The Pre-JuNoWriMo Character Development Series, Part 2: Character Resumés

Last week, I walked you through creating character profiles designed to help you get to know your character. But not everyone has the time or desire to write a 10-page profile, so this week I have another suggestion for how you can get to know your characters (and their story).

Write their resumés.

I know writing a resumé can sound like a drag, but I promise I have more fun writing them for my characters than myself, with all the satisfaction that accompanies finishing this task.

The only tricky part is for authors who are writing stories that don’t exist in our modern, contemporary, tangible Earth sort of world. Being that my own novel is historical fiction, I’m going to show you that it’s possible. I’ll write James’s from the start of the Pequot War, the main external conflict of my novel.

My Protagonist’s Resumé

James Stanworth

Fort Saybrooke

Connecticut

SUMMARY

James is skilled in negotiations and foreign languages. Skills include reading, writing, diplomacy, animal husbandry with an affinity for horses, carpentry, swimming, and archery. With experience as a trapper, trader, and interpreter, James is a natural leader and possesses a growth mindset. He’s an intrepid traveler, having crossed the Atlantic on the Bonaventurein 1633.

OBJECTIVE

To become an interpreter for the colonies of New England, to continue developing deeper knowledge of both the languages and cultures of First Nations within those colonies and foster a mutually beneficial relationship between settlers and First Nations. To own and run a trading post.

EMPLOYMENT EXPERIENCE

Assistant Trapper and Trader to Jasper Peterson, The New World, 1633-1635

  • Learned Iroquois and Algonquin tongues
  • Hunted both deer and beaver
  • Carved a canoe out of a cedar trunk
  • Traded with First Nations and other settlers

Contract Negotiator, Colony of Connecticut, 1635-1637

  • Negotiated land deals between Governor John Winthrop Jr. of Connecticut and First Nations
  • Translated contract documents from English into Algonquin languages

Interpreter, Fort Saybrooke, 1637-Present

  • Negotiates on behalf of Lieutenant Lionel Abner
  • Reports regularly to Governor John Winthrop Jr. about progress in preventing war between First Nations and settlers
  • Liaises with Dutch military allies and trade competitors

Discussion

James was not formally educated for reasons that will be revealed in my book, even though he comes from a wealthy family. But his father did impart him with the skills to read and write, which serve him well throughout the book and become some of his most relied-upon abilities. However, because he didn’t go away to school, I chose to omit an “EDUCATION” section.

But you can see how I’ve brought this 17th-century character into the modern world. I kept the dates of his employment honest to his time, but obviously he wouldn’t fill out a resumé. If I truly wanted to be as close to accurate as possible, he might have a referral letter from a previous employer—maybe Jasper Peterson (this name might change, by the way—I haven’t decided yet).

There are also some areas where I brought James’s personality through. He prefers hanging out with horses to hanging out with people, and he doesn’t like the Dutch all that much—but then, as a tradesman from England at a time when England will soon be at war with the Dutch, that’s not that hard to imagine. My point though is that you can bring your character to life through your choices in wording elements of their resume.

By the way, this exercise only took me about twenty minutes, which makes it a great pre-writing exercise.

As a bonus exercise, you can write a scene with your character interviewing for a job!

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 1: Character Profiles

You’ve decided to write a novel…now what? Whether or not you intend to do some planning this month before JuNoWriMo kicks off, I’m going to help you start to think about ways to develop characters. It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or seasoned writer—thinking about characters in new or different ways can energize the development task and get you revved up to bring them to life come June.

For the next four weeks, I’ll guide you through four different approaches to character development. Hopefully one of them will strike a chord with you. I hope too that if you have any questions, you’ll comment on these posts.

This week, I’m going to start off with writing your character’s profile. If you want to write with authorial authority, you need to know as much about your character as possible. I’m going to encourage you not to write backstory.

You’re probably thinking, “What? No backstory? Did my character just hatch out of the ground fully formed?”

Well, maybe—maybe not. That’s really your call. But the main reason I’m going to encourage you to steer clear of backstories is they’re often arbitrarily created when they’re used as a starting point.

The Backstory Dilemma

Say you have a character who is a cop. You decide, based on that career, that the character’s father was a cop, too. Maybe, because when the father was alive, he was always working and never around, your character has issues trusting people.

