Pep Talk Week #4: The Curse of Writer’s Block

It’s week four of JuNoWriMo, one of the most challenging weeks. By now you may be worn thin, your story may have lost its shine, or you may have run out of ideas. It’s common for me to hit a wall somewhere beyond the middle of my novels. But what do you do when you just feel stuck?

In On Writing, Stephen King provides a chest full of gold nuggets – encouragement, inspiration, solutions to problems every writer faces. These tips may be the vital pieces you need to break through and finish JuNoWriMo. Just in case you don’t have time to read it right now, I’m going to share one of the ways King’s wisdom has helped me.

The Curse of Writer’s Block

What is writer’s block? It depends on who you ask. The causes are even more varied, especially because it can attack all writers differently.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that writer’s block often is this: the excuse not to write. That may sound harsh, but I’m speaking for myself here. Sure, we all get stuck sometimes. I’ve had my share of big, gaping plot holes to hurdle. I’ve also experienced times of creative funk when I had absolutely no motivation to work. It’s miserable. But often what we call “writer’s block” is nothing more than a lack of tenacity – not being willing to stick with it and write through the block.

If you can figure out what’s blocking you, it makes it easier to push past it. Personally, when I get stuck, it’s usually because I don’t know what happens next in the story.

Fighting Bad with Worse

In On Writing, King made an excellent point about his own experiences with writer’s block. He said often the best solution is to add a new problem. In other words, let tragedy strike your poor, unsuspecting characters. The moment I heard that, I began analyzing periods in my work when writing was a struggle. I found that most of them were indeed at a point in the story where there was more apathy than disaster, more dull tranquility than teeth-gritting struggle.

But when I throw adversity at my characters, I instantly have something to write about. A little more self-analysis, and I determined that the times I had beaten writer’s block often happened because I initiated a new dilemma in the plot.

If King hadn’t so plainly stated his solution to writer’s block, I don’t think I would have had the conscious realization on my own. When I got stuck with my story, my gut response was for a solution to get my characters out. It’s the same thing I do in life – looking for the bright side, trying to patch up the bad with the good. But my natural optimism didn’t do my stories any favors. Actually, I’ve come to believe that seeing all the things that can go wrong is an ideal vantage point for a writer. Pessimists rejoice!

So I suppose I’ve switched sides. At least when it comes to writing fiction. I’ve finally learned that the best way to fight writer’s block is to let the plot take a turn for the worse.

Maybe you’re in the same boat?

Double bonus: if your story is nearing the end, it’s the right time for the tension to ramp up anyway. So here’s my final challenge to you for these last few days:

Focus on building in all the bad stuff you can as your characters ride up that coaster’s final, steep hill.

Let’s race to the end!

An author and dabbler in all things creative, Becca J. Campbell loves thinking up stories about supernatural abilities, experimenting with painting techniques, drawing in her sketchbook, and recycling stuff into cool products for her Etsy shop UpCycled Chic By Becca.

Pep Talk Week #3: I’m Talking to US

Week 3: I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to US.

By: Jessica Dragon Cheramie

What?!?! It’s week 3.

Are you kidding me? Time disappears way faster than this stupid coronavirus.

How are your words looking?

I hope you are doing great and words are pouring out of you like a spewing volcano destroying any distractions that dare to brave your path. If this is the case:

STOP RIGHT HERE.

I’m not talking to you. Go write more words. Hehe

I’m talking to you who are still reading because the words aren’t pouring out of you or you are stuck or feel like this challenge is impossible. Actually, no, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to us.

Can I be honest?

It looks so glamorous on social media, but writing is HARD.

I’m always so pumped and ready on week 1 with my plan I worked on the month before or not, if I’m just winging it. I’ve been doing WriMos for years.

The first two weeks, I sit down to write, listen to my curated playlist to inspire me, and I just write the movie that’s playing in my head.

I’ve been the ones we aren’t talking to right now whose story magically unfolds and words flow like the Mighty Mississippi River. I’ve finished WriMos in crazy fast times. But this isn’t what usually happens. OH NO!

Typically, I’m writing for a while until…WHAM! Brick wall.  This just got real.

