Nail Your NaNoWrMo #2 – Keep Your Character Close to Home

I hate to admit it, but NaNoWrMo is different than the normal, reasonable experience of writing a novel. 

Time is of the essence.  Normally this could easily compromise one of the core competencies (of the six, in case you’re new here) that will, at some point, need to be sparkling and compelling in your story.

Here’s a little trick to cut a ton of time out the process and get it right from square one.  Which, in context to NaNoWrMo, is like bailing water out of a life raft with a bucket instead of a spoon.

The Toughest Core Competency

For me it’s character. Even when you plan your hero down to the fingernails, the persona, the effect of the backstory and the general nature and energy of the character doesn’t fully emerge until you bring him/her alive in your pages.


… the hero is you.

If you allow yourself to star in your NaNoWrMo story — I highly advise changing the name — you’ll find yourself knowing more about your hero than you ever will otherwise.  Literally put yourself into the skin of your hero and vicariously experience — and then translate into words — the journey you’ve created.

Of course, if you don’t see yourself as a hero, this is your chance to add what’s missing and fix what’s broken.  And you should… by virtue of nailing the character’s arc.  At least you’ll have a first hand understanding of the starting point of that arc… because he/she is you.

You will also bring a gritty, realistic emotional resonance to the character, because he/she will feel and response as you would in that situation.

Which can be a lot of fun on paper.  Go ahead, live your fantasy.

Which is a preview of a forthcoming tip, by the way.

All of these tips need to be assimilated in context to each other.

Today’s tip, for example, won’t really come alive until you’ve created a compelling concept and have crafted a vision for the journey, the antagonist and the outcome.  But once those in place (which they will be as we move down this October planning path), casting yourself in the lead will cut, if not a lot of time, then certainly a lot of time-consuming guesswork from the critical element of character in your story.

Live the dream.  In this case, literally.


Filed under NaNoWriMo

13 Responses to Nail Your NaNoWrMo #2 – Keep Your Character Close to Home

  1. Great advice Larry. I’ll be following you this month in the run up. One small gripe; it’s nanowrimo (with “i”) – try saying your version 🙂 I have your book too; it’s incredibly useful.

  2. Shirls

    Great tip, Larry. Being so old I have dozens of “mes” for my character. This is going to be fun.

  3. Thanks for getting on board with us this year, Larry! This will be the best assistance for all. There is something about a daily nudge to get you back and writing when it gets so hard sometimes.

    There’s a lot of “me” all over the place, too! Even one of my male characters has a LOT of me! The best part of this is that so many of the bad parts of me, plus a lot of ugly traits have been added to the nasty character I get to kill. I am so looking forward to that! Can’t wait!

    Hey, there’s a good topic for a post — “Let me show you how to become blood-thirsty!” giggles

    Just added “Story Engineering” to my Kindle! Looking forward to the daily NaNoWriMo inspiration, Larry Brooks style. 🙂

  4. I just finished the 1st draft of my 1st book (part of a series that I’ll continue in NaNoWriMo). I wrote 54K words in 19 days of actual writing (haha…iPhone spell check wanted to replace that with writhing after I accidently spelled it w/ 2 t’s…oddly apt!), actually spreas over 2 months…life intervened. And I achieved that because I followed the 6 core competencies (more or less!) first and planned.

    It was a dry run for my NaNoWriMo attempt. My first. I’m looking forward to your daily tips to prep for November. It was my plan to plan in Oct & I’m sure your tips will help. It took me 138 days of planning prior to book 1; hopefully your tips will help me plan book 2 in less than 30.

    Thanks for the 6 core competencies (spelling then out more clearly than I’d seen before) and these tips.

  5. I love using the I-Guy. He stops being me in about one paragraph and goes live, because in order to make the novel work I can’t write me the way I really am. I’ve got multiple disabilities and too many unusual circumstances in one life to be able to work that character into just one novel.

    When I change that, it changes everything. Even if I only remove some of his disabilities, his life becomes completely different. Then there’s the setting being different, he’ll respond to that and come out himself. Even changing his name changes what he thinks of himself, names have associations and people respond to them.

    This is great advice. It sets the writer up to create a sympathetic character. By identifying that closely with the character, a lot more energy and emotion goes into the story – and the reader can identify with him or her too.

    Thanks for a great article.

  6. Tessa

    What a good idea!

  7. Larry, this is a great service. I’ve participated in NaNo in the past and feel following your series of posts will help me get organized and be ready when November 1st rolls around. I wrote about these posts on my blog (not to mention Story Engineering!), plus I informed all the great folks on the Kindle Boards.

  8. I totally agree with what your saying. A couple of years ago I decided to give nanowrimo a go. The concept of nanowrimo was created out of San Francisco, and being in the Northern Hemisphere, November seemed like the best time to begin a month of protracted writing. Weather-wise it’s always nicer to sit inside and write with a nice cup if cocoa and a log fire. Unfortunately, here in Australia, November is one of the warmest months of the year. It makes it difficult to write when the sun is out and the beach beckons. That’s why PRE-STRUCTURING a novel is handy. After all a month is a month. You need to make the most of the time you have. I wrote my last novel, Stratagem, through nanowrimo and in order to save time I planned it meticulously using the methods Larry has set forth. Before I began, I colour-coded the chapters so I knew what I was trying to accomplish and where. I did all my writing on the train – pretty much – so I could take advantage of the nice weather when I got home, and on the weekend. Seriously, it works. Plan before you start, colour code your chapters so you know where the setup begins and ends. So you know where and what the hook is, and so on. You’ll find it much easier to hit the 1666 words/day. I wrote a little something on my blog about hitting a 2000 quota. It’s exactly what I did through Nano. I wish everyone luck. It’s hard, that’s for sure. But after hitting your target it’s such a wonderful feeling.

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  12. As a veteran of NaNoWriMo, I can’t stress how important it is to sometimes find shortcuts and common touchstones easing up your writing process. This isn’t one I had ever thought of, since so often writers are told “don’t reference others you know” and don’t make your protagonist a “Mary Sue,” when the author essentially lives out a glorified fantasy through the main character. These concerns conflict with “write what you know,” which would be yourself.

    I think your advice hits it right on the head, though. People can stress out about any number of things during NaNo, the elements of character and concept being at the forefront. It isn’t a traditional writing experience. So why sweat the character when you can draw upon your own knowledge and decision-making processes? I like the way this opens up a person to possibility and takes away the “what would Harold do?” element that I’ve watched stymie many newer writers.

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