Yes, it is NaNoWriMo month and there is the usual flurry of activity. Pre-planning, devising ideas, questioning if you should do it or not and the encouragement of the writing community. As I said before this year’s NaNo, for me, has me delving into an unknown genre and the start of a trilogy.
I have booked every Monday off work in November to allow myself extra time to write. This doesn’t normally happen but without the option of taking vacations, this year due to COVID19, I thought my best use of my days would be short writing retreats and extra time in November.
My first writing day, Sunday, was a super day. I had the house to myself, apart from the dogs, so indulged in writing for most of the day. Apart from several dog walks, and the occasional snack! My total for the day was 14,558. And at the time, I was super happy with that.
However, the next day doubts began to creep in. Had I given too many clues or sited too many suspects within those 14K words? This halted my writing. Should I re-start or continue? As we all know NaNo writing is just the first draft of a manuscript, so I shook off the doubts and returned to the story. Last night’s total was 16,951.
I may have to dissect this novel in the New Year, but for now I will enjoy the journey my characters are taking me on.
Are your participating in NaNoWriMo? What is your project?
Whether you spend time intricately plotting and creating your story line or let the story flow unbidden, one facet of all stories that must be created and created well are its characters. Your protagonist, antagonist and all the supporting characters have a ‘job’ to do. They must give our readers an insight into their personalities, their struggles, ambitions and fears. Characters build the ‘world’ you have set your characters within by showing it through their eyes, their thoughts and actions.
Every writer has his or her own methods, when it comes to the creation of a character.
For example, Setting: an alien being trapped in a spacecraft, a monster hunting its prey or specific behavior traits for period pieces.
Physical features: This primarily gives our readers an image but more importantly an idea of their personality. A thin, acne-faced teenager will not automatically give our readers the idea of a ‘superman’ kind of personality but a muscle bound, athletic type could.
Name: a good starting point for our creation, but it is also a minefield. Research into real persons, living or dead should be foremost, unless of course you are writing about that particular person.
Accent: a character’s voice says a lot about their location and background.
Real people or not: We can base characters on people we know or a combination of several or from people watching – an author’s favorite pastime. As writers situations, overheard conversation and life in general is a constant source of inspiration.
There are numerous ‘character development work sheets’ available on the Internet and it can be useful to fill them in for your main characters, if you have no clear ‘picture’ of them to begin with.
I tend to write the story letting my characters dictate how their story will unfold. In so doing the characters develop creating their own story. This tends to change the narrative from my initial perception. In this way they may develop characteristics I had not considered or react quite differently to a situation from my preconceived idea. This method may seem harder than having a detailed description of each pivotal character, their backstory and emotional compass, but it is my method.
We ‘live’ with our characters for a long time and they become ‘real’ to us. This enables us to write the story with ‘insider knowledge’ of our characters backstory, their emotional compass and their ultimate goal. This knowledge becomes paramount during the subsequent drafts and editing process, giving us a well-rounded character and a believable one for our readers. In truth, the initial draft is the testing ground for our characters, and revisions make them well rounded and ‘believable’.
How do you create your characters?
Recognize these characters? Remember how irate poor Wile E Coyote would become with Road Runner? No matter what he did he never succeeded in catching his ‘dinner’. Beep, beep would ring out as yet another ACME kit damaged the coyote instead of the bird. It was truly a lesson in perseverance. No matter how many times the speedy bird escaped the coyote he would try, try, try again. I actually went past a road sign to Acme on my way to Canmore one time and wished I could have made a detour just for the fun of it.
The art of creating such lovable and memorable characters is what every author strives for. We hope our creations will stay in our readers minds long after the last page has turned. Character profiles and back story play a large part in ensuring our characters are well rounded and believable. We delve into their personality type seeking out traits and habits to make them react to their crisis situations in an authentic way.
Do you make up scenarios for people you observe? Have any made it in to a manuscript?
