As you most likely already know, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.  Although it is my fourth year participating, the entire experience feels different from previous years.  First, I was completely unprepared this time, no characters, no plot, nothing but a setting in mind.  Second, I have absolutely no notes on this newest novel, not a one.  Third, I’m trying something new with POV.  Fourth and most exciting, I have NaNo friends!

     I’ve stated in the past that my first go at NaNo found me floundering for a novel idea until the very night before.  But once the idea struck, I had everything I needed; characters, plot, conflict, etc…  I scribbled it all down like a mad genius and went to be satisfied that I now had a solid foundation to build on.  When I woke up the next morning, more than 2k words poured out of me and I was off to a great start.  

A picture is worth a thousand words so 50 should help me reach my goal.
Image courtesy of Jetkasettakorn /

     This year however, the only thing I had to work with was the idea that I wanted to write a horror story, potentially dealing with a young couple moving into a haunted house.  But I had no idea who the couple was, what they looked like, why they were moving into the house or why the house was haunted.  Then another participant mentioned using photo prompts to help them create 30 short stories in 30 days and I thought, photo prompts, that’s exactly what I need.  So I headed to Pinterest to create a board dedicated to my NaNoWriMo novel.  With each picture I found, the story began to take shape, morphing and evolving along the way.  While in its current state it is still a story about a haunting, it is no longer the story that I first thought up a little over a week ago.  For the first time, I can truly say that I am writing by the seat of my pants.

     In the past, I have had notebooks or Scrivener projects chock full of notes, character sketches and conversations that I’ve wanted to include in the novel.  I would use these to help keep me on track.  One year, I even attempted to do an actual outline in hopes that it would guide me on what to write next, keeping the words flowing freely.  

Swapped notes for photos
Image courtesy of pixbox77 /

     This year, the closest thing I have to notes are my photo prompts.  I have no character sketches and no real idea of how the story will end.  Somehow, the story seems to be writing itself this time around.  I just set my fingers on the keyboard and they do the rest.  There is no over-thinking, no second guessing and no constant need to edit this time around.  I even noted inconsistencies with POV and tense and just kept going with the knowledge that it would get fixed during the initial edit.  And if it gets missed in the first edit, there is always the second or the third or however many it takes to get it ready to share with the world.  This is a huge step for me.  When I first started writing, noticing something like that would have caused me to obsess, feeling the need to fix it right then and there, setting me back on my word count and making me lose the momentum that I had built up.

     I always prefer to write in the first person, present tense.  I know a lot of authors and even readers find this approach a bit odd, some even calling it unnatural.  But to me, this is what feels right.  The main character drives the story, explaining what is happening along the way, taking us on a journey.  This time around, I am still using the first person, present tense, but instead of one main character telling the story, there are two.  The novel is being split into parts; the first telling the story over a span of six months, from one character’s POV, the second telling it from the other character’s POV over the same six month period and the third part will give us the outcome (not sure how the POV will be worked in this part).  I’ve never written a story from two different POVs, nor have I ever written one with parts.  I’m not sure if the final product will still be structured this way or if I will find some way to merge the first two parts and just do a normal chapter book.  Only time (and maybe beta readers) will tell.

     And for the most exciting change in this year’s NaNoWriMo participation, I have other people that understand what it is to take on this beast that is NaNoWriMo.  In the past, I have always done this on my own and half way through, I would just start to fizzle out.  I’m hoping that this year, seeing all of my fellow participants soldier on, will be a motivating factor for me not to give up.  And when I feel my conviction start to waiver, I have people that I can turn to, who have been there and done that, to give me the metaphorical swift kick in the pants that I will need to keep going.

This time I’m not alone
Image courtesy of Ambro /

     So far, I am doing great, writing an average of about 1,700 words a day.  To find out what the novel is about and read an excerpt, click here.

How do you name your characters?  

Image courtesy of FakyFakersin

     It is a question I have seen quite a few times, so I’ve decided to share my process and hopefully get a few tips from you in return.  

     Some characters may come to you fully developed and knowing exactly who they are, name and all, simply looking for a voice to tell their story.  For those characters that are waiting to be born and molded, naming them can be as complex and intimate as naming a child.  In essence, these characters are your children, they are your brainchildren.   Here are a few methods that I use when naming characters:

1.  I know you: Sometimes characters can remind us of people that we know; be it their physical description or personality traits.  When this happens, I play on the name or nickname of the real person that I know.  For example, if a character reminds me of my neighbor “William”, I might name them “Bill” or even “Liam”.  

2.  You mean…: If a certain character trait stands out to me, I might surf baby name websites looking for names that fit those traits.  If my character is the leader of a group in the story, I might name them AlephFallon, or Harlod depending on their gender and which one “speaks” to me most.  A more obvious and literal example of this is the seven dwarves from Snow White.

Image courtesy of dorne

3.  You look like: There are times when I can see the character’s “image” clearly in my head.  When I get a sense of things like nationality, complexion, eye color and/or stature, I might do an image search online for actors/actresses or models that fit the mold.  If I find someone that undeniably resembles the image I have in my head, I will either use that person’s first name or play on the name the same way I do in #1 above.

4.  Randomize me: When all else fails, I will use Scrivener’s name generator.  It is a great tool that allows you to narrow the results based on things like gender or nationality.  You can also choose whether you want only first names, surnames or a combination of the two.  It even gives you the option of using alliteration or setting the obscurity level.  Do you want a basic name or something off the wall that fits perfectly in a sci-fi novel?  If I am looking for a full name (first and last) I tend to mix and match the results rather than using a name exactly as generated.

