Daily Challenge Check-in: July 28, 2015

Words/Time: 3560 words revising “Pithea” with two of my sisters over Skype. Also known as the 49th meeting of the Tri-County Sisterhood of the Traveling Book. We got through almost 12 pages of double-spaced text. There were some issues raised tonight that made me very defensive of my words, but they were all resolved peacefully. I did wander off to the kitchen to scrub a dirty dish while we talked about one though (I use a wireless headset during these meetings), because I can’t sit still when these kinds of issues arise. That was something I only realized I did tonight.

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-BannerIt’s the end of week 4 of Camp NaNo, and there are now only 3 days left. I am about an hour away from my goal of working for an average of an hour per day all month. We’re leaving on Thursday for a 5-day trip to Toronto, so I most likely won’t have time to work on Thurs or Fri. Tomorrow, my kids and I will be spending a lot of the day packing and otherwise getting ready. I had anticipated being done with Camp NaNo tonight, so I wouldn’t have to work on it tomorrow, but I had to skip Sunday, so now I have another day’s work to do. I will do my best to make time tomorrow. It’s just an hour. If that fails, I will figure out some way I can do some work either in the car (though I tend to get carsick if I’m looking at a book, mobile screen, or anything like that, while the car is moving) or in the hotel between Thurs and Fri, during any down time. I’ll fit it in, even if I have to get up before the rest of the family on Friday.

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 27, 2015

Words/Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes, adding revisions for “Pithea” that were made on paper into the computer. Not working on anything yesterday has put a crimp in my plans to win Camp NaNo tomorrow. And that’s a shame, because I’m leaving on Thursday for 5 days in Toronto. Wednesday will be mostly spent packing and getting otherwise ready, with an early bedtime. I don’t see having time, or focus, to work for the last hour I’ll be needing. Maybe I’ll have to find some sort of writing work I can do on the 8-hour drive. Or in the hotel on Friday afternoon, which for now is slated to be our only downtime all weekend.

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 26, 2015

Words/Time: None. For the first time all month, I did not a single bit of writing work today. Not on my story, not for Camp NaNo, not even for this blog (besides right now, but this doesn’t count). Normally I just don’t post if I do nothing, but today wasn’t a lazy day, it was a full day. Up very early, nap in the afternoon, then a 90-minute drive for a concert with my family. To be honest, I’m mostly just posting because I was so close to posting every day in July that I didn’t want a day with no chance to work to ruin it. And to share this picture:

fK&C Elkhart 056

for KING & COUNTRY in Elkhart, IN

Plan Every Day: Those With Whom We Spend Most of Our Time

dream plan write

Character creation is an important part of developing a story. It’s one of the key elements of fiction, right up there with plot and setting. A unique character can make a stale plot seem new again. Alternatively, an overused character type can drag down a brilliant plot. So what do we do? We plan. We carefully craft our characters before we start to write. Sometimes, before we even start to outline.

(Obviously not all characters are planned in advance–you’re not always able to plan for everything that may come up as you’re writing. And maybe pantsers don’t have any characters figured out before they start. Is that a thing? I don’t even know. If so, though, at some point, I would think they’d have to slow down and flesh out the characters that came as they wrote.)

For me, character creation can sometimes go hand-in-hand with the outlining. As I’m weaving the plot, the characters are being defined by what the story needs. Sometimes, an idea for a character is sharp in my head before I’ve even figure out what may ever happen to that character.

In my early writing, I wasn’t great at making various characters have their own distinctness. That doesn’t mean there were 5 of the same person, but with different names and genders, wandering around interacting and moving the plot forward. Rather, I seemed to have a general nice, friendly type of character and a general crabby, anti-social type of character. I noticed that a lot of my side characters almost mirrored the main character.

In the time since then, I’ve been more careful to give each character their own sense of being. It has been an important part of my current revision of “Pithea” to flesh out side characters who are actual people in my head, but don’t get a lot of “screen time,” so to speak. Just because they have small parts doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be as much themselves as I can make them in those parts.

There can be a question, though, of how to really craft your character into a real person. Character sheets are an obvious answer, and you can find different forms of those all over the place. I’ve tried that before, but I’ve realized I don’t care for them. For a while, I thought that if I couldn’t answer a question like, “What is your character’s philosophy on death?” it was because my characters weren’t deep enough. Obviously I needed to answer that to have a really good character. But the truth is, no matter how I answered, it felt silly. It felt forced. It just didn’t work for me. (Character sheets or profiles can be a great tool if it works for you. I’d never discourage anyone from doing it. I may even try it again someday. Maybe I just need the right template.)

To get to know my characters, give them their own voice, or discover why they are who they are, my favorite method is just writing. Write a scene unrelated to the plot, centered around the character in question, maybe even from the point-of-view of that character, even if the main story isn’t. Writing prompts can come in handy for something like this, if an idea doesn’t readily present itself. But the general idea is to write out a scene and let that character shine in their uniqueness, and it gives you a better feel for that character.

As I’ve been working on “Pithea” with my sisters, one of them defended a character that was meant to be disliked by other characters and readers alike. My sister said, “He’s tactless, but everything he says makes sense. Why does everyone else always jump on him? They’re all really mean to him.” I was shocked and confused. He was a bully! Rude! Horrible! But as I read through his parts in the story, I realized that she was right. He wasn’t the nicest guy, but the other characters reacted to the man I saw in my head, not the one on the page.