Without characters our stories would have no real impact on our readers. We write to engage and intrigue them and hopefully make our protagonist the character our reader cares about. If your experience is anything like mine, there is usually one, or possibly two characters, that make their presence known in no uncertain terms. They want the starring role in our narrative. These characters are usually more defined in our minds and are ‘easier’ to relate to, whether because of a personality trait or that they are more fun to write. When creating the protagonist and antagonist in our stories, we give each opposing views and/or values. This is the basis of the conflict that carries our readers along their journey. Each character, whether major or minor, needs to have flaws and redeeming features, motivations, expectations, loyalties and deterrents.
With such a guideline our characters become clearer. A lot of the details will never reach the pages of our manuscript but knowing our characters well makes for a more believable personality as they struggle through the trials and tribulations, we subject them to. As most of you know I am a ‘free flow’ writer so everything is by the seat of my pants until the editing starts. This is where I find character flaws or great character traits that I can correct or build upon. My characters live with me during the writing process and usually lead me in directions I had never considered – I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As these personalities gain strength they become more ‘real’ and that is the moment their true selves appear.
When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters. For example this sheet.
It took some time to decide whether I would participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I have participated ten times in all and each time have created novel or novella length manuscripts. Most have been revised and edited over the following year or so to become published books. Some quicker than others it must be said. My very first NaNo in 2009 resulted in a work not published until last September! Yep 9 years. This was due to it being my first full length manuscript, my novice writing and self doubt that it was worthy of publishing. I revised and edited almost every year until I took the plunge, finally satisfied it was finalized.
However, in regard to this year’s NaNo, my first stumbling block was the two draft novels I have pending, which are previous year’s NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Again I know they need revisions and editing prior to submission to a publisher. My struggle was should I work on these manuscripts rather than create another one?
Secondly, I have several events to attend during November, which will take me away from the vital writing time needed for NaNo. As we all know every minute counts during November. Will I have enough time to succeed?
Thirdly, although I browsed the multitude of saved short stories in my laptop folders, I was not convinced any of them were novel length material. Or maybe it was my Muse not being excited enough about them – who knows? So I pondered what ‘new’ story I could write. Nothing I thought of seemed the elusive ‘it’ until just as I was drifting off to sleep an idea burst into my mind. It gave me a rough timeline, one character and the inkling of a plot. Knowing that relying on memory is a writer’s mistake when ideas pop up, I got up and wrote it all down. Subsequently, I have managed to decide on my two main characters, their location, some backstory and a timeline.
So I am as ready as I can be for 1st November. If you would like to connect on the NaNoWriMo site I’m MandyB.
1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
When I’m in the zone I can go all day long and stay focused and energized. I’m even manic sometimes if you ask my wife Ginger. Then I crash. When I’m agonizing over some plot point, character, twist, nagging and elusive detail or whatever, that is exhausting, and I can slowly slip into madness (to quote the Grinch).
2. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Thankless, petty BS piling up that I don’t want to do and that sucks up my precious time. Any kind of paperwork or forms or the like. These things put me in a bad mood and I can’t write when I’m in a bad mood.
3. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
How do you know that I’m not already writing under a pseudonym? Yes, honestly, but those thoughts passed quickly, just like my plan to be a caped superhero.
4. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
David Willson, my mentor, Vietnam veteran and author of the REMF series (REMF Diary, REMF Returns, In the Army Now). I met David when I started teaching after graduate school in 1993. His encouragement, honesty, attention to the details of quotidian life, sardonic wit, and dark Nordic sense of humor have influenced my writing heavily.
Dr. Gary Hess, my doctoral committee chair and author of many fine history books (The United States at War, 1941-1945, Vietnam: Explaining America’s Los War, Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq). Gary has impressed me with the volume of his work, the detail and scope of his historical analyses, work ethic, kindness, and service to his community.
Neil H. Weiss, another mentor. Neil helped me learn how to write plays. He is an accomplished screenwriter, television writer, and director. Neil has pushed me to be the best I can be and will not accept anything else other than your best. He is a hard-driver and does not mince words or waste any time.
