Today I’m focusing on character. I mean, I’m writing writing writing and trying to bang through as many words as I can, especially as my productivity was down a bit yesterday. I’m still ahead for the 4-day mark of NaNoWriMo, so all is well. Day 5 reminds me that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and if I’m a little above average one day, then I shouldn’t sweat it when I make less than stellar progress on another day. It will all even out by the end of the month.
Character comes to mind because I’m at the point where I’ve introduced the protagonist now, I’ve explained the situation and some, but not all, of the stakes. I’ve also begun heightening the crisis the protagonist is experiencing, so it behooves me to focus in a bit and explore how Jack is responding to his new environment. Right now, he’s stuck at stage 1—disbelief. As I sweep the curtain aside on his predicament, however, he’s going to be forced to move into new emotional terrain—difficult for a teenage boy, I imagine—and life will get more complicated for him.
It’s possible that a lot of what I’ve written to this point will get written out in a later edit, and it’s likely that the character work I do on pages 30–40 will not make it into the final copy, but that’s okay. I’ll still get to know my character a lot better. I’ll think about how often he blinks as he faces some tough choices, what it feels like in his bones to be thrust into a completely unknown situation, and in a different body, at that. I don’t want to write out all of his innermost thoughts, because I’m pretty sure a 14-year-old wouldn’t have such access to them, but I want to write his responses and his big ticket emotions. I don’t always write in first person, and I could converse until the cows came home about how this person or that, this tense or that one, is the best to use for such-and-such a book, but if need be, I can change all of that later. Right now it’s first person, past tense because I didn’t want the story to sound stuffy and I wanted to be in his POV.
Character brings us into a story, not carefully appointed description, not amazing plot idea, and not genre. I love all kinds of genres, but if I don’t appreciate or feel fascinated by the characters in them, I don’t stick around. If the first four days of NaNoWriMo were about building up the hook for the manuscript, then day 5 it’s high time we invested in who these characters are and why our readers should care about them. From this point out, the story is mostly about how people respond to the evolving events around them.
Whether I’m behind or ahead of the game, I want to start falling in love a little with the people in my story. Or at least want to know them, searching for what there is to like if they’re largely unlikable, or where their painful parts are if they’re primarily joyous folk. I need to know them like I know old friends, because that’s the only way they’ll be believable, and that’s the sole route to ensuring that their responses through the end of the story will be true for them.
Feel free to tell me how your characters are turning out—how you hope they’ll grow by the end of the story, why they get stuck when they do, and what you think about them. And good luck today, NaNoWriMoers!