Whatever the reason—cruelties of life decide to vomit all over my perfect plans or time just isn’t being kind to me or I can’t figure out why I’m writing this story to begin with and have no idea where to go with it—it happens.

I know this too well. I’m in the trenches with you.

Now, it’s week 3.

Where did that time go? How can I meet my goals now? There’s no point to keep going. I FAILED.

Does this sound familiar? Are you with me?

This happens to me, and I see it happening to others too often. Participation in sprints and in the group ebbs about this time, and it’s time to make a change.

We need to do better. We can do better.

We are NOT quitters. We are finishers.

We are NOT procrastinators. We are time-managing experts. (I’m trying to convince myself on this one.)

We are NOT perfect. We are perfectly imperfect, and we will do this.

We’ll do this by remembering why we want to do this.

We aren’t doing this because we feel like writing 50k words this month. We’re doing this because we want to write a book, and we want to write it in a month.

But let’s be honest again. When the month ends, we’ll still have what we’ve written, and we can still finish this month.

So why do you want to finish this book in this month? What does it mean to you? Make a list and post somewhere as a daily reminder. (Seriously, I’m not going anywhere. You can finish this after.)

I want to finish this book in this month, so I can get to editing next month. Sure, I can continue writing it next month if I don’t finish, but I’m choosing not to make that an option. It’s now or I move on.

Here’s the thing: I’m giving you a deadline. You have 2 weeks.

Two weeks to finish your 50k words.

I’m holding you to this, and I’m holding myself to this. We’re in this together remember.

I trust you that you can do this with me. Can I trust you? (I know we’ve only just met, so I’m banking a lot on you. Don’t let me down.)

But two weeks from now, what do you want to say? That you gave up or that you did it?

Don’t look back on this in a month or a year from now and wish you would have. Do it now.

We aren’t promised tomorrow. If this virus teaches you anything, let it be to spend more time with loved ones and to stop putting your dreams on hold.

Even if you don’t reach the goals, giving up now only gives you what you had. But if you go for this, what can you do?

There’s only one way to find out.

Why do you want this? Will you be a finisher with me?

Two weeks. Just write. NOW.

Jessica Dragon Cheramie is a Young Adult Fantasy author with a love of all things magical, dragons, and her crazy holistic ways.

Pep Talk Week #2: Padding Your Word Count – The Good Way

I hope your writing is right on track, but if you’re a little behind, don’t lose hope yet! There’s still time to pick up that word count and make up whatever ground you still have to cover.

Let’s face it, there are ways to increase your word count that are not so healthy to have as writerly habits. Included in the list of Worst Ways to Pad Word Count are: copying and pasting a block of text multiple times, adding needless obscenities as adjectives before every noun, omitting hyphens, etc.

Padding Your Word Count The Good Way

Last week, Jessica Dragon Cheramie gave some great JuNoWriMo tips. Here are my own strategies to make your JuNoWriMo as wordy as possible (in a good way!):

  1. Outline – Did you neglect to prewrite before June? Has your story arc changed since then? If your story’s began to slide down a slope to who-knows-where, now might be a great time to regain some focus. Type your outline in your novel, and suddenly you’ve added both words and direction.
  2. Add character descriptions – By now you probably know more about your characters than before you began: what they like, what they don’t, and who they want to kill at the moment. Writing a character description will help both your clarity of background info and your word count. If you want to keep things organized, do it in a separate document – remember, you can still count the words since you’re writing them during June.
  1. Write deleted scenes – You know the scenes that won’t make it into the final draft because they don’t advance the plot? How about the ones that happen before your story begins? Just because they don’t happen in the book doesn’t mean writing them won’t help your story. Sometimes allowing yourself the chance to really explore backstory will help to enrich your main story. Remember, you can always delete them (or move them to another file) after JuNoWriMo.
  2. Write another point of view – The story is all about your protagonist, which is where most (if not all) of your points of view should be focused. But writing (or re-writing) a scene from another point of view might be incredibly eye-opening. You may even spark an idea of something you want to change.
  3. Say it another way – Don’t like the last sentence you wrote? Try it again. And again. But don’t erase the previous attempts. They’ll count for you and also give you options when you go back to edit later. You don’t even have to decide which way you want to say it – JuNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity for indecision! Let the words spew forth and reap a boost in your wordcount.
  4. Add sub-plots and tangents – When editing your story later, you’ll whittle away the fluff and the unnecessary plots that muddle up your main story arc. But right now it’s JuNoWriMo! This is the time to get out all your excess ideas. Let your characters roam where they want or navel-gaze for five pages. It’ll only help you get to 50,000 faster.

