Get To Know Your Characters [NaNoWriMo Prep]

NaNo is coming! It’s about 20 days away… already. It’s coming up fast and there’s no stopping it.

Some people outline their novels, some people don’t. There are some people who do quick writing exercises or prompts as practice to prep for the upcoming writing streak. Some people don’t.

No matter what you do or don’t do, that’s okay. I personally love to outline and I love to try new things with my characters to get to know them a little better.

So, here’s a fun exercise to do with your characters.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Prep: Get To Know Your Characters

I got this idea from my 15-year-old cousin. She had English homework one night and had to do this for the protagonist of her summer reading book.

I have to admit, I was a bit jealous. I never had fun homework like that.

The idea is to think a bit outside the box and to get to know your characters on a deeper level. To the naked eye, it doesn’t make sense, but to a writer, it’s pretty clever.

So, ask yourself this:

Is your protagonist (or any character) more like…

  • May or December?
  • A Jeep, a Corvette, a Saturn, or a Mercedes Benz?
  • Brown or blue?
  • The letter A, the letter M, or the letter Z?
  • Vanilla ice cream or chocolate mousse?
  • New York, San Fransico, Salt Lake City, or New Orleans?
  • A hammer or a nail?
  • White, rye, or pumpernickel bread?
  • A short story, a poem, an essay, or a play?
  • Soap or dirt?
  • Fire, water, earth, or air?
  • A lock or a key?
  • The comics, the sports section, the business report, or the editorial page?
  • A snowstorm or a rainy day?
  • A horse show, a hockey match, or a track-and-field event?
  • A forest fire or a mountain stream?
  • A TV game show, a soap opera, a situation comedy, or a drama?
  • Science fiction, mystery, romance, or horror?
  • A cat, a dog, or a goldfish?

My cousin’s teacher had the class do this on themselves first so they could get a feel for the assignment. My cousin said she was more like “pumpernickel bread” because it’s a funny word. That right there actually sums up her personality. She’s a funny person and can sometimes be a dope. The fact that she immediately thought “pumpernickel” was a funny word and laughed just sums it all up.

With this exercise, you can get to the heart of your characters. It seems silly and random, but you just might learn something new about them.

Have you done anything like this before? Do you think you’ll try this exercise? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!

Creating Characters: What’s Your Favorite Part?

Creating characters for your novels isn’t necessarily an easy task, but it’s important and it can be fun.

We talked a lot about characters this month. There’s a whole lot more to explore when it comes to characters, but I think we covered a decent amount. I’m sure there will be another month when I discuss characters again. (That means, yes. Yes, there will be another character-orientated month.)

So, I’m asking a simple question today. What’s your favorite part about creating characters?

creating-characters-favorite-part

A lot goes into bringing character to life and making them unique from other characters in your novel and other characters from other novels written by other people.

First, there’s the physical description. How long do you spend trying to decide whether or not your protagonist has brown, blonde, or purple hair? Did they get their green eyes from their mother or father? Or maybe from her great-great-aunt?

What kind of clothes do they wear? Do they always try to look presentable or do they just not care? Make-up? Jewelry?

How tall or short are they? Are they a twig or husky? Do they have a huge nose or teeny-tiny ears?

Then, there’s the personality. Are they self-conscious about that huge nose? Or do they not care what others think about them?

Are they nice to everyone or just their close friends? Are they pleasant to be around? Do they have any normal/weird habits or hobbies? What’s their favorite anything? Food, clothes, color, etc.

Third, you have their background story. What’s their family and home life like? Do they have any friends? A large group or just one best friend?

How did they get to where they are today? What kinds of decisions do they make?

Now here’s the important question: do you like to plan your characters out, like I just did above, or do you like free writing and see where they take you?

I think writing characters is so much fun because you can place them in certain worlds and situations that you can’t normally be part of. Your characters are a little piece of you and you live vicariously through them.

So, what’s your favorite part about creating your characters? Let me know in the comments below!

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What’s In A Name?

This past April I wrote something a little different for Camp NaNoWriMo. Instead of my usual mystery novels or super-power fantasy novels, I decided to retell my favorite fairy tale.

I wrote The Lost Girl, a retelling of Peter Pan.

First things first, I had to do a bit of research about the time period. Peter Pan takes place in about 1904.

So, when coming up with a name for my lead female character, I looked up the most popular names from the 1900s. Grace was number 42 (according to the list I found).

