Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Character and Some Setting Detail

One week from today will be NaNoWriMo and I completed my preparation last night. My plotcards are written and organized. My characters and settings are in decent shape. By decent I mean enough has been determined to crank out a first draft.

That's the key with character and setting: you have to have enough to make it work.

Character Detail
For years, I subscribed to the character sheet* level of detail where I had to know everything about their schooling from preschool on up, their allergies, favorite pair of earrings, etc. Filling out these multi-page sheets would take up a lot of my time. My first idea for NaNo this year got derailed by these character sheets too.

The problem was that with the focus on creating all of this information about my character so they'd be more three dimensional, I was losing out on these things occurring organically through my writing. Talk about a light bulb moment.

When you pare your character development to the bare minimum, your inner pantser throws a party**. The creativity isn't forced and you can focus more on figuring out your character for the story you're going to tell. It's also less time consuming.

So for the sake of NaNoWriMo, here's an abbreviated list of character details you should know. Every project is different, but as I said before, this my blog so you get my opinions.
  • Name (and, if applicable, nickname). If you did your plotcards first, you should already know your character's name. I like to know their given and their surnames because it helps make them more life-like.
  • Age. This doesn't need to be exact and depending on your genre, the age is sort of implied. My current NaNo is YA, so my characters are all in their teens.
  • Physical appearance and fashion style. You should know if your character is tall, hefty, or wears headgear. You should also know if they have an affinity for sweatpants. You shouldn't have more than a couple of lines dedicated to this.
  • Brief narrative involving their personality and quirks.
  • Narrative explaining how they’re going to change through the story. This will also include explaining anything else that you think needs to be addressed during the story.

My character sheets are written up in a 8.5x5.5 notebook and they don't take up more than one page front and back. For your initial draft, yours shouldn't either.

Setting Detail
I've mentioned before that for years my settings were pretty much done up like a soap opera set. I'm getting better, but it's still hard to break that habit.

The beauty of plotting out settings is you get to do a lot of looking around on Pinterest. The best thing to do is snag a picture and then make notes about how it's going to be used, what's missing from the picture that should be there, and note anything that is different.

Rudimentary maps are also useful. If you're writing a space opera, your map might have more detail than if your entire story takes place in a playground, but you still need to know where things are located.

Again, I stress these sheets are for planning only. If you keep it simplistic, there is more room for your creativity to take over during the drafting process. As long as you remain open-minded, you'll find that characters, subplots, and locales will write themselves the further you go.

Do you have any tips on planning out your characters and setting? Share below!

* When I used the term "character sheets" to Hubby the other day, he asked me what color hair would they have if I rolled a  6.
** Whether it's a raging kegger or a dinner party remains to be seen.
____________ hit of the day: Love at First Fright by Murderdolls