So, there is three days until the start of NaNoWriMo 2010, I guess it is time to get myself into gear. A week ago I wasn’t sure if I was really going to do it this year. I had an idea for a setting but nothing else – no protagonist, no conflict, nothing that might be used for my novel. I am a little closer today as I now have a goal for my as-yet unformed main character. But I am going to do NaNoWriMo, so I just need to buckle down and get on with the prep. I have downloaded Scrivener for Windows to give it a whirl and am currently filling the “research” folder with inspirational images and other idea-producing stuff. I like pictures, they help stimulate me and prompt my imagination. Last year I had a noticeboard filled with images that evoked a sense of the setting. This year it is all going to be electronic.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in the up-swing of being excited, I fiddled about with some plot-generating devices, in particular using the RPG Fiasco to help develop some messed-up relationships. Fiasco is a game that lets you emulate the messed-up action of films like Fargo and Burn After Reading and it does so with a great character generator that gives the players/characters conflicting goals and relationships. I used this system to create my own relationship maps, but pushed it a little by having a lot more characters than you might normally.

My setting is a post-apocalypse world, somewhat similar to that of the Mad Max films, so the first thing I did was create a “playset” for this setting. I used for inspiration the Mad Max films, plus every other end-of-the-world book and film I could think of. I also drew heavily on the existing playsets, particularly Boomtown that comes in the Fiasco rulebook and Last Frontier. The best thing about this process was that it gave me plenty of time to think about the world that my characters were going to live in, the places and things that were important to them. It was essentially world building. Now, I have 150+ uniques things to go back to when I am stuck for inspiration during NaNoWriMo.

When I had my playset, it was time to use it to create the relationships amongst characters. Fiasco is designed for up to 5 players, but I pushed it to as many as 8, in two overlapping circles. I did it three times in all;

The first time I did it with 7 characters (the pink post-it notes), using dice to randomly roll both the general type of relationship/need/object/location and the specifics of each. It was fun but when it was all done there was not a lot that really grabbed my attention or stood out. There were several things rolled that I just didn’t feel fitted with what I wanted. I think this was because my ideas about the setting had slowly evolved over the week I spent creating the playset. What surprised me, though, was how easily I could draw connections amongst the various characters. The thing that did jump out as a possible plot or subplot were two pairs of characters. The first pair had an object “A corpse in the watertank”, while the second pair had the need “Get respect by finding a fresh source of water”. I could see how a body found in the watertank has made people want a fresh source of water and the second pair of characters were just the people to do it. There could then be a secondary plot revolving around the investigation into the body, how they died and who put it in the tank.

My second attempt went back to Fiasco basics. I thought that perhaps my disappointment was due to the fact that there were several things in the playset that I thought were cool, but did not get revealed when I rolled randomly. I also kicked back down to only five characters. This time I rolled a pile of dice just like in the normal game, then used them to pick the relationships / needs / locations / objects. At first I was flying blind, as in a typical game the other players put twists and spins on what is being revealed, but it didn’t take long for me to get into it. I started with a couple of relationships that I thought would be interesting, then threw in a need between a pair of characters that did not yet have a relationship. This sparked an idea for a relationship, then a location and so on until the relationship map was filled out. I soon had a horribly convaluted set of relationships, ripe for exploitation.

But I still wanted to see if the overlapping circle idea would work…

I used the iPad app “iCard” to record this relationship map, and eventually involved 8 characters. I started out with just 5 and I used  a mix of random rolls and picking when I didn’t think the random result was the best choice. I could start to see some interesting stuff, but wanted to put some distance between MC (main character) 5 and MC3, so stuck MC 6 between them and began the second circle. This time I ended up with a lot of relationships that were the same or neatly tied into other character’s relationships. I had an entire group of characters that belonged to the same religious cult, making this off-shoot group of characters very interesting to me. I saw that two cult members were related and wanted to get even with the town and – Bingo! – the idea that they were tricking people to join their cult for some nefarious purpose popped into my head. One of the cult leaders was related to another character that was trapped in a love-less marriage (MC 5) and I imagined that this could be fuel for the leader’s hatred of the town – that would be a motivation. One town official (MC1) wanted to sell the generator, and I saw a chance to really screw things up – MC 1 intends to give the cult’s generator to a local motorcycle gang in return for “protection”… And so on. The mix of random and picked results worked really well and created a really interesting tangle of competing goals.

Now, for my novel, I don’t think I am going to use any of the above relationship maps whole cloth, but I am certainly going to pick and choose. I am also going to keep them handy, because in Week 2 of NaNoWriMo, when I am feeling a little lost, I am going to chuck one or more of these into the mix! The best thing about going through this process was that it helped me flesh out what the world was like and what kinds of things the people in this world feel are important. Interestingly, it is the same stuff we all think is important – sex, money and revenge…