Posted in inspiration, Thoughts

The Importance of Developing Characters (NaNoWriMo)

Whether a plot driven story or a character driven story someone or something has to be doing the action, at least in most stories. It might be different in a literary novel, but I would think something, or someone has to move the story from beginning to end.

A brief explanation, plot driven is all about what is happening, and the characters are secondary to the story. In character driven stories, it’s more about the character’s reaction to what is happening.

Some people feel the need to know everything about a character before starting. Many fill out questionnaires or fact sheets about their characters before they start writing. I’ve tried to do these too. I’ve done fact sheets, interviews, and other detailed character analysis but I spend so much time trying to figure out all of that information that I can’t write. Then I feel so walled in that I’m unable to write.

Everyone has to write however it feels natural to them. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn. I can’t write the way my friend or mentor does, I’d love to but it doesn’t work for me. I cannot write the way Nora Roberts does but wouldn’t that be fantastic. I have to be me. Like anything else we do, whether cooking or folding clothes or writing, we have to do it the way that fits us best.

NaNoWriMo this isn’t the best time to be a pantser. I find that with writing quickly, as in 50,000 words in a month and writing a series, I need a little more structure than I’ve previously employed. Because I don’t want to waste a lot of time thinking when I should be writing, I took a few weeks in October and started planning my novel, Red Steel. Over the years I’ve tried plotting, outlines, graphs, channeling the muse, seances, okay, maybe not seances but you get it, I’ve tried different methods of planning my novels. I’ve also filled out numerous questionnaires, charted my character’s birth sign, gone on Pinterest to find photos of my character, studied the different personality books, and don’t get me wrong, these methods work. I’ve read the authors that employ these methods and for them, they work. BUT they don’t work for me. 

Each class I have taken, each method I have tried, every plotting technique, chart, graph, outline, etc. has taught me a little something. Not just that I’m crazy and a glutton for punishment. So here is what I have learned, my trick to planning my novel and especially my characters. I use two things: index cards (I prefer colored cards, but I have been known to color code my own) and sticky notes (again color coded).

The colors allow me to separate facts into character, story, place, and details.

For characters:  on my index cards I write a few facts as I decide them. Maybe I know my guy is African American, but I don’t know how tall he is. Maybe that doesn’t matter or maybe he’s too short to reach something or has to duck to keep from being hit by a ceiling fan. Now I have a visual. I write this on my character notecard. I like the note cards because I can change it and I can carry it with me because I write on the go. I carry a laptop to work and I have an office at home so having it portable is important to me. It may not be as important to you.  

The post-in notes/sticky notes are a great way to write one or two lines of facts. You can brainstorm in the beginning before you start and then as you write, you can decide, this isn’t working, let’s move this around or rethink this idea. Maybe the idea needs to be thrown out all together. I write out character names, a few details, maybe hair and eye color, job, when they appear in the story, why they show up. One of my characters is a reporter. Her job is usually fluff pieces about what’s happening in the community, the art gallery opening, the local charity bike-athon, but she gets wind of a real news story and starts trying to get the scoop. She shows up at fires, at a murder dump site, etc. She puts herself in danger to get the story and becomes a nuisance to the local firefighter who is falling for her. So, another post-in note would include when that relationship heats up and when his girlfriend shows up to mess things up.

I know certain things about them, and especially since I’m writing a series, I have lived with these people for several years now. Unlike some series where one or two characters is the main focus and they grow and develop over time, my novel focuses more on a place with assorted characters taking stage. From the first to this being the fifth book, there is less than a year between them so there hasn’t been a lot of time for growth and development. There have been a few circumstances that made the characters grow up in a hurry but when there is fast growth, too often there is a reversion to old patterns. So in trying to be true to my characters, I have allowed a few set-backs.

Before you start writing, what do you need to know about your character.


Looks/appearance: Hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin tone, muscle tone?





Whatever is important to the story. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to think of things that won’t matter later or that you can discover as you write. If you like to fill out these charts, fine, do it. There is no ONE way to write.

Internal Goals and External Goals:

What do they think they need and what do they need?

Books I’ve used to help with character development

Please Understand Me II by David Kersey

Creating Character ARCS by K M Weiland

The Emotion Thesauraus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

100,000 Baby Names by Bruce Lansky

Posted in inspiration, Thoughts, writing inspiration

Preparing for NaNoWriMo As a Pantser

I have searched the web for programs, YouTube videos, blog posts, and webinars to help me get ready for NaNoWriMo. The one thing I’ve noticed is they are not geared to pantsers. I know, I know, if I’m a pantser how can I “get ready” for NaNo? Well, when I was preparing for my very first NaNoWriMo in 2015 I knew I had to have some information at my fingertips, or I’d waste precious writing time trying to figure things out.

Over the years, before publishing my first novel, I took several online classes, attended several programs and presentations and even bought books to learn how to write better, faster, how to plot, outline, use a graph, or a chart or a Ouiji board. Okay, I didn’t use the Ouiji board but I’ve tried several different methods of planning my novels in advance and I find it difficult and disheartening that I cannot do it. I often do not know what my characters will do until I’m in the middle of the action. Sometimes I add a character in the middle of the story and have to go back to the beginning and show that he was there all along. So how can someone like me prepare for NaNoWriMo?

There is no one way to write a novel. In fact, there are probably as many ways to write a novel as there are people who write them. For me, I found that by combining different techniques and ideas, I could develop my own plan. I don’t plot but I plan my novel. So, here’s what I know before I start to write.

Genre: suspense thriller with strong romantic elements, I have to have a love interest.

Main Characters:

Hero: the main male character, in this particular story he is the main POV character.

Heroine: the main female character, love interest and second POV character.

Villain or anti-hero: this is the 3rd POV character and he is sort of the bad guy but thinks he’s the hero.

Cast of secondary characters:

This is a series so some of my past characters will be in this novel. How many, and who is still undetermined, but I can assume that the hero’s sister, the owner of the café where they all hang out, the Police Chief, and the SBI agent, and more than likely, the hero’s father will all have scenes. I’m also assuming the heroine’s sister will make an appearance as she has had brief parts in prior stories and will be the heroine in the next book. I may also introduce some of her other family members. All of these are easily referenced in my Series Bible. But for easy access during NaNoWriMo I’ll be implementing another plan. If you are interested stay tuned for the second part of this story.

Major Plot Details:

I know a few major plot details, for example I know why the fires are being set, I know who is setting them. I don’t yet know what I’m planning to burn or blow up, but I’ve got a couple of ideas.

I know the love interest, I’m not sure how they’re going to get from being antagonists to being in bed together, but half the fun is figuring it out.

I know one person who is going to die. I really enjoy planning my murders, sometimes I scare myself. I just never knew I had this inside of me. I blame it on the children. After six sons you stop thinking about romance and start considering murder.


I don’t have a lot of scenes planned but a couple are already in my head. Some are vague and others are quite vibrant. As I am planning my novel for NaNoWriMo, I write down these scenes, but I may or may not use them.

For now, all the planning is in my head but in order to get things straight and be prepared for NaNo, I’ll need to do something with this information. The question is, what way is best for you? If you haven’t checked out some of the YouTube NaNo Prep videos, check out #HeartBreathings, #WritersLifeWednesdays, Alexa Donne’s NaNoWriMo Tips for Newbies.