I chose the name Grace because I think it’s a pretty name. It’s a common name. It’s simple. Even though it was popular way back then, it’s still pretty common.

The name Gwen is number 78 on that list. I like the name Gwen, but it’s never my first choice.

I was also trying to find a name for Grace’s mother as well. I ended up using Grace as my main character and a different name for her mother. Gwen didn’t make the cut at all. And to be honest, if a new female pops up in my story, I will not choose the name Gwen, no matter how big of a character she is.

Because while I don’t mind the name Gwen, there is just something about it. Something I don’t understand.

What's In A Name: Gwen

I’ve read a fair share amount of Peter Pan retellings lately. It’s partly why I decided to write my own. Peter Pan is my favorite and I thought of a great idea from the ABC show Once Upon A Time and from all the Peter Pan tales I had been reading.

If you follow my book reviews, you’ll know I’ve read some Peter Pan tales and I haven’t been a fan of a few of them. More than a few of them, actually. But I still add those tales to my to-be-read list anyway. They all sound good and I love Peter Pan, so why not give them a try?

I’ve noticed that fairy tale retellings have become pretty big lately and a lot of retellings that are coming out are about Peter Pan. This means getting The Lost Girl out in the world will either be pretty “easy” (I say that lightly) or really hard.

But I know there’s one thing my novel has that the others don’t: a different name.

Every time I go to my local bookstore with Kris, we always search through the young adult section. As I said, fairy tale retellings are what’s currently “in” at the moment and there are a lot of Peter Pan stories.

I found the novel Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell through Goodreads. The main character’s name is Gwen.

Then I found The Neverland Wars by Audrey Greathouse at the bookstore. The main character’s name is Gwen.

There was another novel I found at the bookstore, but I can’t remember the name or author at the moment. What I do remember is that the main character’s name was–Drumroll, please–Gwen.

I went back to the bookstore a few days ago and discovered a new Peter Pan story titled Everland by Wendy Spinale. As I picked it up off the shelf, I said to Kris: “I swear, if the main character’s name is Gwen…”

I started reading the summary in the front cover flap and stopped after the second sentence, which read:

“The only ones who have survived the destruction and the outbreak of a deadly virus are children, among them sixteen-year-old Gwen Darling and her younger siblings, Joanna and Mikey.” (Curtosy of Goodreads).

Why?

I don’t understand why the name Gwen is so popular among Peter Pan stories.

Is there something I’m missing? Is it a coincidence?

What I do know is that if I ended up choosing the name Gwen for my character, I would be changing it right now. Part of me wants to change Grace just because it starts with the letter “G.”

I don’t know if I’m overthinking things or not. I don’t even know if I have the right to be bothered by this. I just think it’s weird. None of these authors could choose a different name other than Gwen? Gwen doesn’t even have a special meaning that has anything to do with Peter Pan.

What’s even more strange is that Unhooked was published in February 2016. But The Neverland Wars was published May 9, 2016 while Everland was published May 10, 2016. All three books were by different publishers.

Weird, huh?

Names are important. And if you want your book to stand out from the rest, you have to give your characters names no one will forget; especially if you’re writing about the same topic as many others.

Have you ever noticed anything strange about different books like this? What do you think about this “Gwen” fad in Peter Pan stories? Let me know in the comments!

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Ingredients for Mystery Soup

No two stories are alike. Each story is different and unique from another. Sure, there are cliches in the world of writing, but each outcome is different from the one before it. The possibilities are endless.

Yet, there are some things that each story have in common with each other: Elements. Or, ingredients as I like to call it.

It’s what makes a story a story.

Ingrediants for Mystery Soup Rachel Poli

All stories need five elements in order to make it a true, compelling tale.

1. Characters — The main person (or animal, alien, robot, what have you) the story revolves around. Plus, supporting characters to help or hinder the protagonist along.
2. Setting — The place where the story takes place.
3. Plot — A series of events and actions done by the character(s) that center around the conflict.
4. Conflict — The main struggle of the story. Usually, there are two sides to the conflict, good and bad, where your character is on one side.
5. Theme — The main idea or moral of the whole story.

Sounds easy enough, right? Sure.

But what does this mean when you’re writing a mystery novel? I’ll tell you what sort of ingredients you’ll need in order for you readers to beg you for dessert.

Characters

There are four main types of characters you’ll need for a mystery novel.

