It’s been almost 2 months since I’ve really written anything. I did some decent work on TD after we returned from our fabulous Colorado vacation, but then Angel died and everything went to hell. As I have documented in earlier posts (1, 2, 3), I have been working on a new WIP, tentatively titled Without A Past. I’ve been trying to plan out the whole thing so that I know my overall plot, have my subplot figured out, know my premise, and know how this story is going to be different from all the other witness protection sorts of stories out there. I still don’t know the answers to all those questions. My book on WITSEC came in yesterday, though I haven’t had an opportunity to dip into it yet. I’m not finished with The Program yet–as I said a few days ago, it’s been all puppy at our house since Friday.
But the story and the desire to ply my craft have been on my mind lately. There was a great post at Poes Deadly Daughters yesterday by Sharon Wildwind that offered up a list of 10 key character points that I thought were really insightful:
1. What is the character’s name? Does the name mean anything special in their family?
2. How old is the character? What year did she turn 6, 15, 18? The reason I picked those three specific ages is that they are often turning points. At 6, most children enter school. It makes a huge difference to who the character is if she turned 6 in Austria, at the beginning of World War II, or turned 6 in Kansas in 1985. Fifteen is the point where a lot of cultural norms are laid down. It’s the music we hear at 15, the clothes we wear, or our favorite junk food that, almost always, marks the “good old days.” At 18, career and education choices are often made. Again, it would make a difference to how a black teen-age character was shaped depending of if he turned 18 in downtown Detroit in 1968, or in suburban Boston in 2004.
3. What is the person’s gender and racial background?
4. What’s the person level of education? What is her work? I define work as the thing that most fills her day. It doesn’t have to be paid work, though it likely is.
5. What is her sexual orientation? Is she in a relationship and how is that going?
6. Dominant impression? This comes from Debra Dixon’s Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts. Two words—one adjective and one noun—that summarize the character. The noun is not the same thing as a profession, but it may indicate a role similar to a profession. For example, the character might run a corporation, but she’s also a woman who likes control. She likes to be in charge. So when I say her dominant impression is a “stern boss,” I’m referring to that need for control, not the fact that she occupies the CEO’s office.
7. What is the character’s tag line? This is a second idea from Debra Dixon. For E.T., the tag line was “phone home.” For Indiana Jones, it’s “Why does it always have to be snakes?” It’s one sentence that describes the character’s main motivation. Though we try to avoid cliches in writing, this is one place that cliches are useful. A tag line of “party hearty,” would immediately give you a different impression of a woman than if she had the tag line “nothing says loving like something from the oven.”
8. Flawed life view comes from Liz Lounsbury. How has the character got it wrong about life/and or relationships?
9. Donald Maass introduced me to the line she will not cross. What is the one thing the character would never do? At least, until this book, then she is going to do it and have to live with the consequences.
10. What jobs does this character have? Jobs are different from work above. It’s at least three good reasons that this character is in this book. Carolyn Wheat identified jobs as an essential thing to know about each character.
I haven’t answered all of these questions yet either–working on it. I thought they would be a great thing to answer for each of the main characters–something to place in their profile in StorYBook.
I read about this program over at PBW–Lynn is always linking folks to great freeware. According to their website, ” StorYBook is a free, open source story writing software for creative writers, novelists and authors that helps to keep the overview over the strands when writing a book, a novel or a story. StorYBook assists you in structuring your book. Have all your data in one place. With StorYBook you can manage summaries, characters and locations and assign them to the related chapters.” As I’m always in the market for something new to try out in my plotting efforts, I downloaded and installed it and gave it a test drive yesterday. The program has some really great features. You create a list of characters and profile them. There’s a place to create a list of locations. Another to create the various strands or threads of your plot (such as the primary action plot, the relationship plot, whatever subplot), which are color coded. As you add “chapters” (I’m using them as scenes) you can check off which strand it applies to, which characters participate, the location where it occurs, the date (if you’re into using real calendar dates), and a summary. You can organize them chronologically by the date or by chapter order and export it into PDF so that you’ve got an outline of your story. There’s also a thing called Parts that I sort of equate to Acts. Pot was disappointed that there wasn’t more room in the character pages for stuff, but overall I was very impressed with the program and have enjoyed using it. Pot was also hoping that working in it would inspire her to fill in some gaps in her plot (because, hey, we all look for inspiration wherever we can find it, right?), but mostly she felt like she was just entering information she already knows. I liked the visual nature of it for the same reasons I like Text Block Writer, which I review here–but I like this setup better than TBW. I feel like it gives me a better idea of overall pacing than just straight outlining (why, I don’t know, but I’ll go with it). I find that this system helps me see some of the holes more easily as well. All in all, definitely worth a test drive for anyone who is a veteran or novice plotter. /software plug
Back to the writing thing–I may not know the answers to all the questions about my characters or my plot, but I do know my setup. That’s not going to change. So I think that today or tomorrow (tonight we’re going to see Indy 4, so I don’t know that I’ll have time today), I think I will climb back in the saddle and try to write. I don’t know if I’ll start out with my previous expectation of 1k a day. I think I’ll start out with no expectations for a bit and see how it goes. It’s going to be a bit of a rough start back, I think.
I’m just about to start a ‘Villain Month’ over on my blog– a bunch of writers and blogs are dedicating June to working on their antagonists. If you’re working on characters, feel free to jump right in if it so interests you. 🙂