February 24, 2010

character development

Based on advice I received from Stephanie Bond, author of the Body Movers, at a writing conference, I decided to get organized about my writing. Before I start writing any of my books again, I am going to do some work before-hand, which will hopefully help me expedite the writing process.

This works for me (and is the way Stephanie Bond has made being a novelist her profession). As long as you stick with it. The only book I have made any real progress with included me doing some preliminary legwork. The prep work includes defining my characters and writing a working synopsis for the work. Doing this helps the writer know where the characters are going in the book and why.

That way, when it comes to writing the story, the writer can focus on the details and dialogue without having to wonder where any of this is going.

Here are some of the supplies I needed to get started.

Using a multi-tabbed folio (or whatever it's called) I include notes relevant to different novels I want to write. For example, if I want to write a book set in Upstate New York, I might include a map of the area, notes about the scenery and people. Or, if I plan to have a character be a firefighter, I might include notes about what this job entails. These serve as a handy reference if I need them while I work.

As I've mentioned before, I have several novel ideas. To keep them all straight, I have a folder for each. It keeps the information separate and are readily available while I work.

Inside the folder, I include my detailed chapter outline, my character sketches and other key notes that directly pertain to my novel's content.

I include detailed profiles of the key characters in my book. I am trying envelopes right now to keep them all separate. On the envelope, I include the character's name and a photo clipped from a magazine of what I think said character looks like. It helps to better visualize the character.

Inside the envelope, I include information about the character. Physical description, characteristics and the like. Also under Stephanie Bond's recommendation, I make a chart. The chart addresses what the character was like before the book and where the character will be in his or her life after the book. This develops the character and better explains the role he or she plays in the book.

If you want to write books with characters — as most do, I'm sure — a baby naming book is a handy resource. I use the one I swiped from my mom back in middle school. You can learn the meanings of names, which can help be a source of symbolism. Otherwise, it can just be a source for ideas so you can come up with clever name ideas.

There are also many Web sites available. I like babynames.com. Also, the U.S. government provides a list with statistics about popular names based on the year. This can be especially helpful if you want to know what names were trendy for a time period. It dates all the way back to 1879.

Another helpful resource to have on hand: magazines. On occasion, I find articles that help me come up with story ideas, or at least subplot elements. The magazines are also a good resource for looking for models/ people that look like what you imagine your characters to look like.

I have also spent much of my downtime this weekend re-reading books I enjoy. I skim the books and think about what makes me like the books. Emulation (not plagiarism) can be a great tool for writing.

At the very least, doing this prep work has helped get me excited about writing once again. I'm back into the mindset I had when I came up with these book ideas, and it motivates me to keep going.

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