So, at the Storymakers Conference last year (link here), I taught a (packed) class on MAD DRAFTING SKILLZ, because I’m a dork who can’t even give her official class a normal name. It was a LOT of information to digest in an hour long class, so I’m going to break it down here for funsies and for the people who were stuck with lame Brandon Sanderson instead of me (Please know I’m TOTALLY kidding, Sanderson is an amazeballs teacher).
Yes, we’ll talk characters, but FIRST, I feel like we should cover some simple vocab – Plotting and Pantsing… In simplest terms – Plotting is writing out the plot, pantsing is letting the plot happen as you write.
And don’t worry! You can have it all…
Yes, I’m a dork, and yes, I’m a little surprised you’re here, too.
So, with that in mind –
- I write enough to know if I like my character and have a feel for their voice. Usually 2,000 – 7,000 words. Without a connection to my character, my word count is dead before I begin. VERY often, this isn’t something that makes it into my MS. I know that Dan Wells (author of I’m Not a Serial Killer), writes some kind of essay from the MC. I tried this once, and really focused on how my MC felt about the way their story wrapped up. SO VERY HELPFUL for character arcs (if you know the ending), and a brilliant way to get the creative mojo working to start a new project.
- If the character doesn’t FORCE me to keep writing, this is the point when I step back. UNLESS I have a deadline. If I have a deadline, and the character isn’t talking loud enough to dictate decisions and plot, then I spend a little more time outlining than I normally would. See how the shift between plotting and pantsing changes even after you’ve started the process? Embrace change. It means you’re letting the story influence your process.
- Research what that character has gone through (more on that next post), or just spend time trying to get into their head – sort of like what an actor would do when preparing to play a role. When I do dishes, I think about how my character would feel doing dishes – Would they know what a plate was? Would they love the feel of hot water on their hands? Would they be bored? Whiny? Resigned? Worried? And just like that, I’ve taken a boring every day task, and turned it into book research. (this is great WHILE drafting, not just pre-writing).
- IF YOUR NOVEL IS SO PLOT OR WORLD DRIVEN, THAT YOU FEEL THIS DOESN’T APPLY, PLEASE REALIZE THAT YOUR PLOT OR WORLD IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER, AND TREAT IT/THEM AS SUCH! Don’t feel weird about this! You make stuff up and spend hours writing it down and worrying about word placement – you crossed the line into weird a LOOOONG time ago.
- PHOTOS – Use the internet! Actors, Pinterest, stock photos, friends, family… Having a perfect visual representation to go with what you’ve learned by writing an essay from your character? GOLD.
- Character sheets – If you google search this, you’ll come up with more ideas than you’d ever want to use. Some of the details feel boring, but I usually answer AS the character, which is INFINITELY more interesting.
So, that’s the CHARACTER part of pre-writing. The other parts we’ll cover are: Research, Plotting tools, Visuals, Blurb/Pitch, and Setting the Mood…
Thanks for popping in! If you have things to add, PLEASE DO!
P.S. Finishing off this post with shameless self-promotion. I won’t do that often. Promise.