Who’s My Main Character?

About a week ago, I started a new project. It’s a cute little thing. About ten pages long, barely talking in complete sentence fragments, yet. I’m also revising my last project, working through what I have, and trying to get it all to sit still in some kind of order.

The two projects are very different. The old one is third person, multiple points of view, and basically becoming a sprawling wasteland of revision. The new one… well, maybe I’m looking for something simpler, right now. It’s first person, one point of view, and–from an ethical standpoint–a lot more right and wrong.

First person really narrows my focus. The main character–the one who’s going to spend the most time on stage–is the I character. (Haven’t named her, yet. Of course.) Yes, you can find exceptions. But in general, that’s it. And that’s it in my new project.

I’m hoping that focusing on ONE character will reduce the revision time. And that first person will force me to do that. Can you tell?

In my last project?

There were five major characters in the last project, and that leaves me with two suspects for THE main character.

And three, if I’m allowed to count the world as a character in its own right.

It’s a big story.

But I’m still not sure whose story it is.

That makes me wonder if some of it’s more repetitive than I’m seeing. The two story lines are pretty closely intertwined. In the end, I’ll pick one, or reasons will appear and make one a clear winner.

From Pants to Plot–Aiming For a Cleaner Draft

I’m not much for plotting. More of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.

Actually, if you see me plotting–and especially if you see me jotting down my characters’ brand of toenail polish– just go ahead and hire an exorcist. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a supernatural ability, and I’ve never really wrapped my head around it.

I start plotting, and everything just stops. There’s a plot. Maybe I get as far as a to-do list. But checking off scenes doesn’t really work for me. I don’t wind up with finished novels like that. Just a lot of first chapters.

When I don’t plot, things work better. I get to the end, eventually. And then, I revise.

Revision takes me a long, long time. After all, the manuscripts aren’t always in chronological order, and pieces can be missing. And that subplot that seemed so brilliant? Well… let’s just say that could be a novel of its own.

So, right now, I’m staring at more manuscript than I will ever need, and wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this pants thing.

Something that would make revision a little smoother, at least.

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to give plotting another try. That was a disaster. But some kind of plan to produce a smoother rough draft and make the revision go more smoothly? I could be into that.

The places I can see changing right now are:

  1. Better use of My software. Things get labeled appropriately as soon as I’m finished writing them. They have real chapter names. They have descriptions. They are arranged in something resembling chronological order.
  2. More focus on writing scenes in the order they happen, rather than the order they show up in. I have no idea how to do that. But, it would be really nice to have a neat orderly manuscript going into revision.
  3. Filling out plot cards as I go, rather than waiting until the end, and keeping them in order, at least.
  4. Plot grid! Well, it’s worked for me before… when I happen to do it.

And the thing that needs to go back to the way it was is the daily word count. I thought about dropping it, based on the fact that I can’t revise as fast as I write, but the last year hasn’t produced the results I want. I’m going to say that I undervalued raw words, and possibly over-valued the revised product.

If anything, maybe I should have increased my goal word count. Especially if the goal is to write cleaner.

If anybody has any ideas on this, I’d love to hear them! Don’t be shy. Shout your thoughts out in the comments.

When am I going to get to read your book?

People have been asking me when they’re going to get to read my book. People I don’t know particularly well, and don’t really see as a part of my creative community.

Coworkers, mostly. The occasional family member. That fundamentalist preacher–who clearly would not like my book.

Nobody ever looks at a medical student, and says, So when are we gonna see some of this “gynecologisting”?

Anyway, a while back–when I was pressed for time and stupid enough to do it–I took some of my manuscript to work to edit over my (absurdly long) lunch hour. I figured people wouldn’t notice, but… of course, they did.

That’s the point where I should’ve lied.

Homework. It’s homework. (Which, by the way, was their first guess.)

Nope. I told the truth. And I’ve been suffering for it, ever since.

I’m a perfectionist. And a cynic. And that means that I’m usually afraid that if I don’t have every single comma in the right place, and every single i dotted just right, I’ll be driven out of town by an angry mob with pitchforks and torches.

I think the best thing in the world for me would be to print out copies of the next story, stand on a street corner somewhere, and hand them out.

Except… I could do that. Easily. As long as the street corner in question is somewhere else, filled with people I never have to see again.

For maximum benefit, it would have to be a street corner here in my own little world, filled with half-strangers and nearly-friends who I do have to see again.

Terrifying.

I’m simultaneously afraid they’ll look, shrug, and walk away, and afraid that they’ll look, laugh, and not walk away. That I’ll be left in a sea of laughter forever.

How much am I capable of trusting people? That may be something I have to work on. Suggestions?

NaNoWriMo and Me

I got the reminder that the official NaNoWriMo prep period starts in September. I’m not much of a preparation type, but I’ve definitely started thinking about what this year’s novel is going to be about, and about all the novels I’ve worked on in the past.

NaNoWriMo–for the handful of non-writers here–is National Novel Writing Month, and writers from all over the world get together online and try to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. And there have been some commercial success stories and a whole lot of personal success stories. (NaNoWriMo was the first time I finished a novel!)