So I spent some time getting to know him. I started with the personality I wanted him to have and asked what in his life could have led him to be that way. Then I wrote out important points about his early life. Over the course of a couple days, I did some writing practice from his perspective. None of this would ever make it into the story, but it was important to me. I shared it with my editing-partner sisters so that they could understand how I saw him. Then I changed some of his parts in the story, based on the deeper understanding I have of him now.

One more thing–while I don’t fill out a pre-made character sheet, I do make sure to write down traits or other important notes about my characters that I realize along the way.

Plan for yourself: Think about any characters you may have that you feel are not very well developed. Or that you feel have confusing motivations. Consider why they are in the story in the first place, and what specific personality or outlook on life their role would require of them. Then go backwards from there and think through why that personality might develop in them. Does he look down on women because he had three older sisters who treated him harshly? Did she become a nurse because when she was younger, she remembered how her sick grandfather’s nurse had brightened his stay in the hospital?

Spend some time getting to know them. Fill out a character sheet if you like and haven’t already, but go further than that. Write more with them than you might plan to for your story. Write as them. How would they describe themselves? How do they see the world? What do they think of the main character? Put them into a conversation with someone else, about something important or just what to have for dinner. How do they talk, react, or move during the conversation?

Make sure to write down anything you learn about your character during this time, somewhere that you can easily refer back to it.

How do you get to know your characters? Do you have a character sheet template that you use for every one? Do you ever struggle to avoid copy+paste characters, or do you excel at creating unique individuals? How many times do the words “character” or “characters” appear in this post?

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 23, 2015

Words/Time: 1 hour, revising “Pithea.” The beginning of part 4 has long concerned me. After three parts, each with its own mini-plot, part 4 has its own too. However, first, there’s the issue of a bunch of stuff that happens during the year between parts 3 and 4. At the beginning of parts 2 and 3, there was also a little bit of, “So, here’s what’s happened since then…” The other times, though, it was a small amount of text. This time, way more happens. Around 5000 words-worth. Looking at the word count, it didn’t seem like as much as it had felt like before, so I’m less concerned now. Most likely, I’ll make one chapter of various updates (or two chapters, if need be, as one of those updates seems like it might be better being separate) and then just go on with the story.

I also decided today that it’s time to start laying out the story in a way that helps me see where chapter breaks should be. I’ve noticed that I seem to be different than most other writers (though to be fair, I haven’t done specific research, just what I hear other Wrimos or blogging writers say) who plan chapters into their outline, or at least break the writing into chapters as they go. I don’t get that. I mean, I am completely baffled by it. I have a hard enough time deciding chapter breaks afterward. However, I’ve finally started to bring myself around to understanding (and believing) that “average chapter length” is a myth. My plan right now is to use Scrivener (which I’ve tested, but not thoroughly) to lay out the scenes and hopefully figure out chapters there.

My stats page on the Camp NaNo site says that at my current pace, I will finish on July 29th. That is fortunate, because my family is leaving for a 5-day trip to Toronto on the 30th. Though I’ll bring a notebook or two with me, I know I won’t have time to do any writing work. I didn’t last time. So I should finish the day before. Though in actuality, barring any bad days before next Tuesday, I’ll probably finish on the 28th, because I will have another 2-2 1/2 hour Skype revision meeting that will most likely push me over the edge.

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 22, 2015

Words/Time: 630 words of something completely unrelated to anything I should be working on. Not even fiction. But still writing. I worked all day, then had another obligation in the evening, so I didn’t get home until 10:30, at which point normal child-bedtime routines still had to happen. So I decided not to worry about Camp, since I’m ahead anyway. What I did write qualifies for my daily challenge to do some sort of writing work every day, but doesn’t qualify for Camp NaNo.

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 21, 2015

Words/Time: 3603 words revising “Pithea” with two of my sisters over Skype. Also known as the 48th meeting of the Tri-County Sisterhood of the Traveling Book. We got through almost 11 1/2 pages of double-spaced text. We discussed tonight the fact that the last three meetings have yielded higher than average page counts. We’re not sure if it’s because I’d gotten better at my writing by the time I got this far, if I’ve just gotten better with my revising before the group reads over the story, or if we’re just all starting to care less. Hopefully it’s not the last one.

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-BannerIt’s the end of week 3 of Camp NaNo, so here’s a quick update on my progress–my goal for the month is to work for an average of an hour per day on my revision. I’m happy to say I have still been keeping up with that and then some. I’ve still only skipped one day of revision all month. Any other times I’ve had a rough or busy day, I’ve made sure to get at least 20 minutes of work in. Right now, I’m almost 3 hours above par for the current day, so I’m going into week 4 with some buffer, which is always great!

Daily Challenge Check-in: July 20, 2015

Words/Time: 1497 words, revising “Pithea.” I have toned down a scene that was probably too much too soon, though only by a small amount. One sentence deleted was all that was required. And with today’s work, I have finished part 3 of 4 during this revision session, which will probably be the most intensive one I have to do. Part 4 is kind of a mess though. All four parts consist of somewhat stand-alone mini-plots while the main plot progresses. Part four has its own conflict, but first I spend several pages talking about things that happened between parts 3 and 4. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work yet.