Preparatory Workshop - Katherine Lato - 2013-10-05

28 people attended 2013-10-05

REF: The full material is written out in many sources.

What follows are partial notes to supplement the reference material that can be found at the above site.

pictures from the event

"Characters are story"

  • Katherine Lato
  • First heard about it from NPR 2001; really cool idea but not a good year. It's okay. Just remember next time.
  • Joined in October, wrote a book (have written many novels prior to NaNo). Was kind of aware there was a website, but was afraid of being distracted. Only updated my wordcount three times. Surprised people at the TGIO.
  • Next year, got involved with the community, did the kick-off. Write better at home than at write-ins (especially not in the evenings), but they are fun. People like the write-in word war prizes.
  • Became an ML and discovered I really liked coffee shops. If you're find you are fine writing at home, don't feel like you have to come out. But it does help you with your wordcount to do write-ins.
  • Start it, put your heart into it (put stuff that matters to you in your novel)
  • Write it fast: keep going, get through things that might you might agonize through.

Characters are story

  • perfect character = Mary Sue (not a good thing to have)
  • if characters are having a good time, the readers aren't. Don't make life too easy on your characters.
  • if you don't like the person you're writing about, it is tough to write about them; easier to write about people you like and find interesting.
  • I honestly enjoy editing because I like to read what I've written. Good to write stuff you like to read.

How are characters story?

  • You have a situation; there is somebody there (characters). They do something.
  • Situation: what if I didn't show up to do my prep talk? What would Tim do?
  • To get started: Use blood (family) and money
  • You can solve problems with other people (family)
  • Don't write about writers (too many books about people writing). Pick something else you do or something that you don't do but find fascinating. 29% of all pilots admit to falling asleep on the job.
  • Think about someone you hate or rubs you the wrong way. Think about that person's enemy, the person the bad guy really hates. This introduces conflict.

First exercise.

  • Note: People work on ideas in different ways; some people like to talk about their ideas; other people don't. It's okay to follow your preferences.
  • Find someone that bugs your main character.

Characters do things

  • Things happen in scenes. Books are scenes followed by summary or another scene. You can have a book that is all summary; but I would never read it. I like things happening. I love conversation in novels, particularly if the dialogue moves along. Things happening: a fight, an argument, some kind of conflict. If no conflict, things would get too slow.
  • Summaries should be short, transition stuff, set up the next scene. A lot of the summary and transitions I will figure them out after November. When in November, people tell you never to look back. I do look back. It helps me think of additional information to add to scenes (not strictly editing).
  • Rationale for writing something brand new (for first time NaNo'ers): try not to take something you've been thinking about since you're five. You'll be too invested--you'll go slower. Leave it for your second novel.

Rivet your readers with Deep Point of View (Feel emotions)

  • get rid of "tasted" "help" "wished" -- use action words instead. We feel something and behave accordingly.
  • Don't write about someone seeing something. Write about what that person saw (deep point of view)
  • Don't lose the passion for what you're writing (don't think word counts instead of story. You'll be more inspired if you write well.)
  • Don't give characters long, complicated names.
  • October is a great time to name characters; in November, do things fast and dirty.
  • If you get bored with a character, chances are it is not doing enough--add conflict
  • Don't go more than a couple of pages without conflict; avoid having everything go perfectly with your characters.
  • Observe how different people do things, figure out details.
  • Write what you can know.
  • Visit places; take pictures (as reference).
  • Today with google and google Earth, you can google any location and look at it geographically. Real estate websites are also good for describing things. Google maps too.

Exercise: action that affects the main character.

  • Note: scenes should reveal something deeper about the character or move the plot forward.

Character motivations

  • Know what your character wants and find a way to reveal this to the readers.
  • Doesn't have to be THE big reason the book is about; just do it on a scene by scene basis. Have something to thwart what the character wants.
  • Characters will tell the story better than the author ever can; let the character sound the way it would sound, not how you sound.

Have an ending that works

  • At least one ending
  • Know one possible solution; otherwise, you will be lost. Once you make a decision, it becomes easier to make a better one.
  • Walk while thinking.

Add pressure; move the plot along

  • When something happens, do:
  • yes, but (something goes wrong)
  • no, and furthermore (added complication; make things worse)

Exercise: what does your main character want?

Characters have things that happen "off-screen"

  • Leave the readers wondering; don't tell them everything. Save it.
  • Stuff happens before characters enter the scene and after they've left.
  • You should know something about that.
  • Don't show everything.
  • Try to have stuff happen in chronological order.
  • You can have a real conversation later that reveals the main point that happened earlier.
  • Don't have the character think about what happened before--show it (if it is important)! Or have them describe it to someone else. Make things go wrong while things are happening.

Character background

  • They have secrets
  • Give your characters history that matter to you. Things you admire someone else for having done. You'll like your character, it will come across in your writing and your reader will like your character.
  • E.g., you admire people who struggle and persevere.
  • You can do this pre-writing in October; if you find you need it, you can add it in in December.
  • Just because you have the history doesn't mean it needs to go into the book.

