5 Steps To Plotting Out Character Development

My New Year’s resolution this year is to write a full-length play. Well, it’s just Part One in the major 2015 plan, but I’ve already made some big progress.

In November during my own version of NaNoWriMo, I completed Act I. After a holiday hiatus in December and January, I am proud to say that I’ve already completed Act II and February’s not even over.

How am I writing the story this fast? With lots and lots of planning.

See, back in the summer of 2014, I sat down and asked the really tough questions about my four characters. I grilled their story line and their character growth like an investigation. I tracked their every move like Big Brother.

Horrible simile, but you get the point.

Outlining your character development can be necessary to know and refine your story, from appreciating the big picture value to tweaking minute details.

But this can be extremely intimidating. So, I’ve broken down my character development process into five easy steps.

Step 1: Define Your Character’s Motivation

This is the end of the beginning. That is, your character’s life will never be the same because of this story. Your character’s story can only start if s/he wants something and decides to go after it.

Find the answer to these questions:

  • What is the norm for this character? What are your character’s lifestyle patterns?
  • What happens that changes your character’s norm?
  • How does your character respond to this event?
  • What does your character now want?

Establish the core conflict for your character. Then, define the crucial details that can heighten your character’s core conflict, such as tone, mood, voice, word choice, similes and metaphors. Find ways to foreshadow important plot points related to your character during this phase of the story.

Step 2: Create Commitment For Your Character

Guide your character to commit to the journey, both willingly and consciously. Answer these questions:

  • What happens that causes your character to doubt her/himself and her/his ability to get what s/he wants?
  • What events does your character experience—or, rather, happen to your character—that is a game-changer in terms of committing to the conflict?
  • How does your character respond to these events, both physically and emotionally?

When your character recommits (or, for the reluctant hero, commits for the first time), your character experiences a surge in motivation and effort. This means that your character’s actions and circumstances brings her/him closer to the goal. Things are definitely looking up.

However, be wary that this surge is a warning. Be alert. A crisis is coming.

Step 3: Throw A Crisis At Your Character

A story is only worth reading if your character struggles, right?

The crisis is when your character has to squirm through the biggest battle of the story, perhaps even the biggest battle of your character’s life.

In order for your character to transform and become the person s/he needs to be to reach this goal, your character must endure a struggle that s/he didn’t see coming and feel traumatized.

It’s time to define the crisis:

  • What is the crisis?
  • How does your character at first respond?
  • How does your character struggle?
  • What is the turning point event that makes your character decide to go all in on the journey?

Don’t make reaching the goal too easy for your character. On the flip side, don’t make the crisis unrealistic or unbelievable for your readers. Each scene prior to revealing the crisis should be marching your character up to this fate, so don’t hesitate to revisit and revise the development you’ve created in Steps 1 and 2.

Step 4: Build The Climax

The climax is when all forces of the story collide. Think of the climax as the crowning moment of the story, where your character confronts her/his antagonist (this can be a person, nature, society or her/himself). The thematic significance of your story should be crystal clear to your reader at this moment.

To strengthen the climax for your character, ask yourself:

  • What skills, knowledge and/or awareness does your character have now the s/he didn’t have at the beginning of the story?
  • What event brings your character to face her/his antagonist?
  • Who wins?
  • How is the conflict resolved? How does your story end?

For me, it helps to know the crisis early on in the writing process so that I can carefully build the events up to this moment. Other writers find that the crisis cannot be defined until the character motivation and crisis are created. Decide which method is best for you.

Step 5: Develop Another Character

All your characters, not just your protagonist, should have a story within your story.

Follow Steps 1 – 4 again for secondary characters in your story. That way, all your characters have motivation, struggle and transformation How many character plots can meet at the story’s climax?

How do you craft your character’s development? Share your strategy below.


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