Getting To Know You

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

As I'm sure you can see from my last post, NaNo was a total blast on all fronts.  I learned so much, not only about myself but about how I approach writing--as well as picking up a few useful techniques along the way.  My plan, which includes a host of other fun and events waiting in the wings (more on that later), is to share a few of these lessons with you in the next few weeks.

One of the biggest things I struggled with in NaNo--and one of the biggest surprises--was getting to the heart of the conflict between my two main characters, Daisy and her father Kodi.  This was a new experience for me.

As you may remember, I tested a new approach for NaNo: I pretended to be a pantser for thirty days, just to see how the other (better?) half lives.  In practical terms, this meant I didn't do many of the preparatory activities usual to my plotter approach, such as character background sheets, bios, and conflict identification (where I strive to identify points of friction between my characters).

It really affected how I wrote, to a degree much greater than I would have ever imagined.  For my 50k words, I wrote nearly forty chapters in total.  Of those, about fifteen are unfinished--and almost all of those were Daisy/Kodi scenes.

Throughout NaNo month, I tried again and again to get Kodi and Daisy to interact in a way that felt right, that possessed some depth and/or purpose, but nothing ever gelled. (I wrote loads of scenes between ancillary characters, some of them pretty key to the main action of the story, and I am happy with those for the most part). Since the Daisy/Kodi tension was the primary conflict of my novel, I was and still am less than pleased with the current disposition of my work.

I have been slow to recognize the central cause of my main character conflict troubles, but I think I've finally hit on it:  If my characters are meeting for the first time on the page in the draft I'm writing at the moment, I'm gonna have a heck of time getting them to act like they've known each other for most of their lives.  Maybe that's obvious or overly simple, but it's a revelation to me.

Though I'd been thinking about Daisy and Kodi for almost a year, I'd not written anything down about them--and that made all the difference in the world.  Bottom line: I'm returning to my plotter ways, and one of the first things on my Daisy to-do list is to develop character profiles for Daisy, Kodi and a few other key players.

What about you?  How do you get to know your characters?  For NaNo participants, how are you going about "picking up the pieces" after November 30th?

11 bolts from the blue:

Lola Sharp said...

At least you tried something new. Learning more about who we are as writers is never a bad thing.

I look forward to reading about Daisy and Kodi. :)

Summer said...

Well, as you saw, I'm trying to pick up the pieces too. Thanks for the input on my blog! I might try the pro-con device. I have plenty of legal pads--they were my note-taking papers of choice during college.

Good luck! I have the opposite problem. I know my characters, but not a damn clue about their plot...

glnroz said...

m'hat's off to all who did the NaNo thing. Many hats indeed.

Liza said...

I wrote the requisit character sketches...but really, I get to know my characters in the middle of the night, when I wake up and can't sleep...I start imagining scenarious and decide how they will act. It's kind of fun, and beats tossing and turning. No NaNo for me. Congratulations to you!

Donna Hole said...

I get to know my characters through writing their scenes. I have to write them for a while before I can sit down and write a character profile. Makes the beginning a bit choppy, but editing is something I enjoy so it's alright.

You learned something new about yourself during NaNo - well, several I see but . . And at least you can say you tried the other way. Maybe you have a better understanding of why plotting works for you now.

Have a good week JP.

..........dhole

Claire Dawn said...

I'm about to do a hashtag edit. I read somewhere that if you didn't have exactly the right word, or needed to research something, instead of stopping your creative flow, stick a hashtag in. Later, you can search the hashtags and work on the missing info at your leisure.

So I'm off to fix all the #peacockfact 's in my first draft :)

Oh, and SCBWI Tokyo has a Creative Exchange on Saturday. So I'm polishing the first few pages.

Jon Paul said...

Lola--I look forward to letting you read about Daisy and Kodi--but much work left to do! :D

Summer--Sure thing! Isn't it so interesting how we come at the same problem from a thousand different ways. It's the opposite of mathematics: there's fifty ways to find the right answer, and all of them are correct!

Glenn--Thanks!

Liza--Yeah, that happens to me too, but usually after I've gotten to know them pretty well. Not knowing is and has always been a big stumbling block--one that I've discovered over the last year. I think this is one of the primary reasons much of my really early work wasn't very good.

Donna--Thanks! I think I do understand that aspect better. I'll keep you posted on what benefits come of it. Have a good weekend yourself!

Claire--The hashtag idea sounds great--one I will definitely use. A hang up I've always had is if I get to an unknown fact, I usually have to stop and go research before I go on. Obviously this wouldn't work for NaNo, so there are tons of comments like "she worked for a company named XXXXX" in my MS. The hashtag is a much more elegant way to get it done.

Thank you all for stopping in and paying me a visit. Have a great weekend!

Talli Roland said...

I get to know my characters mainly during writing the first draft. Then, during the second, they really come to life.

(Thank you so much for helping me out with the Web Splash! Sorry it's taken me so long to make it here to say that!)

G.G. said...

Forty chapters in a month is quite an accomplishment. I look forward to reading that you have a complete draft. Keep up the hard work.

Tara said...

I get acquainted with them for a long time before I put them on paper. Then I learn stuff as I write. Doing the ABC's helps me dig really deep into them as I'm writing.

Jon Paul said...

Talli--Sure thing!

G.G.--Thanks man. Me too!

Tara--Yeah, I'm learning.

Thanks guys for stopping by!

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