When a Character Takes Over

If you let your imagination soar during NaNoWriMo, you run the risk of a character hijacking your story. Maybe you’ve read about other writers who have had characters appear out of nowhere, fully formed, as if someone has air-dropped them into their brains. Don’t let it worry you. When a character takes over, you may find yourself with a much better story. That was my experience while writing my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow.

My main character nineteen-year-old Rae Riley has just discovered who her father is and is getting to know her sprawling, extended family. Her thirty-seven-year-old father Mal has an eighty-year-old grandfather. A former lineman, Mal is built like a grizzly bear, and since he shares his name with his grandfather–Walter Reuel Malinowski–I wanted them to share physical characteristics too. Personally, I didn’t know any big elderly men who looked like former football players. Usually, I have to see a character as clearly as I do people in reality to feel comfortable writing about them, I had to have some person to fill the spot in my story, at least temporarily, so I picked Clint Eastwood because I knew he was a tall man and I’d seen photos of him in his eighties.

I began writing. Next thing I knew, Walter was in charge.

Every scene he was in he took center stage. As I wrote dialogue, I felt more like I was taking dictation than imagining the conversation. (Yes, we writers hear voices in our heads, but we know they’re not real. Most of the time.)

As I wrote, Walter’s appearance changed. The Clint Eastwood looks disappeared. The man I saw in my mind was as broad and intimidating as a tank with deep-set eyes and aggressively square jaw. And this change was not conscious thinking on my part. He transformed without me realizing it.

What’s more, he was fun to write. His blunt, harsh, mean personality was such a contrast to Rae and Mal. But I knew he was more than just a bully and enjoyed exploring all the facets of his character. I worked him into more scenes and the book benefited from his larger presence. But I had to remember that ,while important, Walter was still a minor character. If I didn’t keep tight control of him–something he would swear no one could do–he’d run amok and change my entire novel.

I wasn’t the only one who Walter won over. Two of my beta readers singled him out as one of their favorite characters. I’m looking forward to including him in my next mystery.

For more tips on writing characters, click here.

Who are some minor characters that you love?

For NaNoWriMo Let Your Imagination Soar

Although I haven’t done NaNoWriMo, I’ve read about it and conversed with people who’ve done it. Dedicating a specific time to write a first draft, writing straight out of your imagination, is a wonderful concept. I just wish somebody had picked March, which, for me, is the least cluttered month. To reach 50,000 words by Dec. 1, a writer must be dedicated and focused. But if you find yourself flagging, if all your preparations in October are holding you back instead of propelling you forward, then I advise that for NaNoWriMo let your imagination soar.

But before you unleash your imagination, you must …

Send Your Internal Editor on Vacation

If you’ve written for very long, you know who I mean. That part of your brain that has to start polishing even before you have finished a scene. The internal editor has no reason to stick around for NaNoWriMo. So let her pick her favorite vacation spot, help her pack, and say farewell with hugs and kisses and an order not to contact you until Dec. 1. The internal editor will most likely ignore your request (mine is particularly rude), but it is imperative that you stand firm. I knew my internal editor could cramp my creativity but I didn’t understand why until I talked to my youngest sister who homeschools.

She said she assigns the first draft of a writing project one day and then the editing the next day because the two tasks are so different and require using different parts of the brain. That’s probably why my creativity can dry up in a first draft–my internal editor overwhelms the free-spirited artist in me.

Now with your internal editor is enjoying a much-needed rest …

Let Your Imagination Soar

Without your internal editor to hamper you, now is the time to explore your story. If a scene isn’t working, try these tactics:

  • Write the scene from the perspective of another character.
  • Add characters.
  • Remove characters.
  • Change the setting.
  • Examine your setting to take better advantage of it.
  • Have a bad guy do something good.
  • Have a good guy do something bad or foolish.
  • Work against stereotypes–like creating a nice cheerleader or a science geek who’s an extrovert.
  • Write extra scenes to get a handle on a difficult character.
  • Let the worse thing that can happen to your main character happen.
  • Have a friend turn into an enemy.
  • Have an enemy turn into a friend.

For more posts related to NaNoWriMo, click here. What has been your experiences doing NaNoWriMo?

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