It’s not terrible. But I think it’s going about things the wrong way. What if, instead, you decided that your character has trouble trusting people first? What if that leads you—when thinking of the father—to his having a second, secret family? Maybe halfway through the story, one of your character’s secret half-siblings commits a crime. Your cop character is blackmailed into making the charges go away in order to keep the secret and avoid embarrassment (for self, for the character’s mother, etc…).

Can you see how the second option—developed from a flaw and not a backstory—created both the backstory and some kind of struggle for the character?

If you start with backstory, you risk developing backwards and missing opportunities for conflict.

Character Profiles

What is a character profile, and how do you write one?

Let’s start with what a character profile isn’t. It’s not a listing of your character’s 100 favorites. It’s not a set of prompts to determine what your character looks like. All of that is superficial.

Rather, a character profile is an in-depth examination of what makes your character tick. When I wrote a profile for my protagonist, it came out at ten pages long. To be fair, one of the reasons it was ten pages was that I was doing it as a writing exercise, with the length dictated by my MFA mentor. But the freedom to take up that space allowed me to work out the less tangible qualities of my protagonist.

Character Profile Sections

For those writers who want a little more guidance, don’t worry; I won’t leave you high and dry. I’m going to break down for you how I approach character profiles, in hopes that it gives you a starting place. You don’t have to hold to it exactly if you don’t want to.

Also, for the sake of not worrying over differences in document formatting, let’s presume that you’re going to write a 3,000-word character profile (that’s 10 pages at about 300 words each). This is how I suggest breaking it down:

  • Character’s fears – 500 words
  • Character’s goals – 500 words
  • Character’s strengths – 500 words
  • Character’s weaknesses – 500 words
  • How the character will grow by the end of the book – 500 words
  • What/who hinders the character and how – 250 words
  • What/who helps the character and how – 250 words

Three thousand words in a character profile really isn’t all that much, when you break it down into parts. Take each part one at a time. You don’t have to write them in this order, either. I tend to, but I also believe in letting inspiration guide your energy output.

Using the Character Profile

When June 1 arrives and you’re about to start writing, are you going to take out this 10-page document and comb through it for quick facts? Probably not. That’s why I’m going to suggest just one more step:

After you write a character’s profile, make a list of the basic elements you determined in each section.

For example, if you write 500 words about why your character fears relying on others, his own mortality, and heights, you don’t want to comb through those pages to find those fears. Make a list of them for quick reference.

Final Thoughts

Do you have to create 10,000-word profiles for every major character in your novel? It’d be really nice to do that, if you have the time. But if not, start with your protagonist. I’ve found, when pressed for time, that just having my main character fleshed out like this can be enough for me to decide how other characters should be developed on the fly.

For example, if my character has trust issues, I know I’m going to put another in my protagonist’s path who either is or seems untrustworthy.

Give it a shot—write a character profile in the next week. Then, come back to try another way to develop your character pre-JuNoWriMo!

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

Pep Talk Week 4: 5 Creative Habits to Leverage Your JuNoWriMo Success

In this final stretch, boost your creativity for success with these five tips from Judy Lee Dunn.

For years, I thought that creative people had been blessed with a special gene. That they were sprinkled with magic dust from the patron saint of imaginative thinking. Though some people try to make it complicated, it’s really not that hard. Because while creativity is part ability and part attitude, mostly, it’s a habit. Now that you are in Week 4 of JuNoWriMo, you are probably noticing how much easier it’s getting to hit your word count with each passing day.

You’ve been showing up every day and coming up with new ideas has become a habit.

One thing I learned as a teacher of lower primary school kids is that we all have it, this creativity thing. My students came to school ready to explore, to try new things. They were imaginative, full of wonder and curiosity. They taught me so much about writing and blogging and the joy of seeing the world through a child’s eyes.

How can we as writers nurture our creative sides so our idea banks are always full? Here are a few starters: Continue reading “Pep Talk Week 4: 5 Creative Habits to Leverage Your JuNoWriMo Success”

Pep Talk Week 3: Friend or Foe?

Dan Wells helps you soldier on even when you feel like writing your book is a chore.

You made it to week three! Woot woot! You’re over the hump, and it’s all downhill from here, and ha ha ha ha I can’t even finish that sentence.

Real talk: this is where it sucks. Week three is the worst week of all, and I’m sorry. Don’t worry, though, we can get through this together.

