I slide into the seat across from a blonde girl with a sweater that stretches just tight enough over her boobs to make my imagination somersault (diction here--use of boobs, blonde girl--all very casual. Also a little pervy, but not enough that it is uncomfortable for me). More like four backflips followed by a handspring (humor here--kind of lightly sarcastic, but even though he's still talking about her, he's making fun of himself). She crosses her legs, bouncing a chunky shoe too heavy for her foot (interest in what she's wearing, but not an interest in fashion--he looks at it practically instead of fashionably). Her toenails are painted a pretty pink color that reminds me of my sister’s room when she was like six-years-old (after getting over the fact that a hot girl reminds him of his sister, the simile is very wandering and uncompact--and he brings it back to family).
We wait while everyone else gets on, me praying that no one will sit on me (first mention of anything about him physically--and it isn't a description but a strange kind of joke--suggesting an irrelevance about himself, his appearance), and then the 156 (identifying buses by number suggests that he takes a lot of them) rumbles away from the corner. She bounces her foot a little, the leather strap of her shoe cutting a raw line into her ankle (it is odd to me that he notices her possible discomfort. And he's getting a little obsessed with her feet).
And like that, I decide to follow her home.
I don’t want to sound like a creeper (slang. He is addressing the reader directly--and he's got a little drama about him. Starting a new paragraph after the sentence about following her home--he wanted to leave the reader hanging for a moment). I wouldn’t do anything to her. It’s just curiosity. I want to see where she lives and what it is like to be her. It’s not like I have anything else to do.
My wanting to follow her has nothing to do with her tight, fuzzy sweater. I swear. (odd humor again--if it is humor--making fun of himself, but also giving me a little bit of a chill by feeling the lie in his words)
From these thoughts, I usually end up with about a page of handwritten notes that go something like this:
This kid has an interesting sense of self-deprecating humor. He's a little pervy and creepy, but he wants the reader to believe that he's a good guy (as seen by the direct address). He uses short, direct sentences and paragraphs. He speaks casually--not afraid of slang. His diction is simple and not overly descriptive.
It is very possible that a reader would completely disagree with me and my notes--which is why I don't send this out for critique at all. At this point, it isn't about what the reader thinks, it is only about getting to know your character. There are a variety of other ways I could have done this--interviewing him, writing a summary of their him story, drawing him and his world, making collages that represent him. I've tried all these things in the past--but for me, writing the voice is the quickest and easiest way.
I work on this false start until I can hear the tenor and rhythm of the character's voice in my head. This used to take me thousands of words--now it usually happens in less than a thousand. My NaNo false start is 756 words, and I feel fairly confident about finding her voice on Nov. 1st.
Once I'm starting to get a solid feeling of the voice, I attempt to make a kind of catch phrase for the character--something that gets me very quickly into their voice when I sit down to write.
Examples of some catch phrases I've use for both current and past WiPs:
Apparently, I'm not bullet proof.
There are no choices, only consequences.
I will not be your answer.
It's always best to dump a girl on Friday--that way your weekend is free.
I guess after awhile, you can accept anything about yourself.
Most of these probably don't mean all that much to someone else. But for me, they spur a whole world of thoughts and allow me to jump into the character's head quickly. I often only have few minutes to write here and there, so I don't want to spend the time fumbling around to find the character's voice.
Another way to handle the catch phrase idea is to create a sentence that starts "She/he is the kind of person who..."
She is the kind of person who uses her fork to feed her dog from the dinner table.
He is the kind of person who polishes his shoes every day.
But I don't spend loads of time doing this (maybe a few hours total--for selecting the idea, detailing the voice and writing the catch phrase). My goal at this point isn't to know every detail about my main character because I like getting to know them slowly. But--I don't want to spend the first half of a novel figuring out the voice and what my character would do in any given situation.
I have to do this before I nail down the main plot points. The reason is that it isn't about what happens in a story, but about how the character responds to what happens. Therefore, it is impossible for me to plot out a story without knowing a little about my main character.
At this point, I'm ready to begin working on the plot. Which is next time: Organizing Plot Points.
What is your first step after selecting an idea? Do you tackle the character first or the plot?
Note--I'm having huge difficulties managing the fonts when I'm copying text into blogger. I'm always having to select larger/smaller fonts and things look CRAZY in the editing screen. Does anyone else have this problem? Ways to solve it?