Monday, January 05, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 53 – Naming Characters and the Outline Begins

Last year, when I began writing my post-Apocalyptic spec, I went about it without an outline. I knew the setting and general arc of the script. I had a clear vision of the opening scene. And I knew, more or less, who my protagonist was. This script – let’s call it my “Roman Army Spec” – not so much.

Actually, I’ll admit right now that this was the hardest time I have ever had in cracking the first act. Usually, Act One pours out of me like whiskey into my (bottomless) glass. I almost always have an idea for the very first scene, the inciting incident, and everything between those two beats and the end of Act One. This time, though, I was stuck. I know the general arc of the plot and had some notion as to how, maybe, I might possibly get there. But what I really knew was that I was stuck.

The blank page was taunting me something awful. I felt like that kid in Algebra who swears the clock actually began ticking backwards. I was going nowhere fast, and it was painful. Finally, something clicked. I knew how to begin developing my protagonist – give him another antagonist, one we follow more closely at first, and build off of that. The overall story involves an enemy that the protagonist confronts, but not for a while. So, I decided to give him another adversary that we would see more immediately.

I still felt stuck, though. That was until I went to the tried and true Behind the Name, a site I think most writers go to frequently. It was becoming increasingly difficult to outline my script without being able to actually name my characters in the beats (other than Protagonist, or Antagonist, or Protagonists’ Friend). Soon, the names were flowing. I had more than I needed, so I went back and bolded the ones I wanted to use, then ascribed personalities/roles to those. I had my protagonist, antagonist, big “boss” protagonist, and everyone in between. What’s more, by finding all those names, I also found I was able to fill in character roles that I didn’t know I needed or didn’t plan on using, but which made the story so much stronger. Soon enough, Act One was outline, and Act Two was halfway there – note: outlining Act Two always SUCKS; the fact that I just about nailed half of it in one sitting and know what the second half will be like (I’ll do that part tonight) blows me away. I’ve either hit it just about right or am so far off the mark I don’t even see it. Either way, my characters have names, and in a week and a half, when we next meet, the League will tell me if my outline’s worth a damn.

When do you name your characters?