When I decided to do National Novel Writing Month, only a few days ago, the first thing I thought of wasn’t a plot – it was a method. I’ve kept a diary (in the form of a series of word processor documents) since I was 16, and it must be up to about 750,000 words right now. Yeah, I was a particularly angsty teenager and somehow even more angsty university student – don’t ask. Anyway, I have written many entries that are over 2000 words long, and often in a relatively short space of time – just sitting down and writing – so 50,000 in 30 days shouldn’t be too hard, right?
The question was how to apply that ‘just do it’ mentality into writing fiction. Well, I’ve recently been reading a hell of a lot of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews and really like the guy’s style. Some of you may consider it hipster douchebaggery. Whatever. He describes and provides insight in real time and, given that he types his posts on a BlackBerry, he sort of has to keep going until he’s happy his point has been made, or the story has been told. Perfect! My first draft will be like a series of PRR posts; I can change it all up later, change the voice, the tone, add things and take them away, but for this month my only purpose is to get the story out – and that’s how I decided to make it easy.
Next, I had to figure out what the hell to write about. The traditional advice for first-time writers is ‘write about what you know’… well, my experience at high school was pretty interesting, and I’ve learned about some fascinating examples of cultures clashing here in India. Culture clash is kind of a big deal for me right now – I’m a white man in rural India, after all, so I notice it daily – and, thinking more about that, I recalled all the east Asian immigrants I met through work back in New Zealand…
…then the idea struck me: to write a novel about a Japanese immigrant to NZ, struggling to straddle the cultural divide, going through changes, welcomes and goodbyes, friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends. You know, the kind of book that sells really, really poorly. That’s ok; I just want to write something, and I had found my story. With this I could write about something I knew, and hopefully avoid offending people I knew!
Finally, today I put together a character outline for my protagonist, the logic being that pretty much all of my favourite books and films have characters that walk fully formed into the frame. I used this template by Kitty Felone which, while asking for a little more info than I think is necessary, seemed like a pretty good place to start.
Without further ado, meet an initial sketch of Mari Fujiwara, the star of an as-yet unwritten story. It’s by no means complete, and I may add or subtract things as I write. Keeping that in mind, feedback is most welcome!
MARI, THE PROTAGONIST
Full name: Mari Fujiwara
Birthday: August 27, 1980
Marital Status: Single → Married
Spouse/Partner: Japanese boyfriend in the beginning, single when gets to NZ, has liaison with local boy, settles down and marries Japanese guy
Hair: Black, shoulder length, always clean and lustrous
Eyes: Deep brown, neither narrow nor wide, sparkling in the light
Origin: Ise city in Mie Prefecture, lived there until age 18
Language: Fluent Japanese, learning English
Blood Type: AB+
Body Structure: Lightweight, somewhat fragile and dainty but moves decisively
Race: Japanese – identifies with her Mie roots ultimately more than with being Japanese
Parents: Ren and Hiroko, a government worker and homemaker respectively
Siblings: Mina (sister), older, already married at start of story and has first baby during
Enemies: ?? (not sure about these two yet, I guess I’ll find out!)
Beliefs: Relaxed Shinto Buddhist
Careers: After university went into a job in a company that makes barcodes and point cards, working as a sales rep, gets very tired of it very quickly; moves to NZ and after study works as tour guide and then in some shop in a mall
Life Goals at Start: Get married, have children, learn to speak English
Life Goals at End: Get well settled in New Zealand, make enough money to be able to go back to Japan once a year, have a baby
Hobbies: Karaoke, reading Japanese literature, walking in the park
Likes: Sushi, ramen, cherry blossoms, talking with friends
Loves: Snow, her family (esp. sister), ultimately Moto her eventual husband
Dislikes: People talking loudly, hentai manga (especially on the train)
Loathes: Cruelty to animals
Fears: Ending up alone, losing touch with family
Strengths: Smart and witty, empathetic, a good listener, physically capable
Weaknesses: Lacks confidence outwardly
Good Qualities: see Strengths
Bad Habits: Smokes cigarettes, grinds teeth
Turn Ons: Some height (but not too much), deep eyes, a gentle and caring smile, self-confidence, a decent frame but not too many muscles
Turn Offs: Brashness, over-arrogance
Talents: Good singer, solid memory
Temperament: Somewhat introverted, liked by most but sometimes struggles to connect with people (though usually not for lack of trying), is picky with men
Background: Didn’t get to see a whole lot of dad while growing up as he was so busy, and her mother was attentive but not always understanding, so she developed a kind of thick skin and independence as a result; it was a no-brainer that she would leave home at 18 to study in Tokyo, having been a cute-but-usually-quiet girl in high school. She had a great time at university – carefree days making friends, going on dates, going out and singing karaoke, working part time in a coffee shop etc. After graduating, though, she became a sales rep for this banal electronics company that makes barcodes and point cards for shops – let’s call this company Industries Unlimited for now – and quickly got frustrated with the drudgery of a salarywoman’s life. AND SO THE QUEST BEGINS…