I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before, dedicating the month of November to intense writing every day except Thanksgiving. This year, I need to kick-start my novel, working title Jane. She was Natasha until last week when I tried to pin down who she was and I got as far as she’s Jane not Natasha. It sounds weird that a name means so much but it does.
Yesterday I did my morning pages, which I write in longhand in top bound spiral notebooks with Dr Grip gel pens in blue, purple or black. Morning pages are not novel writing, they are anything I want to write about, and usually they’re more like a diary. But sometimes during morning pages the novel writing muse comes over me and I write what I need to for the new story.
Yesterday it was three pages of notes about who Jane is, what her past is, why she is who she is, why she’s suddenly moved from Michigan to St. Pete, Florida. Things Jane is not: she’s not anxious. She’s calm and methodical. She does not have panic attacks or take Xanax. I have used those internal issues in a few books, especially my latest Lily White in Detroit. It’s easy for me to tap into anxious characters, because I have anxiety and panic. But not Jane.
Jane is different in a lot of ways. She’s older than any main character I’ve written before. I’m older than the characters I write, and I’m older than Jane, but it’s still a bit difficult for me to write an older, wiser character. I know this because I’ve been trying to write Jane for awhile now. I usually manage to conjure up a few pages for my monthly critique group. But I have not got into the daily habit of writing a book. NaNoWriMo helps with developing that habit. For me, it’s the daily word count that you add to your personal NaNo page. It is so satisfying to see those pages add up. And if you write 50,000 words in a month, you get a badge. It sounds crazy but it’s possible. I’ve done it twice.
One reason I need a kick-start is because I have been promoting Lily White in Detroit like crazy. I did a lot of things (like spend money) that I usually don’t do. It paid off, I sold 500 books the day my BookBub ad appeared. But instead of writing the next book, I was checking my Amazon ratings every hour. And tweeting about Lily. And using my Facebook Author page to write about Lily. And working through the marketing plan Dora had made for me.
Dora is a publicist and she does website work, too. I hired her to help with a bunch of things. She designed my new website banner, and the matching ones for my Twitter page and Facebook Author page. She made a page on my website for my audio books, too. She wrote a detailed and lengthy marketing plan just for me and my novel. I have completed about half of the stuff in the plan. I’m working through the rest of it slowly.
Marketing one book while writing another is difficult. But my real problem was finding Jane. I had to go through all the parts of the story to figure out what was wrong with it. I have a good mystery. I have a terrifying antagonist (the murderer). I have an excellent setting. I even have a really good sidekick. But Natasha/Jane was just not sparking for me. That turned out to be the problem. Character is the heart of my books and if I don’t connect with my protagonist, I don’t have much momentum or motivation.
A few days ago, I copied a quote that seemed to explain Jane. I jotted a few notes, too. These few words were keys that unlocked Jane’s character. Also the new name. Then yesterday the New York Times Book Review talked about psychological thrillers and how they recently have dual timelines. I had been thinking about structure. I’ve never had a dual timeline, where I go back and forth in the main character’s life. I flirted with trying the dual timeline but realized that’s not the story I’m writing. My story propels Jane forward. She isn’t one for looking back.
What this all means in terms of developing a character is that this time, for me, I had to first figure out what was wrong with my story. Why it wasn’t taking off. Why it bored me. Then I thought about how I could get to know Jane and pretty soon I found answers in unlikely places. Now I’m almost ready to go. In a few days I’ll be all set. NaNoWriMo starts November 1.