After that, I got weighted down with editing, and the near-impossible task of making my first-ever novel, which I wrote in 30 days presentable. And there were a few Nanos where I started novels, just to be distracted by the ever-present editing job.

How long do you have to let a novel cool before you edit it? I’ve heard six months, or a year, or at least a month, but I think the real answer is this: Let it cool until you’ve written the first draft of your next novel. That’s the only thing that’s going to fully occupy your mind, and let you approach editing with a fresh eye.

Well, anyway, eventually, I did wind up writing more novels.

I don’t really remember how, but for a while, I fell off the NaNoWriMo band wagon, and wrote entirely on my own schedule. The next novel wasn’t a NanoNovel. I know that.

Somewhere in there, I got help revising my novel.  And somehow, I managed to turn that very first finished disaster into something people were capable of reading.

And then, through peer pressure and nostalgia, I wound up back at Nano. I think I’ve gotten my 50k in three or four times, over all.

But that’s not my goal, anymore.

My goal is to revitalize my goals. Make new friends. Make good habits.

Year around, my writing goal is about 1000 words a day. And that’s less than you need to win Nano. It adds up, though, to 365,000 words a year. (Not including forum posts, or blog posts, if I want to be a purist.) About 7 Nano-novels worth of text. Easily 4 or 5 proper, full-length novels.

The habit is easier to get into when there are other people around you to support you, and that’s what Nano really does well. A month is a good length of time to get into a habit. (I got into the blogging every day thing with the A-to-Z Challenge, this year).

I’ve been slipping on my 1000 words of fiction a day, and I want to build the habit back up before I hit the new year. (I don’t believe in resolutions, but I do start my count over on Jan. 1.)

If you’re looking to start some year-round habits, or even just to write that first novel, Nano’s a great way to go. Drop by my profile, and say hello, or just leave me your user name in a comment, and I’ll add you to my buddy list.

I still don’t know what I’ll be writing about, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out by November.

Those Naughty Psychopaths, and the Writers Who Love Them

One of my main characters just threatened to skin a man alive. Threatened? Promised?Well… more of a two pronged offer. As it turns out, the guy took what was behind door number two, and kept his skin. The thing is, I’m certain the Captain would have done it. He wouldn’t have made the threat offer, if he didn’t intend to follow through.

Obviously, I don’t condone this kind of behavior in real life.

And in my character’s defense, he really is trying to reform himself. It’s just that sometimes, extreme violence can expedite matters. Particularly when dealing with other psychopaths.

So, thinking about this, and what I want in a violent character, and whether there are any rules for a violent character, I came up with:

The Reprobate Typewriter Guide to Characters Who are Capable of Extreme Violence

  1. He can control himself. He’s not a mindless force of nature, or an animal running on instinct. If he does something violent, it’s a choice. Every.Single.Time.
  2. He does know the difference between right and wrong. He may choose the wrong path, in the belief that he’s serving a greater good, but his goals… His ideal world… are things that normal, psychologically healthy people can identify with.
  3. He has something to lose, and something to gain. Usually, with every choice he makes. Money, power, human decency. Whatever.
  4. He’s likable. I want my character to be the guy you’d watch threaten a man’s life one moment, and still want to have a beer with him, the next.
  5. He has a purpose. Goals. A recognizable intent. He’s not just there for the explosions.
  6. He’s trustworthy. He’s not a danger to his mother, his significant other, or random old ladies walking down the street.
  7. He’s rational. If he does something, there’s an excellent chance that it will result in the outcome he’s looking for.

I pull some of the violence in my stories out of world history, and some of it comes from my imagination. No, we can’t talk about that.

So, what about you? What raises a violent character above empty gore-for-gore’s sake violence, and makes him worth reading about? Or writing about?

My Characters Are in A Rut

I’m trying to make sense of my own life, right now. I don’t expect to bring order to the chaos, but a little peace and calm might be nice. I’m looking for a place of stillness.

I don’t always need quiet to write. Sometimes, noise and excitement are just as good.

But right now, there’s such a yearning for calm that my characters almost seem to fall asleep on the page. I should be grabbing chunks of manuscript and revising. Getting my characters into danger, and letting them blow things up.

Instead… they’re cuddling, and treating me to lengthy discussions of their various cultures. They have skipped the middle, and moved on to the happily ever after. And we’re not even talking a sexy, go-with-it and sell-it-as-erotica happily ever after. We’re talking slippers and flannel nightgown.

I’m pretty sure the Basillea of the Upright Empire is chopping up carrots and potatoes to make a pot roast. In a few minutes, her husband will start begging for help with the crossword puzzle.

I’m not bored, but I should be.

I really, really should be.

Times like this, it usually gets down to one of three causes.

  • There’s something wrong with me. (Yes. Of course, but it can’t be helped.)
  • There’s something wrong with the story. (Possible,  but I don’t think so.)
  • Complete lack of discipline.

I guess I’d better just get moving. I have some fragments I need to glue together, and some new work that needs to be done.