I’m maybe over halfway done with my plotting at this point, and it’s honestly such a good thing that I’m getting a feel for my characters in the process. I don’t think I’d otherwise have had much time to sit down and get to know them all personally before November strikes. We’re already halfway through October, unfortunately, which means time is getting a bit tight when it comes to prepping, but drafting up characters for NaNoWriMo doesn’t have to be as thorough as it might be for a serious project, or at the very least for a second draft.
First thing you’re going to need is a name. I am considering coming up with a name bank to fall back on so I can just pick one off the list as needed, but let’s be honest with ourselves: that sounds boring, tedious, and horrific, so let’s not. Instead, I know who the major players are already, so for the time being, I’ll just find names for them, using some of the tools I’d listed in my Power in a Name post from last month.
Second, you should familiarize yourself with your character(s) starting point. Generally speaking, characters transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar, driven by some need or desire. For some characters, the familiar isn’t necessarily something they love, it’s just something they’re used to, and so the driving force may not need to be more than a small shove to get them going. For others, they might not, under any circumstances, want to leave the place they love. In that case, it will take quite a catastrophe or quite the reward to get them moving.
My characters don’t have a particularly grand home-life, and they’re still young enough to have a sense of mystical adventure. The call that brings them away from home is small, and they latch onto it almost immediately. Of course, one is more of a goodie-two-shoes than the other, and is hesitant to take up on the adventure.
I would say that doing a character’s history just for the sake of having it on hand may be a bit excessive for a NaNoWriMo project. Generally speaking, at least. I would say that, in most cases, past events are a little like character traits: it might be nice to have a vague sense of the overall picture, but for the most part, you can discover as you go along.
Next, I would recommend that you have a sense of what direction you’re going to take your character. It doesn’t necessarily have to go in a straight line, either. In fact, they don’t usually. Characters almost always face both internal and external conflicts. Sometimes the climax of the internal conflict will come just before the external, so the character has just enough time to gather themselves for the final leg of the journey. Sometimes, they are at their lowest as they struggle to defeat the external conflict, and it is only by their victory do they have a chance at validation, et cetera.
By knowing where your character starts and in what general direction they end, it’ll make it easier to build their character arc. You’ll have a better sense of what character traits need to be highlighted, their strengths and weaknesses that will affect how well they’re able to face the challenges to come.
Finally, I would make sure you have some sense of any special abilities they might have, and their limitations. Especially if it’s related to magic, the more you know about how it works, the more consistent you can keep it. Then again, if you’re going for a more whimsical magic system, it’s okay if you don’t really know how it all works. Just make sure you have a few rules in place that you can adhere to no matter what–no matter how it might inconvenience the characters–and that’ll help solidify the magic as something that makes sense.
Hopefully those give you a good starting place to work with your characters, if you haven’t already. I have one more week to devote to NaNoWriMo prep, and then Friday, November 1st will be back to your regularly scheduled blog posts. So I’m going to make the most of it, and delve into some of the elements of world-building you may want to know before starting, and what could potentially wait for the writing itself. As always, happy planning!