Remember, write now—edit later.

I hope these ideas help you get past Week Two. Now get back to it. Happy writing!

An author and dabbler in all things creative, Becca J. Campbell loves thinking up stories about supernatural abilities, experimenting with painting techniques, drawing in her sketchbook, and recycling stuff into cool products for her Etsy shop UpCycled Chic By Becca.

Pep Talk Week #1: It’s a New Dawn, and It’s Calling You

Before you read this: For your safety, please wear a face mask and wash your hands. Ha ha. That’s probably getting old, but I had to.

♫ It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Can you hear what I hear?

The rambling of your muse itching to come out to play though you locked her in a box, waiting for June 1st.

Can you feel it?

The excitement bubbling inside, mixing with determination to finally do something normal again.

Most importantly, how are you?

What a crazy few months this has been! Although I told myself at first that I was going to use all that time to write and edit undisturbed, it just wasn’t in me.

I was preoccupied with numbers and the health and well-being of my loved ones. Trying my best to not crumble at times from fear or loss, I turned to different outlets.

My writing goals were replaced with fun family time I wouldn’t have changed for anything, such as “glamping” in the backyard.

But, now that we’ve established some sort of normalcy, my old goals are creeping in, and I’m ready to write and take on a new WriMo challenge.

IT’S JUNOWRIMO TIME!

So, this WriMo might look a little different for you whether your state is still under lockdown or venturing to a new normal, and that’s okay. But here are some ideas on how I’m tackling this JuNoWriMo. Hopefully, it can help you too.

The New Dawn JuNoWriMo:

Here’s how to tackle JuNoWriMo during these crazy times.

  1. Wash your hands. Like we say in the South, “I don’t know what those hands have been touching. Wash your hands.” And don’t forget to sing a 20 second song clip while you do it.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Yeah, this is an old, tried and true WriMo tip that works, but this one has a twist.

The twist: The 1st timer you set for the day, make yourself sit in front of the computer with your word-processor of choice.

If you feel the writing/editing inspiration, go with it. Keep writing. Join a writing sprint.

If after 10 minutes nothing comes, give yourself permission to try again later.

  • Wash your hands.
  • Write bad and be proud of it. There are so many tricks that suggest ways to get more words in, such as write out your character’s whole name in place of he/she/they/I/you.

This is not what I mean. Those tricks make editing extremely tedious, trust me.

When I say write bad, I mean don’t correct your mistakes. Any of them. For example, if you have a new idea for a scene, don’t delete what you’ve written. Rewrite by writing it as an addendum to what you’ve previously written. You may end up liking the other better or be able to use it in another piece or writing.

The twist: Use this the next day as what you read during the 1st timer you write. You can edit it if you wish at this time or just use it to coax your Muse out of hibernation.

  • Wash your hands.
  • Set small goals and hold yourself accountable. It’s not about the 50k words in one month. It’s about the small goals you achieve to get there. How does Miley Cyrus say it? “It’s the Climb.” Managing to get 200 words in 10 minutes is an awesome attainable goal, but once you hit it, set another. 400 words in 10 minutes. Challenging yourself this way builds your word count to that 1667 before you know it. And of course, hold yourself accountable. For instance, report your word count every day on our Twitter feed or FB group.

The twist: Instead of rewards for goals, make consequences. When you don’t have new words to report, what is something you have to do since you didn’t? Maybe yours will be not watching the next episode of Outlander until you hit a goal or not reading another chapter in Sarah J. Maas’s latest book.

For me, knowing I’d have to write ‘I will not talk to my friends during class.’ a hundred times was a much bigger motivator for me not to talk during class than if I got an ice cream for not talking during class.

  • Wash your hands. By now, you’ve probably washed them down to the bone, so go clean the dirt outside.