Week one was about getting started, and everything was kind of new and intriguing. Week two was about finding your groove, and week four will about sprinting to the finish line. They’re all awesome, in their own way. Week three has nothing. Week three is about keeping your head down and getting the work done; it’s about pushing forward when all the novelty has disappeared, and the finish line is still too far away to see. There’s nothing sexy or easy or exciting. You’ll get to the end of the week and hate your entire book, along with maybe everything you’ve ever written.

Depressed now? Don’t be. Because here’s the good news: week three is my favorite one.

Week three is the work horse. It’s where the thing you started because it was fun turns into a thing you keep doing because it matters. It’s where the words you were writing because they were easy give way to the words you keep writing because they’re worth the effort. It’s where your investments start to pay off; where the threads you placed start coming together and the whole thing finally starts to look like “a story” instead of just “a bunch of stuff that happens.” The mid point is where, more often than not, your characters stop reacting to the plot and start acively driving it: they’re sick of this crap and it’s time to take matters into their own hands. Enough running from the Nazgul: let’s take this ring to Mordor and destroy it. Enough waiting around for Dumbledore: let’s break into the dungeon and protect the Sorcerer’s Stone ourselves. And the great thing about it is that we, as the authors, get to do the same thing. No more relying on the outline/the writing group/the inertia/the emails from random authors on the Internet. It’s time for you to pick up your sword and/or laptop and finally become the kind of hero your story needs.

Week three isn’t finished. It’s not the home stretch, and it’s not the polish, and it’s not a finished bicycle that you built yourself and can ride around on. It’s something better: it’s that beautiful moment where you’ve put together enough of the bike that the gears start to turn each other; you can push one part and another part spins, and you know in that moment that you’re not wasting your time. You really can do this, and it really can work, and it might not be done or pretty or even recognizable by doggonit but it WORKS. It’s a THING, and you made it YOURSELF, and it WORKS. And sure it’s going to need a lot of work before it’s done, but that’s okay because you can do it. You’ve gotten this far, haven’t you? Do you think that’s easy? Only amazing people can do what you just did, and that means you’re amazing, and the second half of the process is going to be…well, not easy. But doable. Reachable. Accomplishable. Those aren’t even real words, and they’re still true. That’s how amazing you are.

So write! Write until your fingers bleed and your eyes burn and your butt gets sore and your back curls into a permanent hunch. Write until you wish you’d never started this stupid book and no one’s going to want to read it anyway and why am I even doing this? Because you’re a hero, and that’s what heroes do, and even though you can’t see it yet, you’re going to win. You’re going to slay this dragon or save this world or solve this mystery or unite these lovers. You’re going to get to that home stretch and it’s going to be thrilling and you’re going to be victorious. And week three is the only thing that’s going to get you there. See? It’s not a monster. Week three is your best friend.

Let’s do this.

Dan Wells writes a little bit of everything, but he is best known for the Partials Sequence and the John Cleaver series, the first book of which is now a Major Motion Picture. He is a co-host of the educational podcast Writing Excuses, for which he won a Hugo and now helps run a yearly, week-long writing conference. In addition to novels, novellas, and shorts, he has also written and produced a stage play, called “A Night of Blacker Darkness,” and works as a staff writer on the TV show “Extinct.” He has lived in the US, Mexico, and Germany, and currently resides in Utah with his wife, six children, and 439 boardgames.

Twitter: @TheDanWells

Tumblr: @thedanwells

Pep Talk Week 2: The Dreaded Week Two Blues

This week, Becca Campbell gives you some tangible tricks to beating the monster of Resistance, the big bad boss of week two.

Congratulations You made it to Week Two. Yay! Now, can I rain on your parade? No? Well, here I go anyway…

The Monster

I’m going to be bluntly honest with you. Week two is the worst week of this challenge. It’s the week your story hits its halfway point—that slogging, muddy middle where you have no idea how you’ll make it to the end.

Week two is when you lose your buffer of surplus words (if you even had a buffer). It’s when you run out of ideas. It’s the point where you realize that everything you’ve written is total garbage. It’s where your story suddenly derails because your plot-train jumped the tracks and ended up at the edge of a cliff, barreling ahead over nothing but thin air at a hundred miles an hour.

