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NaNoWriMo Prep: How Well Should You Know Your Characters?

National Novel Writing Month is coming up! I'm sure those of you who are participating this year are currently in the midst of a flurry of prep work, deciding which idea you're going to tackle and maybe putting together a preliminary outline. Pre-writing like this can be a huge help as you prepare to take the plunge into delightful bonkers-ness that is NaNoWriMo. As you do so, don't forget about plotting out your characters a bit before you sit down to bring them to life. 

It’s crucial to develop your characters—to make them believable, interesting, sympathetic (if not always likable), and complex. Some writers compile notebooks full of information and backstory about their characters that they don’t even include in the finished story, just to give themselves a better understanding of the character they are attempting to bring to life on the page.

While this level of background detail can sometimes be helpful, it makes sense to prioritize some pieces of information over others. I’ve seen a lot of lists of questions to ask yourself about your characters posted as pre-writing exercises online, and many of these lists include questions that will likely do nothing to drive the plot or add to the reader’s understanding of your characters’ motivations. So, in the hopes of saving you time so you can get right to writing stage, I present a brief list of questions about your characters that you really, probably should answer before you dive in.

1.) What do they want?

2.) What do they fear?

3.) How do they react to adversity?

See? Super short.

I really do believe this is all the character work you need to do in the pre-writing phase. Knowing the answers to these three questions will help you shape the plot. You will naturally avoid any unnecessary description of your characters, and you will be able to supply details where necessary after you’ve figured out the substance of the story. It will also ensure that your characters desires, fears, and instincts are driving the events of your story. The rest—the quirks, the preferences, the personality traits—will come as a result of those three things.

Who's doing NaNo this year? Any questions about pre-writing and/or character development? Go ahead and leave a comment below.

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Val O.

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