing goals so we could easily roll over them and so increase our enjoyment and our momentum; and finally we listed what we loved to read and what we loved about those kinds of books.

Now we'll move on to building some of the essential elements of our novel--so we don't have to create them AND try to write what happens/tell the story at the same time. We're dividing and conquering the process of writing a novel, and our next step is to enlist a cast.

Enlisting your cast simply means building a list of the major characters (cast members) in your novel.  These are characters your readers (audience) will see again and again, the ones on whom you'll spend the most time in creating and describing and the ones who'll drive the action in your work.  You may have lots of minor characters (bit players), but you'll need the below as a minimum:

A hero/heroine, also known as a protagonist.  Your novel is his or her story.  Note that in a Romance or Romantic Suspense your book is their story. In a mystery your protagonist is the detective.  In a Western or SciFi novel this is the main character, as it is in a Literary Novel, Women's fiction, or Technothriller, Suspense, Horror, Paranormal, and so on.  Can you have two--such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Sure. How about several, as in Steel Magnolias? Of course--recognizing that the more main characters you have, the more complicated you novel becomes--not just to manage or to write, but to read. 

An antagonist, also known as the villain.  This is the person (or thing/monster/alien etc) with human traits and characteristics that wants more than anything else in the world for your protagonist to fail and who works tirelessly to ensure the protagonist's demise. This is the monster in horror novels, aliens in SciFi novels, the enemy in military fiction, the criminal in mysteries, and so on. Note that these characters can be fun (a guilty pleasure) to create!

Other opposition.  Sometimes known as minions.  These are the characters who will also actively oppose your hero or heroine. There are crooked police chiefs in mysteries, rival scientists in SciFi novels, unbelievers in horror novels, and so on. More of these are better, as more opposition increases the opportunity for conflict.

A Window character.  A window character is not mandatory, but using one is a great technique.  Think a cop's partner, a heroine's best friend, Spock in Star Trek, even Wilson in the movie Cast Away.  This character must spend a lot of time with the protagonist, interact with the protagonist, and gives us a "window" to see into the protagonist's character.  Consider having a window character for your antagonist or villain as well--it makes for a much more interesting and complex character!

Your story becomes the tale of what happens--both in terms of action and in terms of emotional change--when these characters interact, each in pursuit of his or her own goal. Note that by definition the goals are in direct conflict.

We'll dig deeper into developing these characters, their interactions (your plot), setting, and so on in coming days. For now, enlist your cast and write down your main characters--the act of doing so will engage your imagination, cause you to generate details about those characters and ideas for how they interact, and put you far ahead of your NaNoWriMo contemporaries.

We'll get even father ahead next time. 

For more information, take a look at the Invention section of Novelist's Boot Camp or any of the free Novel Writing Battle Map or other free downloads on Storytellerroad.

Keep writing!

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