Then, come back and let’s write, because it’s a new dawn. It’s JUNOWRIMO!

What goals or consequences are you setting for JuNoWriMo?

Stay Happy and Healthy out there.

Jessica Dragon Cheramie is a Young Adult Fantasy author with a love of all things magical, dragons, and her crazy holistic ways.

Pep Talk Week 4: The Final Push

Hey everybody! Week 4!! We’re so close to the end of the month!

I thought about talking about word counts, final pushes, or finding something super inspirational—but instead I’m going to say this:

Good job!

Look at what you’ve accomplished! 5 words? 50 words? 50000?? Great! You decided to do a thing and you did it. You’re a writer. You made art. You did something original.

You still have this last week to meet your goal, but if you don’t, that’s okay. You can still write in July. You can write in August. You can set a new goal and try again in November.

As long as you keep writing, you simply can’t fail. There aren’t any wrong answers here or only one way to do it.

Your way is the best way for you. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

So, my writing friends, here’s to the last week of June. It might be the end of JuNoWriMo 2018, but it’s only the beginning of your journey. So keep on writing. Keep on making art. Keep on believing in you.

Peace, love, and words,
Angi

Angi GriffeeAngi Griffee is a dance and theater instructor whose love affair with words helps her create books. She also bakes, sings, and owns Wise Owl Words Editing.

Pep Talk Week 3: Strategies for Writing through the Middle

We’re entering week three of JuNoWriMo. Some of you have already crossed the 50k line, some of you are close, and some of you are writing madly while knowing you won’t make that goal. The thing that all of these have in common is that you are writing and that is fantastic.

Today, I’m mostly speaking to the folks who aren’t finished yet and are trying to jam out a whole bunch of words. Yes, you can just write random stuff and bump up your wordcount that way, but wouldn’t it be nice to have words that you’ll be happy with later for more than just the quantity of them? Here’s a list of strategies find words you’re excited about.

  1. Remember that you are telling a story and you are telling it to yourself first and foremost. We are, all of us, readers. So when you’re sitting there staring at the page, don’t think about what you should write next, think about what you would want to read.
  2. Remember what excited you about the story in the first place. Bring it back. You liked the flying monkeys in chapter 2? No reason they can’t make a reappearance here.
  3. Doodling for writers. Write description from your character’s point of view. Ridiculous descriptions. Describe the woodgrain on the desk sitting in the corner of the room that your character is in. At some point, your brain will say, “Really? We’re talking woodgrain? I have some plot here. Would you like some plot?” That description isn’t wasted. It tells you about the space that your character is in and you can often cut those words up and put them in other places in your novel
  4. Pick a technique to practice. Dialogue. Setting. Internal monologue… Now doodle for writers with that, until you find your way again.
  5. Gift your character with your indecision. They don’t know what their plan is either, so think about the smartest thing that they can do — but think about it on the page and in their point of view.
  6. Figure out what your character wants overall and also in this scene. Now. Systematically deny it to them. They want a glass of water? Fine, break the faucet. They go to call the plumber? Tough luck about the phone coming off the wall like that. Be mean to them.
  7. Brackets are your best friends. If you are on a roll, don’t stop to look things up. Put it in [square brackets] and come back to it.
  8. Bored with a scene? Just jot down what happens next so you can get to the part that you really want to write. Sometimes, you’ll come back later and find you didn’t need the part you skipped.
  9. Set a timer for twenty minutes and tell yourself that your fingers cannot stop moving. Before you hit start, pick a goal for the scene — something specific like “they break out of prison with a mason jar” or “she realizes she loves him.” Now write.
And if you don’t hit 50k by the end of June? No big deal. There’s always next month. Sure, JuNoWriMo is in June, but dude– writers write. And you, my friend, you are a writer.

Mary Robinette KowalMary Robinette Kowal is the author of historical fantasy novels: The Glamourist Histories series and Ghost Talkers. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Her stories appear in Asimov’sClarkesworld, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Mary, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), recording fiction for authors including Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow, and John Scalzi. She lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit maryrobinettekowal.com.

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Pep Talk Week 2: How To Keep Writing

This week, Angi Black helps you sail through the halfway point of JuNoWriMo (and probably also your diet if you’re on one).