What are some methods you use to name your characters?  Are your methods similar to mine or do you have a few tricks of your own?

Image courtesy of sattva /

     Before you can truly tell their stories, you need to really get to know your characters.  Most people might think, as their creator, you would know your characters better than anyone else.  But as most writers can attest, characters are not “created” so much as they are met.

     Having never taken a creative writing course in my life, I am not going to go into the technical roadmap of character development.  There will be no numbered dos and don’ts list.  I don’t pretend to be an expert, I just share what I learn through trial and error and try to put into layman’s terms the reasoning behind it in hopes that I might make someone else’s journey slightly smoother than my own.

     If your approach to writing is anything like mine, outlining consists of a very high level summary of the story jotted down in a few sentences along with random notes of stray thoughts that can come at any given time.  You have an idea of the overall concept of the project, be it a short story or novel, but there is no in depth scene by scene outline.  As a “percolator” (See Pantser? Planner? Percolator? blog post) you don’t create a roadmap that you stick to when writing, but you also don’t just come up with a story and bang it out without any prior thought process.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images

     When writing a novel, it can be quite easy to become inconsistent if you don’t have an outline.  You might find yourself asking questions like “What color were Amy’s eyes again?” “Did Bob grow up in Michigan or Minnesota?”  Simple questions that when you first set out to write, you have a clear and concise view of the answers to.  But throw in a few more characters, a couple of locations and a plot twist or two and it can be easy to lose track of the answers that were so clear in your mind last month or even last year when you first started writing.  You get so deep into the story that it can be hard to remember what happened a chapter or two earlier.  And if you are writing a series, you want to be sure to keep things consistent from one book to the next, because trust me, even if you don’t notice, the readers will.

     Please don’t tell me I have to create an outline, you might be pleading right about now.  If you are, don’t worry, the answer is still no (at least, not for the story).   What you will need to do, is create character bios.  A character bio can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.  The pertinent information that you should included are stats like, name, age, height, weight, eye color, etc…  I would also suggest that you put anything that is important to the story line.  

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix

For example, if your character is a pro athlete and has been traded several times, you want to keep track of the various teams they played for and the years they played for those teams.  If all of this information is kept in an easily accessible place, you will avoid the hassle of trying to skim back through the story to find this information again and again when doing consistency checks.

     If you use a writing software like Scrivener or Celtx, they come with handy character bio templates.  

Character Sketch Template in Scrivener

Character Profile Template in Celtx
     I’m sure if you are using some other writing software, it will have a similar feature available.  And for anyone that uses a word processing software like Word or WordPerfect, there are templates available for those too.

     I also find it helpful to add a picture or pictures of people that fit the vision you have of the character.  This can make the characters seem realer and more relatable, making the job of conveying their story easier.

     When I first started writing my series, I thought that character profiles were just nice to have.  But the further I got into the story lines, the more I saw their added value.  Other than using the bios to keep track of stats, they can also help to remind you of the character’s personality.  Would Jennifer really go sky diving if she is afraid of heights?  Is it believable for Joe to profess his love for Melinda when he normally has a hard time talking about his feelings?  I think you get the picture.

     What are some tricks you use to get inside of your characters’ heads?

     How would you feel about being immortal-ized as a fictional character?  Would you like to know about it?  I saw a post the other day of the picture shown on the left and it made me laugh, because this is something I do all the time; I’ve even addressed it in a previous blog (Fiction Mirroring Life or Life Mirroring Fiction?).  I believe that the best source of inspiration for any artist, is the world around them, so it is only natural that a painter would paint people they see around them or that a writer would create a character based on those around them.

     If someone were to base a character on you, would you want to have some say or would you prefer to give the novelist creative license?  I personally have created characters based on friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers.  When writing about people you know, it can be easy to translate them true to form.  The tricky part comes when you base characters on people you know next to nothing about.  People that you see, but never really speak to; the cashier at the mall, the manager of your favorite coffee shop, the girl that works at the movie theater, etc…  You see these people, but you don’t know them on a personal level.  How much can you really know about their lives from the minimal interaction you have with them, if you even interact with them at all?

     Once you base characters on them though, you start to feel like you know them.  You start to feel connected to these people in a way that you never were before.  Any author can attest to the fact that their characters become as real to them as their own friends and family.  We grow to care about them the same way we would any important person in our lives.  And that’s when the fun really starts to happen, when the lines between reality and imagination blur and you see your character walking around before your very eyes.  You know deep down inside that they are not the character that you created them to be, but the very sight of them does things to you, that you can’t even explain.  

     There have been times, when struggling with writer’s block, that I made a point of stopping by a particular place where I knew I would run into such a person.  I don’t even need to speak to them and yet, the very sight of them fills me with excitement and inspiration.  But no matter how much I would like to get to know them better, the fear of shattering the illusion I have created prevents me from doing so.  What would happen if the reality was nothing like the illusion?  Would it be forever ruined?  But then, what if the reality is even better than the illusion?  Is it worth taking the chance?

Photo Credit: kakisky (

     How would you react if a complete stranger told you they were a novelist and based a character on you?  Would you be flattered or would you be looking for the nearest exit to get away from the crazy person that you now believe has been stalking you?