My biggest problem with this month’s Camp NaNo attempt at major progress in my story, as with the first time I tried to NaNo Almagest, was underpreparedness. There were a few characters in my head, but not enough; can one truly do a good heavy court intrigue with only four, and most of them on versions of the same side to boot? How does one get across the mixing of so many cultures when one’s named cast is limited to two from one place, and two from another, and none so far from the host’s country? When of the ones who are named, one is a longing without a history, one a symbol with only a goal, one a cypher, one a trap?
It’s small wonder writing fluff was easier.
When I wrote the Generic Villain project, I had two advantages. One was that I was able to jump ahead, to write the scenes that I could feel and come back to the ones I couldn’t, and that the ones I couldn’t would themselves give me something to work on when what I had was the computer, so I didn’t have to risk my typed words flowing ahead of my written and splattering the flow of my thoughts all over the paper and screen. The other was that the characters could carry a scene themselves; I had an antagonist who grabbed the plot in one of my arcs, and another who tried to grab it from him, and both seemed all the more exciting because it was a third whom the arc was meant to introduce, and a fourth whom the arc was meant to target. These were living characters; I may not have had their full emotional range, but I had their main drives and their ambitions, and the rest tended to fall or be dragged into place around them.
When I returned to Almagest, I had a shocky narrator, her aloof-seeming mentor, a new opponent whose plan was still coalescing, and the most emotionally understandable of the lot of them was either not in the city or merely making a careful point of being elsewhere. To say that that wasn’t working was rather like saying that reading through this blog’s archives might take a little while.
The answer soon fell into my host’s hands at a used bookstore: a book on depicting characters expressing emotion, that literally tumbled into her basket as she was reaching for something else. Both of us knew—or at least readily attributed—Fate when we saw it, and on my next open moment, between floods of fluff-writing for The Company, I took a look at the book. Each of the thirty-two emotions it covered had a short section on how to do it and how not to do it, and a set of three exercises to put one in practice. A few of them stood out for me, latched onto the characters I was beginning to strain out of the primordial soup of inspiration—just in time, since at the write-in we were planning, I was going to be required to actually write the story.
In case of writer’s block, I decided, I’d set myself a few character exercises, based on the emotions I was reading about. They might not actually end up part of the story—at least two, being from the perspective of non-viewpoint characters, most definitely won’t—but they would inform the character dynamics well enough to give me an idea what I might be dealing with.
They worked; I got at least two days’ writing and a decent amount of plot out of them.