Hey there JuNoWriMo-ers! It’s week two and we’re nearly halfway done!! 

How you doing? 

Two weeks in is always the tipping point for me. If I’m sailing, I only build steam. On the other hand, if I’m struggling, I think about quitting. And that’s what today’s pep talk is about. How to keep going no matter how it is going. 

It’s always easy to sit down and write when the words are flowing. Those are the best days. You sit down, stretch your fingers over the keys, and with that gentle tap-tap-tap the world that lives in your brain comes to life in front of your eyes. It’s like magic and you are the wizard. 

But what about those days when it’s hard to put a sentence together? What about the times when life stands in between you and the keyboard? The days when you’ve convinced yourself you’re not a writer. Those are the days I’m talking about. 

First – everyone has those days. Every. One. If they say different, they are selling something. 

Second – it’s gonna happen. Sometimes I can sit down and pump out so many words I have to double check the count to make sure I actually did that. Sometimes, I can’t do anything but read over my last chapter and delete the ten times I used the word Just. 

Third – One bad day does not equal a wasted month. (Or year, or book, or whatever our brains would like us to believe).

When I get stuck I try to remember those three things. I take a deep breath and think them through. 

Have you ever been on a diet? That was a silly question. I’ll rephrase. Remember the last time you were on a diet? And you ate that pizza and then you had a birthday party and ate cake and then because you’d done all that you finished the day with one (or three) too many glasses of wine? No? 

Oh. Me either then. But hypothetically speaking… Because you’d felt like you’d blown it you decided to make your little bonfire into the explosion behind Ironman as he walks away. This is the same thing we do to our writing when it doesn’t come easy. We take a slow day of writing and turn it into OH MY GOD I’LL NEVER WRITE ANOTHER WORD WHAT AM I DOING HOW DID I GET HERE?????

And you know what’s great? It’s the easiest thing not to. All you have to do is this – be nice to yourself. 

I know, weird, right? 

When you start to struggle, think about what you would say to someone else who is struggling. I bet you’d encourage them, tell them they got this, and give them permission to have a slow day. 

So now, do that for yourself. A lot of us think we’re not writers because of where we are in the process. Some of think we’ll never finish that second (or third or tenth) book. All of us worry it won’t be good enough. 

If you are writing, you are a writer.

You will finish whatever you put your mind to. 

And your words will speak to the people they are supposed to. 

All it takes is a whole lotta bravery and a little patience with ourselves. 

So happy writing, my friends!! 

Now, take a deep breath! Because I believe in you. You got this!!! And slow or fast, you’ll get there. Happy writing!

With magic words and love, 

XO 

Angi

Angi GriffeeAngi Griffee is a dance and theater instructor whose love affair with words helps her create books. She also bakes, sings, and owns Wise Owl Words Editing.

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Pep Talk Week 1: Writing Isn’t Just Writing

Get excited for this month’s challenge with a poignant and funny reminder from author Chuck Wendig that writing is so much more than “just writing.” 

The good news, and the bad news, is that there is nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know.

You already know it’s going to be hard. Writing, despite what some assume, isn’t easy. It’s an act of mining – except instead of chipping rock, you’re chipping away at ideas, at emotions, at the schist and bedrock of your own mind.

You already know that it’s going to be weird. I mean, c’mon. You sit in front of a computer, basking in the glow, and you look at that glowing square and try to impress upon it the breadth and depth of a whole story. You also make people up. Like, you invent them. Wholecloth. Thin air. Entire beings that are you, but aren’t you, at the same time.

You already know that nobody will really appreciate it. I’m a NYT-bestselling author, and I still meet people who know I’m a writer, and their response is basically, “That’s nice.” And then they tell you a thing as if it’s somehow equivalent: “Oh, I found a sale today on a nice jacket,” and you want to respond, “I CREATED A WHOLE UNIVERSE WITH MY MIND, IT ISN’T THE SAME, JANICE,” but they just blink and smile and you can’t really crack that nut.

You already know that to write, you need to write. You need to quantum entangle YOUR BUTT with THAT CHAIR and herd those words. Writing can’t happen without writing, can it?

