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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Character driven horror? You've got to be kidding!

This year's NaNoWriMo has really been a journey of discovery.

Normally, I'm a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" kind of writer, whether it's a short story or a novel. I have general idea of the character, some general ideas for what's going to happen in the story, and I go for it. No plot outline, no character sketch sheets, I just make it all up as I go. And I love writing that way. They're something magical about a story organically developing from just a few scraps of ideas.

However, I knew that wasn't going to fly this year. Almost every year I have attempted NaNo, I've had to abandon it (one year, a very long time ago, I won; but that is ancient history). The problem is that NaNo happens to fall during the same time as deer hunting season here, so I lose sixteen and a half NaNo days to deer hunting. That's half the month!

Sure, I could get my priorities straight, but frankly, I love deer season. I look forward to it all year and it's a big family tradition. So if something has to suffer . . . well, we know the result: every year, I've had to abandon NaNo.

This year, since I'm trying to make an effort to get back to writing, I decided I had to do NaNo. But I couldn't give up deer season. So I decided to try something different: outlining. Not too much, of course. I still want there to be "magic" in my discovery of where the novel is going. I just wanted to outline some of the major plot points so I'd always have an idea of what I would write when I sat down for those few stolen moments of writing.

And it's worked! I've stayed ahead of the NaNo daily goal (although I've fallen short on my personal goal many times). And it hasn't taken away too much of the magic. While working on the outlined plot points, I've come up with new directions to take the novel (and then those plot points get jotted down in the outline for tomorrow's work).

But what's really surprised me is how much it has changed my character development. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or bad thing, but this novel really has some intense character development in it--a completely new thing, for me. Since I write horror, almost all of my stories are intensely plot driven. The only emphasis I usually give to characters is just enough to make the reader like/empathize with him/her, so that the reader cares whether the hero lives or dies.

But in this new novel . . . Hell, I care whether he lives or dies (and he's just some dude I made up in my head, for crying out loud). My horror novel has become both plot and character driven. It's a total surprise to me. I just hope I haven't turned the whole thing so character driven that the plot suffers. I don't think I have (there's plenty of action in this novel, and plenty of "fear of death"), but I won't be able to tell for sure until the whole thing is done and I revisit it for revision and editing.

But the whole thing amazes me. I'm so glad that I stuck to my guns this year and decided to do NaNo, and really glad I tried the new method.

I like it so much and it's worked so well for me that I intend to use an outline (or plot skeleton, more accurately) in my future works.

What new things have you learned from NaNo?

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