Thursday, October 23, 2014

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: Day 4

What makes a hero a HERO?

Some people like to think a hero is born special, a Chosen One with a destiny written in the stars. Some people think the hero is simply the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Maybe they're both right.

Either way, when you're writing a book, your Protagonist needs to be more than a character that actions happen around. A hero who only reacts to situations isn't very fun to read about. A hero who could be removed entirely from the book without changing it in the slightest is even worse.

So, before you decide if the color of your hero's eyes, let's figure out what your hero's strengths and flaws are. Shining blue eyes like icy tarns won't get your hero out of a dungeon, but lock picking skills, charm, and magic will.

Exercise 1: What are your hero's weaknesses?
- There's a special name for a protagonist with no flaws: Gary Stu (or Mary Sue if the protagonist is female). A flawless hero sounds fun, and most authors start with one because they're easy to write, but they don't make for good books.
- Clumsiness, not realizing everyone thinks they're beautiful, and crying at random times do not counts as weaknesses. Red hair is not a weakness. Being born rich and charitable is not a weakness. Get those ideas right out of your head.
- The hero's weaknesses will change over the course of the book, and they should relate in some way to what the character wants. If they want to win a battle, they'll should start out without weapons training.
- Make a list of 5-10 weaknesses your character could have.

Exercise 2: What are your hero's strengths?
- This comes second because part of the hero's character arc will be turning weaknesses into strengths. The weakling learns to fight, the timid child learns to speak with strength, ect ect ect.
- It is absolutely crucial that one of your character's strengths, learned or otherwise, is the key to solving all the problems in the book. The protagonist is a hero because they are the only person who can make everything better.
- If you're writing about a group than only with the group working in harmony can the villain be defeated.
- Make a list of 3-5 strengths. They don't need to have all of these in the opening chapter, or even the first book of the series, but decide what strength they'll have. You'll need it for setting up the plot twists later.

Exercise 3: When will your hero learn these things?
- Tell yourself the back story for the hero. It may never be part of the text, but you need to know these things.
- Where was the hero born? What was their childhood like? When did they learn these things that help them save the world?

Exercise 4: What is your hero's personality?
- What gets this person up in the morning? What's the drive behind all they do?
- Don't know? Try taking the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test for your character.
- Ask a lot of questions. The 100 Questions list is a bit long to do for every character, but give it to your primary protagonist and keep it for reference during NaNoWriMo.

Exercise 5: What is the One Thing?
- Every person has one thing. One line they won't cross. One thing they won't do. One thing they can't lose and stay sane.
- If your character has a line they won't cross, the climax of the book needs to push the hero until they think they must cross this line or fail. It's up to you whether they cross over, or find another way,
- If the protagonist has one thing they can't lose, threaten it. Take it away. Ruin that thing. It's up to you whether the hero will triumph or the loss, realize the One Thing wasn't that important, or recover their lost Precious in time.

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Keep the Book Moving

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: Day 3

Oh, the antagonist.

There are people who say the hero (or protagonist) defines the book. It's certainly the hero that people remember. Frodo will not be forgotten. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were role models for a generation. Harry Potter? He was such a famous protagonist they didn't even need to put a title on his last movie poster. Everyone knew about The Boy Who Loved.

But what are these protagonists without an antagonist?

Frodo without the dark lord's ring is just a hobbit who stayed home. Han Solo would have had a quiet smuggling career, no wife, and no best friend if it weren't for Darth Vader. Harry Potter would have grown up in a normal wizarding household, gone to Hogwarts, and had an uneventful seven years (possibly being a bully) if it weren't for Voldemort.

Without an antagonist, you don't have a plot.

Without an antagonist, you don't have a book.

Day 3: Creating The Perfect Antagonist
I subscribe to the Three Villains Theory of writing. It's entirely possible I made the theory up (or renamed it - I'm not sure), but it works! With the right three villains you can write any novel with confidence and ease.