Exercise: secondary character: show them interacting with someone else, doing something exciting or scary

Characters aren't flat: they have weaknesses, strengths and quirks

  • If you have a superstrength in your character, explain what it is up front (don't have to explain how they got it) so the reader knows.
  • Give them weaknesses or they won't seem human and relatable.
  • People are complex. Make them complex.
  • Mary Sue is a character typically modeled after the author; everything goes perfect for the character. Most readers want to choke the life out of them. So try not to do that. Have some flaws for your characters.
  • Show characters failing, struggling, show them losing before they start winning. Make life tough for them.
  • A real flaw isn't fixed by the end of the book, though you might learn a way to cope. Nobody who tends to speak without thinking can fix it perfectly.
  • Flat characters: just a role. You don't have to give them motivation, names, etc. Don't let your story get derailed by too many characters.

Character types:

  • Someone's hero is someone else's villain; and sometimes vice versa. Think about what is a flaw and what is a strength.

Exercise: 2-3 good traits and a minor flaw; or 6-9 good traits and a major flaw

  • Chase
    • serious (perhaps too serious for such a young boy)
    • a survivor (perhaps a bit too cautious)
    • afraid of being hurt (afraid of getting to know others, because then it hurts more when he loses them)
    • physically small
    • quiet (a survival trait) (but thinks a lot and writes a lot)
    • quick reflexes (prone to running away and hiding)
    • hungry for knowledge (but shy about appearing dumb or unknowledgeable)
  • Oliver
    • funny, friendly, but a bit of a door mat, smart, educated, an overachiever (has to be the best)
  • Tiffany
    • very atheletic, loves sports, very educated but a waitress (doesn't want higher education), not serious about a lot of things.
  • William
    • emotionally reclusive, severely OCD, judgemental, patient, quiet, resourceful
  • ...
    • hardworking, empathetic, knows he doesn't know everytying, values others, anger problem, low self esteem
  • Maxie:
    • beautiful, talkative, very experessive, outgoing, self-centered, selfish, not a listener
  • Dex
    • happy, loving, non-judgemental, obedient, too curious
  • Cassandra
    • honest, caring, intelligent, helpful; but very passive in the beginning, very emotional
  • Adrianne
    • self assured, bossy, judgemental, always starting things that don't work out (bankruptcy and divorce)
  • unnamed
    • Handsome, manly, handy, well-liked by all, very smart problem solver, tries to make everyone happy, very judgemental, really angry on the inside
  • Dana
    • kind, dependable, well-spoken, well-traveled, but underhanded (outwardly kind but inwardly dishonest)

Characters talk: good dialogue

  • Let the characters speak the way they would
  • BUT you can establish reasons up front for characters to not do what you don't want them to do. Make up rules for the characters; don't ignore it.
  • 1 rule of dialogue: it can't be too realistic; you want it to SOUND natural and informal.
  • Don't have characters explain things you want your readers to know

Characters observes

  • Avoid abstract terms: Don't tell it ("terrified"), show it. Make the readers feel it.
  • Don't go too deep (heal wounds that might not be ready to be healed) but write things that make you feel and cry (but not break down sobbing).
  • Share details to make it real for the reader. Details matter.
  • In November, write ADD-TREE-TYPE (a note for future research)
  • People don't notice everything; your reader doesn't want to notice everything. Think about the details that connect to the emotions of the reader, the things that matter.
  • Think about the emotional resonance you want to project, the mood/tone you want. Pick 2-3 good details that create the resonance to carry you through the scene. Easy to pull out on short term notice. Notice words of emotion and then take them out (put them into your notebook). Words will flow better.
  • You want to get to a frame where you can edit better.
  • For SF/Fantasy writers, when adding detail to scenes, sometimes they make up new words and things--that gets in the way of good writing (and can slow me down when reading as a critic). There is a tendency in these genres to write new world ideas in new words rather than in existing words.
  • Sometimes weather creates the mood.
  • Details are used to create a universal experience everyone can understand. E.g., sand and sun help put us into the place where the experience is happening. You can throw in strange words to have the reader feel an unbalance.

Characters change

  • have some growth for main character and minor characters
  • Don't have them change to be perfect
  • Not everything has to end up hunky dory

Doing outlining

  • It can help you avoid cutting a lot of what you're writing
  • Have reasons for changes (think about this up front); have them change with a small step rather than the big step
  • Be nasty and mean to your characters but don't pile it up to the extent that they can't move from underneath (or your reader will give up first). If you don't want to come back to it, you probably went too far.
  • Put drama into your novel in November; don't pick fights with friends and family because you need material for your writing.


  • "Inspired Creative Writing" (lexander Gordon Smith)
  • "What makes your writing powerful and unique is you, so always learn to trust your instincts. Creative writing has no real rules; there are guidelines, but ultimately you must write to the beat of your own heart."


  • Try to finish BEFORE Thanksgiving
  • start off with a bang
  • write every day
  • get ahead in the weekends
  • wake up earlier
  • keep running wordcount
  • Find yourself a buddy (someone a little behind or ahead of you) and try to write ahead of them
  • Hard to stay motivated in December; try to finish your first draft in November
  • There will be an editing Path in the Journey in 2014.