On November 1, the (10th year!) of the National Novel Writing Month will commence. For those unfamiliar with the event, it’s essentially a “contract” that you make to write a novel in one month. You agree to write a certain number of words per day, and you also agree not to go back and edit those words until the whole blasted thing is over and done with. It’s all about getting something down on the page. Each November my writer-friends keep me updated on their words-per-day count, and every year I’m a bit jealous of just how much writing they’re able to get done. A whole novel! In one month! I’ve always been daunted by this commitment, basically because the whole idea of just getting words down seems to go against my entire writing process (which basically involves six hours spent agonizing over an opening paragraph to a short story, and then another six hours spent re-thinking and then eventually scrapping that opening paragraph). But lately I’ve been warming up to the idea of rethinking this (admittedly non-productive) writing process. Why not dump some words onto a page and just keep plowing on until I’ve got a draft of a novel? There must be something so satisfying about taking on such a task, even if the end result will probably never win me a National Book Award.
So for those of you who want to join me (and I’m still not 100% committed to this yet) first visit: http://www.nanowrimo.org/
Still interested? Okay, then. I’m going to help you get started by helping you create a character by doing what’s called a character sketch. Get yourself a piece of paper and a pencil. Now draw a box in the middle of the page. Inside the box write your character’s name (I’ll call mine Samantha Plain). Next, draw a series of lines away from your box and begin to fill the page with details about your character. What does your character look like? (Samantha Plain is in her early 30s, has a scar on her left leg and a tattoo of a butterfly on her back, etc.) Where did your character grow up? What sort of education does he/she have? What sort of music does he/she listen to? Family? Friends? Job? Habits? The idea is to cluster up the entire page until your character begins to take shape. Don’t be afraid if your character begins to take on characteristics that conflict with each other (Samantha Plain listens to punk music, for example, but likes to wear nice button down shirts with bows at the neck). This will keep your character interesting and realistic. When you’ve gotten to the point where you can imagine what your character might have had for breakfast this morning you can go ahead and stop. You’re ready for the next step. You’ve got your character and now you need a catalyst for your novel. Something to start those words flowing. I find it helpful to think about the worst day of my character’s life (Samantha Plain accidentally hit a bike messenger on her way to her job at the University library!) and then the best day of my character’s life (Samantha Plain woke up to find her front porch filled with flowers!). Chances are one of these moments will provide an interesting moment for your story to begin.
And then you keep on writing. Until the month is over and your fingers are tired. But in the end, Samantha Plain (or whatever name you choose for your character) will have come to life, and maybe she’ll have gotten married, or divorced, or will have reconnected with a long-lost father. And you’ll have written a novel (a whole novel!) in only a month.
Good luck writers,