Welcome back to my PlaNoWriMo series! Throughout this four-part series, I’ll be providing all my preparation, outlining, and construction methods for my NaNo novel: Reclamation. I’m super excited for this series, and for NaNoWriMo! I’m doing this series to inspire would-be authors that just don’t know where to start, and to hopefully destroy the mystique surrounding the crafting of a novel.
If you haven’t read the first post, read it here!
Okay! Let’s get into Character, Desire, and Conflict!
Developing a character can be an incredibly extensive process. There are whole websites, courses, and lectures devoted to developing character. There’s millions of ways to do it, and I’m definitely not saying my way is the best (or even good for other people, honestly). Pressure to create the perfect main (or POV) character can be intense, and it can feel daunting. I’m here to say: it’s only as difficult as you allow it to be.
Last week, I talked about my nine-point method for developing a story, and I mentioned how each point should naturally flow from the ones before it. If you find that your character hasn’t naturally popped out from your work on Purpose, Structure, and Premise, don’t worry! You’re probably facing two problems here. Either:
- You’re overthinking or over-criticizing things way too much, or
- You aren’t interested/excited about your story.
First thing I recommend is: revisit your Purpose. Remember, your Purpose is the reason you’re writing this story, not necessarily what the story is about. Truthfully, revisiting your Purpose might not give you a clear picture of a main character, but it will remind you why you’re excited to write this story. It will remind you of your goal. Above all else, feeling excited and motivated to write this story is key. If you aren’t excited about it, writing the thing is going to be a drag. Honestly, if your project doesn’t excite you, you probably won’t finish it. Which is a good thing. If you do manage to finish a project that isn’t exciting to you, it will probably be an awfully stale read.
I say that your main character should identify themselves based on your Purpose, Structure, and Premise because these three things are like food for your character. These three things “fatten up” your character and give them depth, even if it doesn’t seem so at first glance.
For my story Reclamation, I found my main character: Rhesa, a young girl with a penchant for tinkering and getting into trouble. But, why did I settle on her as my main character? Well…
My Purpose is to successfully complete NaNoWriMo and prove to myself that I could do it. So I wanted to channel that feeling into my main character. My Structure dictates that I focus on one main character, so that character needs a voice I can easily tap into. By applying the general concept of “I want to prove to myself that I can do this” to my main character as her kind of focal trait (the thing about her that everything else centers around), I will be able to easily write this character and maintain interest throughout the project. Additionally, my writing will come from the heart, because Rhesa is facing the same challenge I am. The writing will naturally feel more genuine because of that.
My Premise shaped some basic details about her. The Premise I settled on was: A dangerous hivemind cult uses giant machines to eat and recycle cities for Nature. I know that I want my main character to stop this terrible event from going on, so I have a general idea that she needs to be useful in solving the problem. I just figured: if an evil, giant machine was a city-destroying villain, what kind of person would be best equipped to handle that problem? I fell onto a machinist and a tinkerer, because that kind of person would have the best chance (in my mind). And, because the villains (machine, hivemind cult) are all about order and discipline, I wanted her to be the antithesis. Stubborn, irrational, and not very disciplined at all.
Where did the rest of her shape come from? Well, that’s a little more ambiguous. I knew she was going to be a tinkerer and pretty irrational. But why a she when I’m a male? That goes back to Purpose. I want to challenge myself on this project. I’ve never written a female lead before, and I wanted to try it out. You could argue that I should have gone with a male character, but I dunno… a female just felt right.
Now, keep in mind that I still know very little about Rhesa at this stage. That’s totally okay. The character is going to grow more and more as I complete the rest of the story-creation points. For now, so early in the planning stage, all I need to know is very basic stuff. Male or female, and general shape of personality. Because this a “good versus evil” kind of story, I can craft her basic personality traits by picturing the villain I have in mind (thanks to the Premise) and giving her traits opposite to that villain.
All right! Basic Character has been formed! Now we move on to Desire.