And should I even mention the outside forces trying to pummel you off track? Your boyfriend starts asking why you’re too busy to answer his texts. Your friends remark that you’ve gone AWOL. Your neighbors complain that the grass in your yard is a foot high. Your wife asks when you’re going to get groceries because the fridge is empty, and oh, by the way, have you fed the kids today?

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls these forces “Resistance.” Week two is when all these forces of Resistance come to a head. Suddenly, it feels like every living creature in your world does not want you to write that book.

Week two is when most writers quit.

There’s only one way to make it through week two. Continue reading “Pep Talk Week 2: The Dreaded Week Two Blues”

Pep Talk Week 1: Exuberant Imperfection

Becca Campbell offers sage advice on perfection…and the importance of letting it go.

I’ve been a serious writer for eight years now. I have a dozen novels under my belt. You’d think I have this WriMo thing down.

But coming up with an outline has been more difficult this year than normal. I wasn’t quite sure why until I picked up No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, and a simple truth made itself clear:

I had slipped into the mindset of aiming for perfection.

This is a very, very bad thing for a writer. It’s not healthy for anyone, but when you’re sitting down to begin a novel, that blank page can be crippling.

You aren’t good enough, it says. You haven’t figured out all the details. You don’t even know how the story will end! And how are you going to write that one scene—the one that terrifies you to even think about?

Even when you start writing, this fear doesn’t go away. Look, you spelled that word wrong. Your grammar’s atrocious. And those lines of dialog don’t make any sense!

For me, this year the self-doubt began before I even started writing. I’ve written four stories in my current series and have four more to write. I stand on this precipice in the very middle, plagued with fear that I will take a wrong move. That I’ll write myself into a corner. That I’ll break the entire plot and won’t be able to pull off a satisfying ending. That I’ll finish the series and discover I need to completely rewrite the first four books. Continue reading “Pep Talk Week 1: Exuberant Imperfection”

That One Last Push: Victory and What Lies Beyond – Pep Talk Week 4

Just write button

We’re in the home stretch. Check out this pep talk by our own Eden Mabee, and recharge yourself to finish big!

Congratulations JuNoWriMo Winner!

I don’t know where you are in your JuNoWriMo progress.  I don’t need to know–really!  I already know you’ve won.

You see, you started a challenge that pushed you to write even when you weren’t as ready as you hoped you would be, even when you felt sick or the kids were now out of school on summer vacation, or the boss needed you to cover a few extra hours because your co-workers had left for a cruise…

You started JuNoWriMo, and you’re still here, still writing.  No matter how close you’ve gotten to that magical 50K, whether you aimed for that exactly or declared yourself a JuNoWriMo Rebel and set your own word count… you wrote.

Hopefully you’re still writing.  After all, you still have a few more days to get those words in, and a story doesn’t stop on a number.  Keep those fingers limber, your caffeinated beverages topped off, and the inspirational music playing.  If you’ve run out of story–start another. Continue reading “That One Last Push: Victory and What Lies Beyond – Pep Talk Week 4”

#JuNoWriMo Featured Author: Brittany Tenpenny

Meet some of your fellow June WriMo’s in our Featured Author series each Saturday and Thursday through June.

My name is Brittany Tenpenny and I’ve been a New York Brittany TenpennyYankees fan for as long as I could remember. About a year ago, I had an epiphany after leaving Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won every home game I attended. And I mean every game, even the ones where the odds were stacked against them. It was then, as I descended the swirling concrete steps of the stadium, that my imagination concocted a story of a girl who became the good luck charm for her favorite team. What started out as a simple idea swelled into the first novel of a New Adult trilogy, The Wild Card.

Since the day she was born, Bobbie Jean Lewis has been lucky. She was blessed with a loving father and a baseball-obsessed mother who taught her everything about the New York Emperors, the greatest team in MLB. But what Bobbie never learned was that life–just like baseball–can hit back hard and luck is as fleeting as a two run lead. Stuck in a perpetual slump, Bobbie spends her teenage years riding the bench. Just when she is about to give up, the ghost of Emperors’ legend, Bobby Knight, recruits Bobbie and her friends to save a historic stadium and reverse the curse of the Emperors. Suddenly, Bobbie finds herself, and her team, on the fast track to the World Series–and into the arms of the man who could ruin it all.