Exercise 1: The Immediate Villain
- Who is the bad guy on page one? A teacher assigning homework over the holidays? A bullying uncle or aunt? A boss who won't let you leave work early? Who is the bad guy causing trouble on the first page?
- This person may or may not be important to the overall book.
- This person may die before the end of chapter one (possibly in a way that frames the hero for murder).
- This person could become the love interest if you're using an Enemies-To-Lovers trope.
- Describe this character in detail. What do they want? Why are they bad? What are their goals?

Exercise 2: The Intermediate Villain
- This is the one who takes up the bulk of the narrative for your book. In the first Harry Potter this would be Snape: obnoxious, rude, bullying, but as it turns out, not such a bad guy in the end.
- The intermediate villain can also be a series of thugs sent by the Big Bad to cause trouble. Especially in a quest story. In The Hobbit movies Azog is the Intermediate Villain, always nipping at Thorin's heels but not doing a bulk of the damage.
- Define this character. What do they want? Why do they do what they do? How do they interact with the hero?
- Give the Intermediate Villain a win. While the hero can defeat (or avoid) the first villain succesfully the Intermediate Villain should give the hero trouble. Round about the middle of your novel the villain should have a definite win. They get the magic thing first, they kill someone the hero tried to save, they get the girl, they win the big game. Whatever. Plan on giving your villain a win. It adds complexity to the narrative and raises the stakes. Also? It's usually an easy scene to write because you can beat your hero up as much as you want.

Exercise 3: The Big Bad
- This is the villain that's secretly controlling things from behind the scenes, the betrayer who has been secretly working against the hero the whole time. Dark Vader. Voldemort. Sauron.
- In a series, you may not see this person until the end of the series (think Kate's dad in the MAGIC BITES series by Ilona Andrews). The best part about this kind of antagonist is it invites readers to reread so they can catch the earlier clues. You really can save this villain for the very end, or at least the last 1/3 of the book.
- They usually appear around the hero's Moment Of Despair, when the hero has lost all hope, friends, support, and belief in themself.
- This is the villain that defines the hero. Because the hero looks up from the mud and blood and despair and say, "I cannot let you do this. I cannot let you win even if I lose everything." The decision to fight this villain when all hope is lost, at great personal sacrifice, is what makes an ordinary person a hero. And because the hero is coming from such a low point, beaten and fragile, their victory is all the more sweet in the end.
- Describe this character? When will they appear? What are they like? What do they do? Why are they the villain?

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Phone Number Doesn't Change

My first cellphone was a pay-as-you-go deal that I never remembered to use or pay for and so, in college, I changed phone numbers the way my dorm mates changed boyfriends. A year after college my husband had a solid job, we had two kids, and we'd bought a house. My grandfather lived a few hours away, along isolated back roads with cattle and suicidal deer, and suddenly the idea of a working cellphone seemed prudent to me.

I signed the two year contract and got myself a phone with a Texas area code.

Two years later the job moved and we moved with it. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida... the job kept moving, but the phone number never changed.

My primary excuse was that my kids and my grandma both knew the number by heart. I wasn't going to make my daughter, who struggled to say her name, learn a new phone number every time we packed up to chase the paycheck.

Secretly, the reason I kept the number was so I wouldn't lose track of anyone. I squirreled away phone numbers for friends like they would be my only sustenance for winter. In South Carolina I thought I spotted an old friend from Texas. Sure enough, her number was still on my phone. A quick text later and I knew it was her. She was in town visiting family, did I want to get together for dinner? Another time it was midnight phone call from a dear friend struggling with being a single parent. We hadn't talked in nearly a year, but she knew my phone number was good.

This morning it was a text from a girl in Alabama. The last time I saw her I had three kids and Bug was still crawling (FTR: Bug is in kindergarten and I have four children now). The last time I saw her she was in high school, learning to drive, competing for first chair flautist in band. This morning she wanted my address so she could send a wedding invite.

They grow up so fast!

It's easy to think that everyone you leave behind freezes in place when you walk away. They don't everyone keeps living. They grow up, change, move on... And sometimes, if you're very lucky, they reconnect.

That's why my phone number doesn't change. No matter where life takes me, I don't ever want to be more than ten digits away from anyone.