Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Who are you and what are you doing in my head?

This is what my novel is going to look like, I think.

The first draft is going to be crammed full of stereotypical nonsense.  My antagonist is going to be over-the-top evil; my protagonist is going to have a halo on her delicate, beautiful skull.  The "nice guy" is going to be meek to the point of nausea and all characters are at risk of whiplash from the hair tossing and theatrical gestures.

It's alright, though.  I accept it, for now.  I welcome it, to be honest.

My first draft has yet to begin (26 days to go eeeek!), and I'm already looking forward to the second draft.  That will be the point when I truly understand my characters.

A lot of writers I've come across like to know everything about their characters before they start, up to (and including) what their gran had for dinner last week.  And if that works for them, I'm envious.  I'm still trying to figure out what works for me, though I have a good idea what doesn't.

When I try to come up with proper names for my characters, or a book title, I feel utterly indifferent.  It's like a baby, I suppose.  I need to see what it looks like in the flesh before I can name it. 

For the time being, I have Harry the Husband, Wendy the Wife; I even have Rebecca the Replacement (teacher) and Jason the Janitor.  Highly original, I know.

What I'm more concerned with, right now, is how they treat themselves and others.  Their demeanour and attitudes.  How they deal with the situations I thrust upon them.  I've always believed that it's what people do (and don't do) that determine who they are.  For instance, someone might donate to charity every month and help old people cross the road, but they might also cheat on their partner or keep the contents of a lost purse. 

Labels don't define human beings.  We are complex creatures and I look forward to making my characters wonderfully intricate in my 2nd draft.  I anticipate the agony with relish.

In the meantime, my first draft will be a caricature of their life views.  Their opinions.  Their morals and beliefs.  Their place in society and how they measure themselves up against others.  This, to me, will direct their actions in the story, more than figuring out their pet's name or bra size.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm not detracting from anyone who creates or uses character profile sheets; not at all.  I will be using them myself, when I get on to the second draft.  Alan Ayckbourn can sum it up better than me, in the Open University podcast for creative writing.  He's talking about plays specifically, but it definitely strikes a chord with me:

"The first draft is very much an acquaintanceship with the characters, and ….often their dialogue, their speech patterns develop during that first draft, they don’t start that way."

I just adore his voice.  It's so delightfully theatrical!

I'm going to spend the rest of the evening reading.  I feel literally undernourished, and crave that blissful escapism that I so wish to create myself.

Any NaNo-ers care to share their tips with a newbie? How are your plans coming along?


Daniel Swensen said...

Fun post, Catherine.

Years ago, when I was voraciously devouring writing books, I ran across Peter Elbow's Writing With Power. I didn't agree with everything he said, but one thing I did get a lot out of was the notion of the freewrite. Just write for 10 or 15 minutes without stopping. Elbow said that at the end, he'd just throw the freewrites away, as a means of diminishing his own anxiety about perfectionism.

I try to apply that to Nanowrimo -- not in the sense of throwing stuff away, but of just blowing through a scene if I'm having trouble. On the day I wrote 10,000 words in 12 hours, I had a rule for myself; if I was getting bored with a scene, I quit and moved on. I used the old Raymond Chandler trick of "men burst into the room with guns" if things got slow. I just never allowed myself to slow down.

So I think you're on to something with the "broad strokes first, fine detail later" approach. I think there's a lot of value in it.

Melissa said...

You're already off to a good start. :) I have yet to do any serious plotting or characterization but I'll get it done.

Last year, I didn't plan at all. I went into NaNoWriMo thinking I was just going to "wing it". A couple of weeks into it, my story fell flat and I got so frustrated. This year, planning is really the key. It doesn't have to be major planning but knowing what your story is about and where it's supposed to go is pretty handy. Also knowing your characters helps too. I think this year will be better because I've met more people who are doing NaNo online so maybe this support team will help encourage me. Encouragement always helps! :)

Lauren @ Pure Text said...

Great post. :) Your unique voice really shines through. "Shines through"--speaking of cliche's! :P I love that you're already counting on producing stereotypes. The concept seems freeing to me.

For me, my characters named themselves forever ago, but I don't know them very well. Hopefully, my first draft will reveal them to me, and hopefully I can allow it to without worrying about knowing them beforehand--which I'm already doing, worrying that is. ;)

gabrielle said...

Judging from the flow and engagement of this blog, Catherine, I think your Wrimo venture will rock a great novel.

Thank you, Daniel, for sharing that "Elbow" trick. I suffer from perfection-alism, also.

This year, I become what I call a Wrimo to the 3rd power. My first year, I barely squeezed out 20,000 words. Last year, with a fleshy "plan" -- a la Melissa -- I finished what I started and even went over the 50,000 mark.

I agree that inter-participant support helps to reinforce and encourage.

Good luck to us all!

Wrimo x3

Catherine Noble said...

Thank you all for your lovely words :D

Daniel - I do love the notion of freewriting, I really should just try it one day. How very British of me to have inhibitions as a writer! 10,000 words in 12 hours? You are my hero :|

Melissa - Thank you :) I'm sure you will get your plotting and characterization done in good time. I agree about the encouragement; I've never really been a twitter fan until I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and now I'm always on it, talking with all you lovely writers, in our wee community :)

Lauren - Hee hee cliches are so necessary sometimes :) It was quite a cathartic moment for me, accepting my theatrical ways. It was during a brief moment of sanity, when I remembered this is (to me) more about fun than perfection. Aww don't worry, I have faith in you :D I'm interested to know, how did the names come to you?

Gabrielle - Thank you so much :D congratulations on your previous Nano successes; that's impressive! Do you intend to plan as much as you did last year? Or more/less?

Good luck everyone <3 x

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