Tag: how to

June 8, 2017

It’s that time of year! The month before Camp NaNoWriMo (Round 2!).

 

March, June, and October (and sometimes September because I’m always too excited) are for prep. And we’re here!

 

My usual prep consists of outlining. First identifying the three main acts, then Freytag’s Pyramid, and eventually a chapter-by-chapter outline. Ideally, I have this done before I start writing.

 

My best writer friends prep a different way – using character bio questionnaires.

 

I tend to enjoy character-driven stories the most, both in reading and writing. Characters usually jump into my head mostly formed, and I make stories based around those characters. Because of this, I actually need the most help when it comes to plot. (Thus, my detailed chapter outline.)

 

So while I’d seen various character bios floating around the internet for years, I never truly felt the push to use one until I started co-writing a story with one of those friends. The other friend is an avid D&D player, so character creation (and world building) is paramount.

 

Needless to say, they had a lot to teach me.

 

Here are a few character bios. For your reference and/or use.

 

The point of character bios are to help you learn more about your characters (duh) and, use that extra knowledge during your story. This is important because I think people who use character bios religiously tend to fall into 2 categories: those who actually end up writing their stories (aided by the bios) and those who never actually write their story (consistently telling themselves they just need more prep and the bio grows pages while the story document is never created).

 

Don’t fall into the second category. Don’t do that. Not to your precious story! Don’t be sucked in! It deserves to be told.

 

Okay, so now that you’ve promised yourself not to fall down the rabbit hole, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself, “why the eff does it matter if the character’s mother was born in June or July?” I’ve found that while not all of the questions are useful, they compound to give you more insight. Typically at least 2 -3 questions, and their respective answers, prompt an event or catalyst felt directly in my story. To me, this is the greatest win. And why character bios can be worthwhile.

 

Filling one out also means you won’t end up writing an entire story without knowing the main character’s name and solely referring to them as FMC for Female Main Character. (I speak from experience…)

 

If it’s your first time filling out a character bio, and 40+ questions just seems like too much, here are the five I’ve repeatedly found helpful (from the links above, with a few notes in parenthesis):

  1. What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting? (This can be great for weaving throughout the story or as a subplot.)
  2. What about this character will readers like? What will they dislike? (Good to have one of each, at least.)
  3. If your character was suddenly challenged, would they rather run away or stay and fight? (Does this change based on the challenge presented? How?)
  4. What kind of person does your character wish he or she could be? What is stopping him or her?
  5. Does your character think the future is hopeful? Why? (Works for all settings, but especially fantasy.)

All in all, the answer to if questionnaires are worth it is personal. To both the writer and the individual story. Basically, you do you. Just don’t get sucked in and only work on the bio, and don’t do so little character work that you never learn their names.

 

Do you use character bios? What’s your favorite questions to answer? Let me know!

October 10, 2016

It’s my favorite time of year again! Not only is Halloween the best holiday, right after Halloween is National Novel Writing Month!

http://gph.is/2dmCTQY

 

November is almost upon us and as my excitement for NaNo has crept into October, this month will forever be known to me as NaNoPrep month!

 

And you know what I do during NaNoPrep month? I outline.

 

Especially since this will be my first year going above and beyond the 50K word goal. If you see me on social media, I’ll be using #2books1month since that’s my goal this year! (Thanks to my friend for suggesting it.)

 

There are some people – affectionately known as pantsers, because they’re flying by the seat of their pants – who don’t plan at all for NaNoWriMo. They may have an idea for what they want to write, or they may not, but regardless. They. Do. Not. Plan.

 

I used to think I was one of them. (Spoiler: I’m not.)

 

I like planning. (This is true in all facets of my life so why I thought writing would be any different is beyond me.) And even if you don’t usually like planning, if you’re kicking around the idea of participating in NaNoWriMo, I ABSOLUTELY RECOMMEND IT.

 

Why?

 

Because 50,000 words in one month is no joke. This comes out to ~1,667 words per day, which is more than a lot of people are used to writing. If you’re working part- or full-time, going to school, have kids, etc., this can be a difficult number to achieve each day. And it is SO easy to get behind, especially in a month where a lot of people either get the holidays off to visit family, or are working extra hours during Thanksgiving.

 

Basically, what I’m saying is, don’t underestimate the 1,667 words.

 

You may be thinking that’s silly because you can type 100 words/minute because you’re a superstar like my friend who’s going for a crazy 500K words this month. That’s fine, congrats on your insane speed, now humor me for a minute while I crunch some numbers.

 

Let’s assume you actually only type at 60 words/minute (“above average”). That means it would take you approximately a half hour to get all your words for the day. But hold up! That’s typing without thinking. That’s not wondering what word you want to use for the greatest impact, that’s not thinking up what a character should say or do next to advance the plot, and that’s not considering the fact that you wanted to create a world with magic and – oh shit – you’re now realizing one of your magic rules contradicts the other and AHHHHHH.

 

This isn’t meant to discourage! This is meant to help you realize that there’s something you can do about it now, rather than being derailed halfway through NaNoWriMo and wondering why you let yourself get so far behind and if it’s even possible to catch up. (Hello ‘07, ‘10, and ‘13 me!)

 

The best tip I can give to make November easier is to outline. This takes away a lot of the sitting around, wondering what on earth you’re going to write next. (And it means, if you can type 60 words/minute, NaNo won’t take up a huge portion of your day!) Now I don’t think you need to get crazy with it! All I want you to do, at first, is fill out Freytag’s Pyramid (aka the dramatic structure):

freytags_pyramid-svg from wikipedia

This is the original structure (and plenty of people have made changes and better updates to it), but basically it can be characterized by:

  • Beginning, with Inciting Incident
    • Why does your story start? Why are we following this character? What do they have to gain/lose? Why should the reader care?
  • Rising Action
    • Throw all of the crazy crap in the way of your character(s)! This is filled with all the complications that are keeping your character from getting what they want. Or, if you want to think of a mystery novel, this is the uncovering of the clues and the setbacks faced to find them. (This can be used for any genre.)
  • Climax
    • The turning point, the tip, the part of the story we’ve all been holding our breaths for! In our mystery example, this is the section where we find out whodunit or realize we’ve been chasing the wrong person all along.
  • Falling Action
    • The aftermath of the climax, it can sometimes include one final twist.
  • Denouement
    • Resolution! “The End”! This is the part that ties the entire story together for the reader.

Here’s an example of Freytag’s Pyramid/the dramatic structure for The Great Gatsby:

freytags-pyramid-for-great-gatsby

And here is (in my opinion) a more accurate version of what the dramatic structure should look like in a novel:

better-freytags-pyramid

But you get the gist! Basically, you have a beginning, a middle with the most important events, and an end. If you do no other planning or prepping than this, I think you’ll find NaNoWriMo much easier than going in blind or pantsing.

 

(Of course, once you have this, it’s easy to separate the dramatic structure out into a chapter-by-chapter outline. That’s what I like to do!)

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Are you a planner or a pantser? If you’re a planner, how do you do it? Any tips and tricks for the rest of us?