Creativity Sessions: The Little People Matter, Too

We are one week into NaNoWriMo. As of this moment I have written 10,616 words of my story, which exceeds my initial expectations for this week. When I first signed up for the novel writing contest way back in September, I told myself that achieving  50,000 words in one month was not important; as long as I wrote a substantial amount of my story, I should be satisfied. Even 25,000 words of this story seemed like a fair goal, considering it sat in development limbo for four years prior to November.

But now that I’ve put some time into writing, and have been tracking my progress daily… I really want to hit 50,000 words by November 30. I want to hit 60,000, or 75. Why not? Getting this far has been surprisingly smooth. I am totally not assuming that it will be smooth the whole way, but my method seems to be working thus far.

 The Devil’s in the Something-Something-Expression

So, have I sat in front of my computer for hours on end, furiously typing away? Not really. The most amount of time I’ve spent typing in one sitting so far has been about 2-1/2 hours. Evidently, if you prepare to write a story for several years without actually writing much, you become quite familiar with your material.

One of the biggest challenges so far has actually been coming up with names for random side characters. As a writer, I’ve poured so much time and energy into developing layered protagonists and a plot that interests me that I gave little to no consideration to the random characters that the protagonists would encounter: that vendor selling silver wares from a cart, the dock master, the soldier drinking his wages away in the local tavern. Who are these people? Where are they from? What do they look like? Why the hell do they matter to the larger story? Do they have to matter?

Challenging though it may be, inventing these characters and giving them authentic lives has been the most entertaining aspect of writing this story to this point. I would argue that they bring the story to life more completely. How can your protagonist be believable if the people he/she encounters are unbelievably flat, without ambitions, motives, cares, or stresses? If these people are given real life, then the stakes for the larger story are bigger.

Lesson One from NaNoWriMo: The little people matter, too. Take the time to develop them. Give that dock master a scraggly neck-beard under a fat chin. Let the dock worker have an intricate tattoo on his arm with an even more intricate back-story that allows for some real exposition.

Do whatever you want; just don’t save all of the creative details for the main characters. Let the extraneous people have their voice in your story. It will allow you to more fully express your own.

Steve D

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