I am hoping to spend JuNoWriMo hammering out a first draft. Writing a novel is, in a lot of ways, like playing baseball. Crafting a first draft is the training phase, revision is practice and the finished product is stepping up to the plate. I’m hoping that, for JuNoWriMo, I can knock it out of the park!

Connect with Brittany:

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads 

Be Braver Than You Ever Thought Possible: Pep Talk Week 3

We welcome writing coach and bestselling author Angela Ackerman for this week’s pep talk. Grab these tips and be encouraged for your third week of JuNoWriMo!

If our path has one guidepost of truth, it is this: writing isn’t easy. Not by a mile.

It’s not the craft of writing we must learn or the publishing waters we must navigate. Yes, so much effort will go into these things, but the hardest part? The thing that causes our hands to sweat, and our fingers to hesitate on the keys?

It’s ourselves. Our own self-doubt, our worries that our words won’t be good enough, that we’ll never be able to transcribe the story that vibrates our skull with the desire to get out.

Here’s a second truth, one we sometimes forget: creating is big. Taking something unformed, a scattered collection of ideas and emotions that exist inside us and then attempting to set it loose as a cohesive story? Not for the faint of heart. It takes incredible courage. Boldness. And, more than anything else, passion.

A third truth? The fact that you’re here, fingers poised, is amazing. We all know someone (usually multiple someones) who say they want to write a story, that they have ideas, notes even, snippets written…and yet that’s as far as they ever go. Others we know can’t even voice their desire to write. They can’t let the truth out. The dream is just too big for them.

You, however, are different. You’re here, you’re ready, and you’ve embraced the dream. So whatever you do this JuNoWriMo, don’t let doubt sabotage the greatness inside of you—not ten words in, not ten thousand words in. Be a warrior.

Should uncertainty hit at any point, here are some strategies to help you move past it and write. Continue reading “Be Braver Than You Ever Thought Possible: Pep Talk Week 3”

#JuNoWriMo Featured Author – Shan Jeniah Burton

Meet some of your fellow June WriMo’s in our Featured Author series each Saturday and Thursday through June.

Shan Jeniah Burton: The Far Shore (Kifo Island Chroincles #5)

Photo by Sylvia Woodman

Hi, I’m Shan!

My life overflows with lovely chaos. It’s a crazy quilt I share with my chef husband, two endlessly fascinating homeschooled children who gobsmack me on a daily basis, and a cast of furry companions. I’ve lived and worked at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Everglades, and driven across the country three times. Now I’m settled on the same sleepy road in upstate New York where I grew up.

I’m particularly fond of language, dreams, photography, nature, history, music,storytelling, and fictional people with green blood and pointed ears. Combining several of these loves in my writing delights me.

For JuNoWriMo, I’ll be drafting The Far Shore, the fifth novel in my Kifo Island Chronicles an alternate near-future fantasy series in development.  Each volume explores the interwoven lives of three main characters on the island-wide, no-cost, private hospice resort.

I’m excited about completing this novel draft during JuNoWriMo , and seeing what it adds to the emerging tapestry of this series.

In this volume, a young girl with a secret; a young woman with an eating disorder; and a young woman who’s seen far more than her years suggest will attempt to find purpose and healing. Will they succeed, or will their demons destroy them?

Several real life story threads coalesced to create the basic premise for this novel including:

  • Several friends who’ve dealt with/are dealing with eating disorders.
  • Reading a novel about the child sex trade.
  • Personal experience with a volatile, abusive home environment.
  • A child of the 70s, I was intrigued by the anything-can-happen nature of Fantasy Island.
  • A passion for the ocean.

My goal is to explore the strength, adaptability, and grace of the human soul – its capacity for healing, for kindness, for selflessness, and for moments of transcendent beauty even in the midst of ugliness.

I don’t believe in happy endings, because that’s not how life really works. I’m a strong believer in growth, change, and better choices, and those will be major focuses of this novel. I tend to leave my characters in a better place than they began from, but it’s seldom a perfect place.

I’m excited to get writing, and see what will happen…

You can find me here:

Facebook: Shan Jeniah Burton, Writer https://www.facebook.com/Shan-Jeniah-Burton-Writer-120792371340651/

Twitter: @shanjeniah https://twitter.com/ShanJeniah

Blog: https://shanjeniah.com/my-prime-directives/

And, on my brand-new website:http://shanjeniahslovelychaos.com/