If you’ve fallen behind on your NaNoWriMo novel, you might be in need of a pep talk right about now! Your characters may need one too, whether in a private conversation with a mentor, or on a crowded sports pitch, or on a field before battle. Or perhaps it’s your readers who await encouragement, motivation, incentive, impetus, ignition…
Here are a few quick tips for writing a pep talk, from my favourite film, Gladiator. General Maximus is addressing the cavalry before battle:
“Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line. Stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! Brothers! What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
Address your audience’s desires, and if possible, show how yours align with them (especially if you’re working together towards a common goal).
Furthermore, offer them a vision of themselves in possession of their desired outcome.
Give them specific instructions or tactics to employ.
Throw in a joke to lighten the mood, and (if possible) the audience’s fears.
Comfort the audience and show that you’re beside them to support, protect, and guide them. Demonstrate that you’re worthy of their trust.
Offer a metaphor that gives the audience greater perspective on the challenge.
Remind the audience of the reasons why.
Make the speech timely, succinct, and to-the-point. Also, if possible, deliver it in a place that supports the message, or makes it more memorable.
Philip Pullman’s Pep Talk (I remember my excitement when this landed in my inbox!) – “This is a strange thing, but I’ve noticed it many times: a bad day’s work is a lot better than no day’s work at all.”
The character’s home is often the main setting of the Ordinary World, and the environment in which the reader first encounters them. The people the character lives with at the beginning of the story not only help shape the character, they also help create the Stasis (beginning) state and the Resolution (end) state that define the character’s development arc, and also set the story in motion.
The character’s cohabitants may be their family, a team, a crew, or any other group of people they’ve fallen in with. For more guidance on this subject, you may like to read the sections titled, ‘How to Generate the Supporting Cast’, and ‘How to Create Character Groups: Teams, Crews, Families & Pantheons’ in How to Be the Heroine of Your Own Story.
When answering the questions, try to keep in mind what the plot requires of the character and of the people they live with. For example, to answer a question like, “What do they need to allow each other to do?” consider what actions the character needs to perform in the story…
Do they need to be allowed to miss meals?
Do they need to be allowed to bring strangers home?
Do they need to be allowed privacy?
You may want to consider the household as a whole, or to choose one or two representatives to study.
If the character lives alone, you may nevertheless like to consider their neighbours, or a part of their backstory during which they did live with others.
Antagonists who bear similarities to the protagonist are more difficult for the protagonist to deal with, because the character can’t completely distance themselves from them, and can’t knowingly treat them as “other” or “bad”.
Giving the antagonist both positive and negative qualities can also make them more difficult for the protagonist to overcome, because it makes them more human and more likeable.
To use this worksheet…
Note down your story title at the top.
Write down the character names in the shaded boxes on either side. Remember, protagonist and antagonist are relative terms; the antagonist is the protagonist of their own (life) story.
List the negative and positive characteristics that each character possesses.
Note down the conflicts that might arise from the differences or similarities between the characters.
Create specific scene examples that demonstrate the conflict.
Positive characteristics they don’t share (with the antagonist): protective of those who are weaker
Negative characteristics they don’t share (with the antagonist): over-analysing other people’s actions
Conflict caused by their difference (to the antagonist): the protagonist tries to defend someone that the antagonist doesn’t believe needs protection
Specific examples of conflict: a scene in which P steps in to defend a co-worker who is being criticised by their boss for breaking equipment, and A argues that the co-worker ought to have done their job better.
Positive characteristics they don’t share (with the protagonist): able to learn fast
Negative characteristics they don’t share (with the protagonist): too eager to please
Conflict caused by their difference (to the protagonist): the antagonist is eager to please the boss by making the co-worker look bad.
Specific examples of conflict: a scene in which A tells the boss that they did extra research and learned not only how to mend the broken equipment, but also how to operate it more efficiently.
Positive characteristics they share: love the work they do
Negative characteristics they share: workaholics
Conflict caused by their similarities: they compete to get more done, and work longer shifts, but their family life suffers
Specific examples of conflict: P’s parent arrives at their workplace to confront them about putting work first, and embarrasses them in front of A.
If you’re working with The One Page Novel & Heroine Frame methods, you might like to pick the Positive characteristics from Stasis ARTs that are to be Transferred, and the Negative characteristics from Stasis ARTs to be Abandoned or Repurposed.
If you’re getting ready to begin your NaNoWriMo novel, chances are you’ll be introducing a character or two very soon. This worksheet offers a simple formula to help you decide how your character will meet your audience.
The worksheet has room for 3 characters. You might want to use the pink rows to write down:
The story title
The character’s name
The chapter or section in which the character is introduced
Any further notes you need
When we meet Lyra, she is being characteristically curious, rebellious, and brave, and struggling to evade authority somewhere she isn’t supposed to be, while trying to deal with Lord Asriel.
Bilbo is preoccupied with avoiding adventures, and maintaining a comfortable, orderly life in his hobbit-hole, which Gandalf tries to disrupt.
Harry’s challenge, as he struggles with everyday life with the Dursleys, is being different in a very ordinary setting.
Tips for Introducing Your Character
The main challenge the character faces will usually be internal, although this may unfold and become clearer over time, and at the beginning of the story only appear as a small glimpse of the symptoms of the larger problem.
The character may be mentioned or may appear in the story before their introduction.
You can bend chronology, especially if your character is too young to be doing much at the beginning of the story. Introduce the character in a flashforward, through foreshadowing, or in a prologue.
It may help you to imagine introducing your character to the reader as though you were introducing two people at a party. What would you want the reader to know about your character, and how could you communicate this information for best effect?