One Big Thing You Need To Write A Great Manuscript

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So I’ve talked some about my own personal NaNoWriMo–attempting to write a first draft in three months, instead of one–and also about how I’m just a wee bit behind. (More specifically: my total word count is at about a third of what it should be.) But I don’t feel like a failure, because after 2+ months of outlining and drafting (and a hell of a lot of deleting) I finally have one big thing down…

I know my protagonist.

Like, I really know her.

And that’s huge.

The thing is, you may think you know your protagonist before you even start writing. (Hell, maybe you do: I’m not you, so I can’t say for sure.) I always think I do. I think about her a lot, I jot down notes on my phone. In my outline document, I make a little paragraph for each character (bigger ones for important characters, smaller ones for side characters). The one for my protagonist is always the biggest.

And then I start writing.

And I always find out I don’t know her as well as I thought I do.

She does something, or says something, and I suddenly realize that while I’m sticking to my outline, I really don’t like this aspect of her.

Or the opposite happens: she’ll say or do something that doesn’t fit in with my outline, and I do like that aspect of her.

So I amend my idea of her, as well as my outline.

This happens approximately seven thousand more times. Until the protagonist I end up with is slightly different from the one I’d originally envisioned.

But at this point, she’s also more real.

And this makes telling her story so much easier.

I reached that point over the weekend with my current work in progress–and I can’t tell you how excited it made me. Now, even though my word count is woefully far behind where it should be, I’m actually confident that I may be able to catch up. Because once you know your characters, you let them take the wheel, and the story starts to write itself.

Okay, that’s not really true. You still have to write your story. But knowing your characters, especially when you’re writing a character-driven story (my favorite kind!) is so SO huge.

So my advice to you is this: don’t worry if you don’t have a totally fleshed-out character right off the bat. (I find this impossible to do.) Start writing, see what she says and does, and let her be mutable–until she springs off the page and into life. Then, once you have a character that’s three-dimensional and strong-willed–make sure you’re staying true to her.

Any other tips for writing character-driven stories? Let me know!

Lovely image found here

4 thoughts on “One Big Thing You Need To Write A Great Manuscript

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