Jose Cruz Gonzalez, another mentor. Jose writes plays for young audiences (The Astronaut Farmworker, Tomas and the Library Lady). He inspired me and taught me to write through mystical expression and the exercise of capturing butterflies. He is a kind and gentle human being with a heart of gold.
5. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I write books, plays, poetry, and songs. They largely stand alone, but there is a common theme in all my written works: find the hero within and make strong choices in your life. We are the heroes of our own life stories. I’ve written about a diverse selection of characters from a gay combat soldier in Vietnam (The Bronze Star) to a 13-year-old refugee boy dealing with Islamophobia in East Los Angeles (Ali’s Bees), from a timid school teacher who finds her inner strength and becomes an anti-Nazi resistance fighter in occupied Norway (The Epiphany), to a wounded Civil War veteran who goes west to find his runaway wife and search for gold, only to find himself and recover his lost soul (Tough Trip Through Hell, a play based on David Willson’s unpublished novel). Most of my written work deals with the impact of war on people and on society. The settings range from the Old West to occupied Norway in World War II to a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by wandering bands of mutants. My non-fiction books range from foreign policy in the Nordic Region to women leaders to the Vietnam War to a new take on modern American history since the Civil War. They all focus on the individual and how people who make brave and strong choices make our world better and lead the way in search of truth and meaning. My latest work includes illustrations. Gary Dumm, of American Splendor fame, illustrated 12 comic book pages for my anti-textbook (Making History: A Personal Approach to Modern American History) and will illustrate my two paranormal books (Timeless: A Paranormal Personal History and Timeless II). Gabby Untermayerova illustrated my fiction book for middle grade readers. “You can do anything with words and pictures,” as Harvey Pekar once said.
6. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Copy editing, line-editing, and more editing. Also, illustrations by inspiring and amazing artists.
7. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? I grew up with two languages, Norwegian and English. Because my father could not write in English, I would write letters for him. Actually, I would type letters for him. This started when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by typewriters and books. I loved listening to my dad’s stories of his sailing days in the 1930’s and of the Nazi occupation. I began writing stories at age 10 and have never stopped writing. I wrote short stories, screenplays, poems, and illustrated and wrote comic books (nothing published). I had a short-lived comic strip (Snark: A Space Tragedy) in my school paper at Montana Tech. I published my first book in 1994 and had my first play produced in 2012. Now I’ve written seven books and eight plays. When I visit Norway, I speak Norwegian and it’s almost as if I’m a different person, or maybe a more complete person. My friend Neil said that I’m like a gate that swings between the United States and Norway. That is powerful.
8. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? David Willson REMF Diary. David has captured what it is like to be a file clerk in the middle of a war. The great majority of veterans do not see any combat, but that literature is rather thin. David Willson’s REMF Diary set the bar for all others.
9. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Lion. When I was a kid I watched a Daktari on TV. Clarence the cross-eyed lion was a regular.
10. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Two books. Three unfinished plays.
11. What does literary success look like to you?
12. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? Oral interviews, correspondence, networking, and online archival research. I start as soon as I get an idea and write as I research. “Time’s a wasting.”
13. How many hours a day/week do you write? On average, 3 hours.
14. How do you select the names of your characters? The sound of the name, the interesting people whom I have met who have similar names, and historical figures.
15. What was your hardest scene to write?
The first one and the last one. If you mess up either one, the book is ruined. In fact, the first sentence and the last one, are the hardest to write and can also mess up your work. Start strong and finish strong.
16. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I have a Ph.D. in History so naturally I have written historical non-fiction. My theatrical plays are usually historically-based and then fictionalized, but I’ve broken away from that with certain issues that interest me or problems that I see not being given enough attention. I wrote my first fiction novel just recently. It was geared for middle grade readers and above and it began as a play. My latest play is a sci-fi rock opera set in a post-apocalyptic Earth (Timothy). I feel compelled to write something based on what possesses me. Sometimes the idea is a sudden burst and sometimes it is a slow burning compulsion. I don’t attempt to balance anything, it just happens.