1. Detectives — Who is solving the crime here? No, you’re “detective” does not have to be part of the law enforcement. Your detective could be a young adult investigating on his or her own trying to figure out what truly caused their parents’ car accident.

2. Victims — Did they die? If so, I’m sure they had friends and family. Were they robbed? They need to be around to report the crime and give their statement. Maybe they have their own suspicions of who did it.

3. Suspects — Someone has to be the culprit. A crime doesn’t commit itself. Then again, your protagonist can’t catch the bad guy on their first go. There should be more than one suspect.

4. Witnesses — Someone might have seen something or at least heard something. Someone has to call the police. Maybe they’re the one who walked in on the dead body. Who knows?

Setting

Just like any other story, the setting is important. You want your readers to have a good sense of where they are and what’s going on, right?

Did your crime take place in a large city where crime happens multiple times a day? Or maybe a small, secluded town where the population is five and crime almost never happens there. Invite the reader to these places.

Someone, most likely the protagonist, will have to investigate the crime scene, right? Let’s assume there’s a dead body in the room… where is the body? Does it look clean? Does the scene have blood splattered everywhere? Is the place a mess (signs of a struggle) or pretty clean?

Give your readers some clues as your protagonist finds them. Give your readers a chance to investigate with your characters and possibly figure it out before them.

Plot

Most mystery plots come in the form of questions. These questions need to be answered by the end of the story or you’ll have some pretty angry readers.

Mystery plots can include:

  • A problem or puzzle that needs solving
  • Something that is difficult to explain
  • Secrets, the unknown
  • Something or someone that is missing
  • A crime that’s committed (robbery, murder, etc.)

Conflict

As stated before, a conflict is mainly between two sides. For mystery, the sides would be the good guys trying to solve the crime and the other side would be the bad guys running and hiding so they don’t get caught. Or the bad guys have a reason for what they did, but your main character doesn’t believe in their theories.

For conflict in a mystery, you need…

1. A crime — Basically the plot of the story. Who, what, where, when, why, when, and how?

2. Clues and evidence — Help your readers solve the crime alongside your protagonist. Give them “a-ha!” moments when they find a new clue and piece it together with evidence. No one is going to get anywhere solving the crime without any clues.

3. Red-herrings — Red-herrings are distractions, false evidence, dead-ends, whatever you want to call it. No one can solve a crime perfectly on their first try. They may view a clue the wrong way. Maybe a witness led them astray, whether done on purpose or not is up to you.

Theme

Well. This one is pretty much up to you. You decide what moral lesson you want your characters to teach your readers.

Well, now that we have all the ingredients to make our mystery novel, let’s mix it all together and begin!

Pre-heat the Oven

The beginning of your mystery novel should introduce everything. The characters, the setting, the plot. Your characters should figure out there is a problem and begin to learn how to solve it.

Bake

The middle of the story will include your characters finding clues, piecing together evidence, investigating crime scenes, interrogating key witnesses, making mistakes, making breakthroughs. Finally, they’ll have their “a-ha!” moment.

Time to eat!

The ending is where everything gets wrapped up. Your investigator explains the whole crime from beginning to end making sure there are no loose ends for your reader, no more questions asked. The culprit is then taken away and everyone else can celebrate.

At that point, you should go bake yourself a cake in real life. Because that’s when the editing begins.

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Inspiration Station: Anatomy of A Character

Anatomy of a character inspiration station

I know some people like to allow their characters to develop naturally through the course of the story. Others don’t know anything about their characters until they write them down. Then there are some who plan and plan and plan their characters out.

For me, it all depends on the novel.

For my George Florence series I had personalities in mind for my characters. Then I wrote them and they turned out completely different.

For my Take Over novel I had their personalities planned and so far they’re sticking to them.

For my Diary of a Lover novel, I let the characters run the show.

So you never really know what is going to happen whether you plan or not.

However, there are definitely a few things you should know about your character before writing them:

1. First and last name
2. Gender
3. Age
4. Career and/or Education

As long as you know those four key points (and I guess number four could be optional) I think your character can wing it for the novel.

Then again, it can be fun to plan. If you are a planner for your characters then I would suggest this:

Character Chart by EpiGuide.

It’s a very in depth profile for your characters. Some information most likely isn’t needed, but a lot of the information is something you wouldn’t even think to include.

It’s fun to try anyway.