Most of you know I’ve taken up the challenge of completing NaNoWriMo 2013, an online event where writers around the globe try to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I’m happy to say that so far things are going well and I haven’t lost my sanity (thank you, chocolate) and I am well on my way to at least getting a few pages done in my novel.
But I’ve come across a bit of a snag that I thought I’d share with the rest of you. You see, my main character of my story-my protagonist-is unfamiliar to me. I know him about as well as I know the neighborhood cat.
And that’s a problem.
It’s not that I don’t know his story-I know where he begins, where he’s at in the middle, and where he’s going to be in the end, but I don’t know him as a character. I don’t understand his traits and why he’s the way that he is. I don’t relate to him very well at all.
And that’s because he’s nothing like me.
Writer’s 101 dictates that you write what you know because, well, you know it. What you know comes easy to you and you understand it better than others. You write about your past, your interests, your areas of expertise…the parts of your life that you have the most knowledge about.
When creating a fictional character, a similar principle applies. You can create characters based on certain aspects of your personality and have them go through experiences that you can relate to. This familiarity by connecting your personal life to fiction bridges a connection between author and audience. Readers will know you know what you’re talking about because your characters and details are “realistic”.
So when writing about my character-we’ll call him “G” for short (no spoilers just yet, mwa ha ha!)-it’s been a difficult task because one, his personality is very different from mine, and two, the circumstances he is placed in is something I’ve never had to deal with.
So how does a shy, history loving book nerd understand a suave, deceptive, tragically innocent jerk? (I’m the book nerd, by the way.)
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1) Look for outside opinion. Remember my beta reader, Mom? Well guess who got to read the first two chapters of the novel. That’s right-Mom. And guess who learned she had to re-write part of the first chapter because her character made no sense during one scene? Yep. It was me. But I’m grateful that my mom was honest with me. I wrote that scene not really understanding the dynamics of the character’s personality and how that would effect his relationship with others. My mom, who’s known more people than I have, understood it better because she’s so great at reading people.
2) Work that imagination. Put your character in different scenarios and write out possible outcomes. For example, what if you went to lunch with that character? How would he/she react? What conversations would come up? What food would be ordered? Even little details can tell you a lot about a person and reveal deeper aspects of their personalities, so see which outcomes work best and build from there.
3) Give it time. Sometimes understanding of a character just takes time to develop. On another story I’ve been working on (non-NaNoWriMo related), one of my main characters started out pretty heroic. He was dashing, brave, and could easily be featured on “Survivor” and come out a winner. But as the story progressed and went through changes, my dashing hero went through a personality change. He was still brave, but became more timid, secretly bitter over past events, and was transformed into an unsung hero who people tended to ignore. This change certainly didn’t happen over night. In fact, it happened over a period of about four or five years. But the more I wrote about this character, the more I began to understand what quirks, actions, and traits connected his personality to the story at hand. And because the story changed, his traits changed, and I learned what parts of his personality worked (and didn’t work) with the overall story.
So even though I’m still on the early parts of my novel and I’m still getting to know my protagonist, I feel like I’m at least starting on the right track. Grant it, my character will probably go through a lot of changes (poor guy), but in the end, I’ll have gotten to know a character I didn’t know before.
And he’ll hopefully have a finished story by November 30.