17. How long have you been writing?
Since age 10, so 49 years.
18. What inspires you?
Good food, Ginger (my wife and muse), music of all kinds, my children and grandchild, a thought-provoking book or film, animals, Northern Norway, and a righteous cause.
19. How do you find or make time to write?
I get up earlier than anyone else. The early bird gets the worm. I don’t like downtime, so I fill my day here and there with research or writing.
20. What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m working with my friend Carsten Dau on a rock opera based loosely on Timothy Leary but set in the post-apocalyptic future. I’m finishing up Timeless and have already started Timeless II. The premise of my paranormal books is that science has already found evidence for the paranormal and we all experience these phenomena, but many people are afraid to acknowledge their experiences. I’m not afraid, and I encourage others to come forward. As I always say, “it is not that I believe in ghosts, it’s that they believe in me, so I don’t have a choice.” As I write these words I have just started a thriller set in the near future in the Nordic region (written in Norwegian).
21. What do your plans for future projects include?
More plays, getting my other plays fully produced, more paranormal personal history books, and responding to the next question in life. I also don’t rule out some type of interplanetary travel, as long as I can fly first class. Coach is rough enough as it is here on Earth.
Bruce Olav Solheim was born on September 3, 1958, in Seattle, Washington, to hard-working Norwegian immigrant parents, Asbjørn and Olaug Solheim. Bruce was the first person in his family to go to college. He served for six years in the US Army as a jail guard and later as a helicopter pilot. He earned his PhD in history from Bowling Green State University in 1993.
Bruce is currently a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, California. He also served as a Fulbright professor in 2003 at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway.
Bruce founded the Veterans Program at Citrus College and cofounded, with Manuel Martinez and Ginger De Villa-Rose, the Boots to Books transition course—the first college course in the United States designed specifically for recently returned veterans. He has published five books and has written seven plays, two of which have been produced.
Bruce is married to Ginger, the girl of his dreams, who is a professional helicopter pilot and certified flight instructor. He has been blessed with four wonderful children: Bjørn, Byron, Caitlin, and Leif. He also has a precious grandson, Liam. Bruce, his brother, and his two nephews still own the family home in Åse, Norway, two hundred miles above the Arctic Circle.
For those of you who have made the commitment to this mad, exciting, panic inducing challenge – I say good luck, may your muse always be at your shoulder and your words flow smoothly upon your page.
To find those extra minutes in the day to write is tricky to be sure but it is a mind set. Do you have a lunch hour? Can you slip away whilst your family is watching TV? Does it really matter if the slow cooker is the only means of cooking for the month?
I know I become totally possessed during NaNo and write several paragraphs while the meal is cooking, skipping lunch so I can address a characters next move or ignore my eyelids closing as I write into the early hours. This year the challenge began on a weekend, which was an added bonus as well as our clocks went back – whoop an extra hour! NaNo may seem like a daunting assignment to undertake but there are incredible benefits too. It can be a personal challenge to see how you manage under a deadline, an out pouring of ideas, character development or finally beginning that wished for novel.
Writing to a deadline, for me anyway, results in almost complete novel length stories. These can be revised, added to and edited at my leisure in the following months. Even if you do not manage the fifty thousand word total, you will have laid down enough words to forge ahead with your own narrative. It can be the start you have avoided for months or years.
Knowing there are many, many writers around the world absorbed in the same challenge is not only exciting but a companionship of sorts. The NaNoWriMo site has a buddy system and you can connect with other participants, giving and receiving encouragement and support. Whether you use a pen and notebook or type your story, it is the words that matter.
This month will see thousands of stories created, their characters forging forward and over coming obstacles. Some will be happy, some will be sad but your story will be told.
Enjoy the process, scary as it is – the result is so very rewarding.
My novel this year is called The Giving Thief, a thriller/suspense/erotic – if there is such a genre!
It is a combination of three true news stories I found fascinating. My protagonist murders someone and flees – for what he believes will be a short time…but things do not go to plan. The photo is similar to how I see his hideout in the mountains.