You also already know that writing isn’t just writing. It’s also a whoooooole lot of wandering and dreaming and thinking and worrying. It’s showering and mowing the lawn and then reading and re-reading and editing and weeping and eating cake under your desk.

You already know that desk-cake is the best cake, but also the most worrisome cake.

I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

But you and I both know, too, that no matter how weird and how hard it is, writing is what you do and who you are, and it’s worth doing just the same. Stories are sublime. Books are amazing. You don’t come to this ignorant of that. It forms part of a fantastic tradition – a tapestry of words and tales to which you wish to add your very own thread. You know that it matters. That being this thing and doing this work is important to you. Because you’ve read so much already by so many others that has left an indelible print on your soul.

You know you’re going to do it.

You’re a writer, and a writer writes. You know that, too. In your heart. In your gut.

So go write. Show us all what you know.

See you on the other side, penmonkeys.

Chuck WendigChuck Wendig is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath, as well as the Miriam Black thrillers, the Atlanta Burns books, Zer0es/Invasive, and his upcoming epic, Wanderers (Del Rey, 2019). He’s also worked in a variety of other formats, including comics, games, film, and television. A finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the cowriter of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus, he is also known for his popular blog, terribleminds.com, and his books about writing. He lives in Pennsylvania with his family.

Social Media: @chuckwendig on Twitter and @chuck_wendig on IG

The Pre-JuNoWriMo Character Development Series, Part 4: Character Family Trees

The very first time I tried NaNoWriMo, I found out about it and joined mere days before the challenge. I didn’t prep anything save to decide I wanted to write Fantasy. I thought, for some reason, that Fantasy would be the easiest genre to write because I could make up my own rules. Having read Tolkien before, I don’t know why on earth I imagined this would make the task easier.

I managed to do some halfway decent worldbuilding on the fly, but aside from my two main characters, the others were mere afterthoughts—place holders for actions and dialogue that needed to move my two protagonists forward. (Yeah, because I also decided two main characters was a great idea for my first ever novel. Maybe I suffered from temporary insanity back in ’08 brought on by the recession? I’m running with that.)

Anyway, I reached a part in the novel where I didn’t even have a name for a character, so she got the label [PM1] for “protagonist’s mom.” Talk about an identity crisis.

Let me fast-forward a few years to when I was doing some personal genealogical research. I realized just how fascinating it is to think about where we come from, generations back. Take what I say next with a grain of salt because I haven’t verified it by going to England seeing the records for myself, but I managed to trace one line of my family tree back to the time of Alfred the Great. Stories came to mind for all those individuals—regardless of whether I’m actually their descendant. One of them helped inspire my protagonist for my current work-in-progress.

Understanding his family tree and how those people moved in the world helped me understand him better, which is why this week, in my fourth and final pre-JuNoWriMo character development post, I’m recommending you make your character’s family tree.

For Family Tree Newbs

If you’ve never made a family tree before, the process can seem daunting. But, if you take it one step at a time, I don’t doubt that you’ll have fun! There are a number of programs and apps you can use for this sort of thing, but as many of them actually link your tree to real people, I’m going to suggest you go with old-fashioned pencil and paper for this exercise. You can always take a photo of it if you want to store it digitally.

So, I’ll talk you through my process for making a family tree. By all means if you come across a different method, especially those recommended by actual genealogists, feel free to follow that guidance if you like. For this exercise, it doesn’t really matter how you create the family tree—just that you create it.

How I Make Character Family Trees

I start out by writing my character’s name in a square. Seems easy, no? I also write their birthdate. I draw a line to the sides to connect them to any siblings—circles for gals, triangles for guys. I know, in our progressive-thinking world it seems horrible to differentiate by gender. I’m a feminist, I promise. But if you’re making a large family tree, some kind of pictorial distinction can help. If you don’t want to use these shapes, or you don’t want to separate by gender but by something else, please be my guest!

I draw a vertical line to my protagonist’s parents, who are connected by a double line to signify marriage. If they had the children in the branch below theirs out of wedlock, I put a slash through that double line. You can already see how I tell a story with simple lines, names, and birthdates. I continue the process, moving up the family tree until I’ve gone back as far as I feel I must.

