It’s time for another NaNoWriMo prep post!
This week, we’re going to start with the character framework.
If you’re new to National Novel Writing Month, I recommend checking out my previous post before getting started. There you’ll find a brief explanation of what to expect this November and a list of writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing.
As promised, I've included a free downloadable worksheet that you can fill out as you read this article!
So what is the character framework?
The character framework consists of four features that every other character trait is built upon. These can be considered the four emotions that drive your character through the story.
The point of this framework is simplicity. You can flesh out your characters with quirks and back stories later. For now, I want to focus on the important factors.
I know, y’all have heard this a million times so it should be a piece of cake. Ask your character what they want.
What are they after? What drives them? Is it physical or emotional?
This should be the thing that sets the story in motion.
My protagonist wants to become a bounty hunter, so she runs away from home.
She wants to be free to make her own choices.
This is the thing that stands between your character and their want. They may want to buy a boat, but they need to pay their bills. The need can also be physical or symbolic.
Regardless of what it is, it should cause problems for your character.
My protagonist needs money to survive without her people, but this means she must rely on another person to find the treasure.
She also needs to feel accepted as she is and this goes against her nature to be alone and free to do as she pleases. This makes her defensive and untrusting which leads to butting heads and failed teamwork.
Say hello to more conflict! This will not only stand in the way of your character’s wants, but overcoming these fears usually leads your character to discovering what it is they truly need.
Their fears should challenge their old ways of thinking.
While your character’s wants and needs can be physical or emotional, I argue that their fear should be both. This gives them more depth.
They may fear something physical like snakes, heights, flying, or even balloons, but that fear should be driven by both survival and an emotional response.
The fear of heights could be coupled with a fear of hopelessness and lack of control. A fear of snakes could be rooted in childhood trauma involving their cousin’s pet python. Get creative.
My protagonist is afraid of black water because of something she experienced in her past. For that reason, black water will stand between her and the treasure.
This creates a new problem.
Not only must she face her past symbolically by crossing the water, but she must trust someone else to guide her.
This creates change.
We’ll talk more about character fears next month and I’ll include a free worksheet with fears you can mix and match to create your own compelling characters.
It’s time to make your characters relatable! Everyone has flaws and so should your characters. Whether they’re superheroes or nice little old ladies, nothing is more boring than perfection. Without them there are no mistakes, no suspense, and no growth.
Your character’s flaws shouldn’t really change for the most part, unless your story involves a character arc, so we’ll address that first.
Flaws as Character Arcs
When it comes to character arcs, I believe the best method is to give your character one damaging flaw they want to change. Then, add two or three smaller annoying flaws that are less harmful.
For instance, your character might be a smoker and a flake, but their real problem is gambling. The story should focus on how the gambling hurts them and their loved ones and how they attempt to change.
Maybe he lost his daughter’s tuition money and he’s trying to win it back. When that doesn’t work, he takes a crooked job that makes him reevaluate his life.
In order to write a believable story, your character shouldn’t magically be cured at the end. They should definitely overcome a huge hurtle for them, but they won’t be completely fixed just yet, or even ever.
The gambler might give up his nights at the casino for a graveyard shift at the gas station to pay back his daughter, but he’s still tempted by lottery tickets.
Flaws are deeply ingrained habits, they require constant vigilance in order to keep from slipping. Let your characters slip a little.
Flaws as Conflict Fuel
If your story isn’t a character arc, then a few small flaws will serve to create conflict, mainly with other characters.
Have you ever met someone with an annoying habit that grated on your nerves? Do you remember the rising tension in your shoulders? Or maybe you even snapped at them once or twice?
Flaws are good ways to allow your characters to interact naturally. I’d even go so far as to give certain characters pet peeves just for others to drive them crazy. But pick your flaws carefully.
If the story doesn’t involve your character addressing a certain flaw, then keep the flaws small. Someone who throws people under the bus for no reason isn’t going to be viewed as a good guy, at least not a likable one. You can definitely have unlikable heroes, but they should have a reason for hurting others. They should be protecting their loved ones, or doing it for the greater good. Even flaws shouldn’t be pointless.
On that note, you also don’t want to write a villain who stomps puppies for fun and eats glass for breakfast. It makes them too cartoonish and unrelatable. And even villains should be relatable. Our hearts should ache a little for their lot in life.
But don’t worry, I’ll write more on villains in a later post.
For now, stick with harmless/annoying flaws:
Talking too much
Always looking at their phone and not paying attention
Criticizing people when they didn’t ask for it
Lacking empathy or emotional intelligence
Misunderstanding sarcasm or metaphors
Being passive aggressive
Touching people without asking or lack of personal space
Eating too loud
Snoring (especially if they’re on the run/trying to be stealthy)
Trying to pet all the animals…even dangerous ones
Choosing flaws are my favorite because nearly anything can seem insignificant until it starts causing problems. What starts as an irrelevant fact about your character becomes a catastrophe in the right settings. Play around with it. Consider what annoys you. Think about your setting and everything that would be really, really bad in that situation.
That's a warp!
Don’t worry if your characters still feel a little bare-bones, there will be more to come. I'll have an in-depth how-to on character profiling for you to delve deeper later on.
Plus, next week we’ll explore the landscape of our stories and how to squeeze the important world building details into one month of writing!
*Read the World Building post now!
Let’s hear about your four character-frameworks in the comments below!
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Happy writing and I’ll see you next week!