Desire is, essentially, what your character wants. In longer stories, you should totally give your character lots of desires and plan to systematically give or deny them to your character. This is such a highly personal part of story creation that the subject can be difficult to breach. How can I offer advice on giving your character desires?
You guessed it. Go back to the previous points. Something will pop out for you as you read over what you have written down so far. If nothing does, go back to your Purpose.
For me, I didn’t want to give Rhesa too many desires because I needed to keep the story short and sweet. I needed to keep it short and sweet to accomplish my goal. (There’s Structure and Purpose coming up again.) Looking at the Premise, the easy desire was simple to see: she wants to stop the machines. Again, let’s not just shoot for easy. Let’s give this stuff some depth! So, yeah, she wants to stop the machines. Of course she does.
But this story can’t just be about a character, obviously designed to solve this problem, wanting nothing more than to solve this specific problem. That’s like writing a story about a soldier that wants to end the war because there’s a war. It’s not deep enough. I can’t speak for potential readers, but that would be very boring to write. There’s no interesting drama in there. You know the soldier is probably going to win, just like I know Rhesa is probably going to stop those machines somehow. You have to give your main character something else they want, then slam it against the easy conflict.
I’ll make a note here that you should totally write down a whole bunch of random desires, no matter the length of your work. They don’t necessarily have to be connected to all the other stuff. They don’t even have to make it into the story. Having a lot of desires just helps you understand your character a little more. For Rhesa, I chose:
- She wants to stop the machines.
- She wants to prove to herself that she can do something.
- She wants love.
- She wants to get something back. (Reclamation!)
As you can see, these Desires can be only half-thought. They’ll fill out more in the next section: Conflict.
Conflict is the main problem of your story, and is the seed from which your climax will sprout. There’s a lot of different ways you can tackle Conflict. For me, I just head back to the preceding story creation points: Purpose, Structure, Premise, Character, and Desire.
My Premise sort of naturally provides me with the basis of a good Conflict. A hivemind cult using big machines is eating cities. From there, it was pretty easy to formulate the overall Conflict. Rhesa, my Character, lives in a city that this hivemind is destroying with their machines. Obviously, she wants to stop these machines from destroying her home. Could this be enough? Absolutely. But, for depth and a little extra drama, I want to take one of her random desires and stick it right in front of the main Conflict.
You can see where the Character and the overall story can really fill out during this portion. Taking from the desires I gave Rhesa:
- She wants to prove she can do something, and this could get in the way of stopping the machines.
- She wants love, and that love could get in the way of stopping the machines.
- She wants to get something back, and getting that thing back could get in the way of stopping the machines.
I really liked this running theme of reclamation. Getting back what is lost. So I settled on the last one there: She wants to get something back, and she has to choose between getting that thing back or stopping the machines. That’s her Desire. I chose to keep her voice that she wants to prove herself. They aren’t connected, necessarily, but it makes her deeper as a character.
That’s good stuff, right there.
Awesome! We’ve now established Purpose, Structure, Premise, Character, Desire, and Conflict. Let’s put it all together!
I want to write a NaNoWriMo novel of 50,000 words focusing on a single character. The novel is about a dangerous hivemind cult using giant machines to eat and recycle cities for Nature. Rhesa, a tinkerer focused on proving her capabilities to herself, must stop these machines before they devour her home. The only problem is: she needs to get something back. Getting back that something might mean she can’t stop the machines at all. Which will she choose? Getting back what she’s lost, or saving what she already has?
Next Sunday we’ll talk Risk, Setting, and Resolution. (There’s a hint to my chosen Risk in that blurb above.)
If you’re following along and using this series to shape your own novel, I highly recommend you write down EVERY idea that pops into your head. My story creation format is a cascade, but I’m usually bouncing back and forth between points as things start coming to light. Everything informs everything else, which creates a cohesive, deep, and interesting story.
Hopefully, you like the series so far, guys! I’ll see you again on 15 October 2017 for the third part of this series! Please leave feedback on this series! Is it helpful to you? Is it not helpful? Let me know! Your feedback is exactly what makes me, and every one of our author peers, better storytellers.
Love you all!