Even though I went back about 1200 years on my own family tree, I didn’t go back so far on my protagonist’s. But, his family are descended from the aristocracy, so I did go back several generations at least on his paternal side, since that’s how surnames are passed in British history. If your protagonist is from a matriarchal society, you’d want to follow their maternal line.

Okay, one more step to go—a special step I take for character family trees. For each person on the tree, I write one or two notes about who they are as a person, what they did in their life, and/or any metaphors I want to attach to them. This is a ginormous help to me in my drafting process, especially if I have many characters to keep track of.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever made a family tree for your characters? Is this an exercise you plan to try this year? If you’ve been a pantser in the past, have you thought about becoming a planner this year, or do you thrive on the spontaneity of going into a 50K in a month challenge completely uncertain of what you’ll write?

I’d love to know! Check in on the comments or catch me on Twitter! Happy pre-writing and writing!

Margaret McNellis has been volunteering with JuNoWriMo for years. She holds an MA in English & Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction. Her WIP is a historical novel set in the 17th century. Margaret’s short fiction has appeared in Fictitious Magazine, See Spot Run, The Penman Review, The Copperfield Review, and Dual Coast Magazine. To check out some of her fiction and poetry, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter

The Pre-JuNoWriMo Character Development Series, Part 3: Personality Tests

In the previous instalments of this series, we looked at tools to help you create characters. This week, I want to shift gears and discuss how to develop characters that have already sparked. This exercise is ideal for when you know a few things about a character, or maybe you just have their vibe, and you’re looking for ways to bring them into a story.

This week, we’re all about personality…and more specifically, testing that personality. There are tons of personality tests out there, such as Myers-Briggs, IQ, and EQ tests. Some have image-based questions, where you choose your favorite image, and this reveals something innate about who you are. Others ask you questions that you answer on a sliding scale, for example.

For the purposes of this week’s discussion, I’m going to use 16 Personalities. When it comes to personality tests for characters, this is my personal favorite. I’m going to guide you through how I took this test for my protagonist, and what was revealed about him. It’ll be a treat for us all to see if the results match up with what I wrote for his character profile/study.

I’ve not used this tool for him yet. Let’s see what happens!

For questions that aren’t historically appropriate to a 17th-century fella, I either chose the neutral position or imagined the historically-accurate version of the question if possible.

As you can see, I filled out every page of the 16 Personalities test. I tried to free James from my input and go with my first instinct for him. I didn’t want to shape the results of the test at all, especially as this is a character I have already developed.

The Results

James came out with an ISTJ-T personality type. According to 16 Personalities, he is:

  • Introverted
  • Observant
  • Thinking
  • Judging
  • Turbulent

I’m not sure if I’d consider him turbulent over assertive, but he was pretty close to a 50/50 on that. As for the other key traits, I’d say they’re spot on with how I’ve already developed him.

What follows this result is eight pages of in-detail reading. I’m only going to show and discuss two of those pages. Mostly, this is because this blog post would be about thirty pages long if I got into some of the other results pages—but if you use 16 Personalities for your character (or yourself), I recommend reading each results page because there’s plenty of insightful information available there.

I’d say of these strengths, the only one I’m not so sure my character has in spades is calmness. He’s not a total loose cannon but he does have a short fuse.

16 Personalities really hit the mark with James’s weaknesses. These aren’t his only weaknesses, but they certainly encompass the most important ones—especially his stubbornness early in the book and his insensitivity later in the book.

Final Thoughts

The nice thing about having these tests available on the internet for free is that I don’t have to hunt down my old college psychology textbook. I hope you’ll take the chance to poke through some of the tests available out there and see which ones can help you develop your characters.

Also, sometimes I get ideas for ways I can challenge my characters just from reading through the results.

Check in next week for one more character development exercise to help you prepare for next month’s challenge!

Margaret McNellis has been volunteering with JuNoWriMo for years. She holds an MA in English & Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction. Her WIP is a historical novel set in the 17th century. Margaret’s short fiction has appeared in Fictitious Magazine, See Spot Run, The Penman Review, The Copperfield Review, and Dual Coast Magazine. To check out some of her fiction and poetry, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter