Blank to 50K: Characters Bring Your Writing to Life

Blank to 50KWe’ve determined you want to write a novel, and you’ve committed to getting the first draft written in 30 days. Great. What now? Where do you begin? Some writers start with the plot, others with characters. Either way is fine. Personally, the characters are usually my starting point. They talk to me, take form in my head, and then I figure out what they’re up to. If you’d rather start with plot, go for it – but you’ll have to wait until next week for my tips.

Character Sketches

These are highly touted, and there are lots of worksheets and templates available on the internet. I use Scrivener, and often use their templates as my jumping off point, but that template is very basic. I suggest you do two things:

  • Write a detailed character sketch, at least a couple of pages. See the bottom of this post for a free copy of my worksheet.
  • Write an autobiography – your character’s life story from his/her point of view. A page is fine. This doesn’t have to be long, just focus on the high points – what is important to your character.

Character Spreadsheet

You need a spreadsheet for every novel/series you write. This helps you keep track of who you are writing about. Actually, it does a lot more than that – your spreadsheet can become your writing bible. It tells you who did what, when they did it and where they were. But for right now, keep it simple. All you need is a list of characters, so you can fill in the details for each character as you create their sketches. This is also a great place to keep track of tags that you use to cue your reader as to who the character is. For instance, in my Diamond J series, I use “Wranglers” as a tag for Beau, and I use “red hair” as a tag for Beth. Very simplistic, but I want those things to instantly remind the reader of that character. Another great example of this is the Harry Dresden series. If you hear duster and staff while you’re reading a Jim Butcher book, you know Harry is the character in play.

If you’d like a copy of my Character Sketch Worksheet (Word format) and my Character Spreadsheet (Excel format), please enter your name and email below and I’ll send them to you.

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Post NaNoWriMo Blues

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I haven’t participated in NaNo for the past couple of years, but I miss it. Still keep up with the NaNo site over November, and when it’s over – and after I congratulate all the winners and see how my buddies did, I realize just how amazing the movement that is NaNo is. It’s AMAZING! I’m so proud to have been a part of it in past years.

I can’t help feeling a little sad in December.  I’m proud of the winners, for persevering, and for making writing a priority for 30 days – a mere 1/12th of the year. I know that many of those folks are now feeling depressed. They miss thinking about story,  characters, plot, setting, tempo. They miss the frequent emails from writing buddies.

But now that I’ve transitioned out of NaNo and into writing throughout the year, I feel more like a true writer. I feel pulled in 20 different directions at times, but my writing is consistent. I have one novel polished (and an editor has requested the full – cross your fingers!!), another novel in rewrite, and several novels drafted.  I have made writing a priority throughout the year, and I feel as if I’ve made real progress in my skill set since I’ve done that. NaNo was wonderful for teaching me how to turn off the dreaded Internal Editor and push through that first draft until I reach “The End.”

NaNo Lessons:

  • Turn off the Internal Editor
  • Start the story at the beginning
  • Tell the story
  • Write the ending
  • Every first draft is PERFECT in that it exists

Have you participated in NaNo? If so, what did it teach you? And have you continued to participate?