Changing Characters

There’s been a lot of down time in the last week for me and the kids. One kid got sick, and then the other kid, and finally, me. In between sniffles and coughs and moans of discomfort I’ve been futzing about with the characters in my novel.

Last November, I set out to write a novel, and I did.  50,000 words down, in some semblance of order and with a plot. Since then, I have been rereading, rewriting, and removing bits.  I got the bare bones plot down pretty well in those thirty days of writing, but the characters are fairly flat, and there is little depth to the story.  Its a straight arc from point A to point B.  For me, the work of adding motivation to the characters, adding back story and subplots is both harder and more fun than the simple mad dash to get the plot down.

In doing this, I have realized several things. First, my novel does not currently pass the Bechdel Test. Whoops. We get through the first two requirements:  there are two women, and they do talk to each other. Unfortunately, they are only ever talking about a man. Since the Bechdel Test is a pretty low bar to pass, I need to fix that. To be fair, one of the themes of the book is what kind impact the things men do has on women’s lives, how it can last for decades, especially in families, but they should have conversations about other things as well.

Second, my villain was…kind of a cardboard cutout of a villain.  The evil dude behind the curtain twirling his mustache.  He is still a villain, but going back to families and such, he needed a bit more than his lone self running about and mucking things up. And given that he is in his 70s, he definitely needed help in the villainy department. Changing one of the background characters into his accomplice made for some interesting dynamics.

Last, my main character has two close friends who help out often. Both are male. This was fine in the beginning. One was a friend from college, and one is a lawyer. However, the lawyer friend often takes a tone with her that comes off as a bit patronizing. Changing this character to a close female friend gives me more latitude to have talks that are between friends, even when one friend is irritated and lecturing a bit. So, he has become a she.

It’s impressive the impact a few seemingly small changes can have on motivation and backstory. These changes give me some things to work with, and help make my protagonist a stronger character. I’m about 25% through my second draft, and I’m excited about the changes.

The other thing I’ve been doing while the three of us go through Kleenex at an alarming rate is to begin teaching myself how to use Scrivener.  I am impressed at the capability of the software, but am a little intimidated about using it.  I have used Story Mill for the last several years, and love it, and in the end, may stick with it. It is quite capable, and I’ve learned to use it. I do like a lot of the features Scrivener has available though, especially for moving things around.

November is fast approaching, however, and I need to sort out what I’m using for NaNoWriMo. I also need to decide if I’m plotting much out this year, or just winging (pantsing) it. I like letting myself figure out what is going to happen next as I am writing, but I need a bit more depth on my characters this year I think.  Getting the plot on paper and going back to add in character depth has worked well for last year’s novel, I’m not sure how it will work out for what I have in mind this year.

How do you write? Character or plot first?  And what do you use to write? Fancy software? Pen and Paper?