5 Steps To Plotting Out Character Development

5 Steps To Plotting Out Character Development
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5 Steps To Plotting Out Character Development

Credit: Pinterest

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.

Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?

Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?
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Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?

Credit: churchsermonseriesideas.com

As I creative writer, I hear this often: “I have a story for you to write.”

“I’m listening,” I’ll say.

“It’s about a blind man who regains his sight, but then loses his hearing.”

“Then what happens?” I will ask.

“You tell me. Write it!”

But that’s not a story. I definitely appreciate the lead-in, but let’s call it what it is. A story idea. A writing prompt. A character.

So, what’s the difference? Let’s define it.

A story, in simple terms, is a narrative telling of connected events with a setting, characters and plot.

A story idea is a fragment of a story. It’s an idea for a character, a backdrop, a start of a sticky situation.

But what happens next? What happens to the character? What happens at this place? What complicates the situation? How is the plot resolved?

There’s nothing wrong with story ideas. The best stories were born from a story idea. The difference here is that the writer recognized that the story idea was, in fact, a story idea and took the time to grow it into a story.

Even the best of creative writing students mistake a story idea for a story. I know I did.

During my grad school years, I wanted to write a young adult novel about a teenage skater girl who gets sent to an all-girl Catholic school. I was so certain that I had a story that I plunged in and wrote several chapters. But by Chapter 5 and she still wasn’t at the all-girl Catholic school, I knew something was up.

I didn’t write her to be at the all-girl Catholic school because I didn’t know what would happen next. I didn’t take the time to see the big picture because I was so excited about one detail of the potential story.

That’s when I knew I only had a story idea, not a story.

Don’t worry. I was able to shape the first chapter into a short story.

That’s why I’m a big supporter of outlining a story. I agree that freewriting helps in the creative process of crafting the plot of the story, but we creative writers often believe that we’ll be able to write a perfect draft from start to finish without any hiccups simply by having a story idea.

But a story idea isn’t enough. Knowing what happens from start to finish as well as how the characters change and grow is.

At least, enough to know that you’re on the right path towards a story.

Do you agree that there’s a difference between a story and a story idea? Share your thoughts below.

Why You Really Can’t Put That Book Down

Why You Really Can’t Put That Book Down
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Why You Really Can’t Put That Book Down

Credit: imlovingbooks.com

My younger sister and I were talking over the phone about books. Both of us being avid readers, we talked about novels we were reading as well as novels we’ve read in the past.

Our conversation soon drifted to bestsellers, the ones that get to the big screen. I recalled the one (and only) pop fiction book I read and noted that the writing wasn’t all that great, but I couldn’t seem to put it down.

“Of course,” my sister said simply. “The chapters ended in the middle of a scene.”

She explained. The chapters never closed when the scene did. The end of the chapter came mid-scene, usually during dialogue or when something climatic happened. But the chapters never ended when the scene came to a neat close.

“Huh,” I said.

I did my research. I flipped through the accused book from chapter to chapter—and she was right. The chapter ended mid-scene while the real chapter ending happened mid-chapter. The chapter divisions shifted—all so that you keep on reading

Traditionally, the end of a chapter comes when a change of place, time or point of view arises. Here’s an example:

END OF CHAPTER: She rolled her eyes, then slid her sunglasses over her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s go to the dance.”

BEGINNING OF NEXT CHAPTER: The dress was too long. Mrs. Potterfield tried sewing the hem up a few inches, but the fabric wouldn’t hold the stitches.

There’s a break here because there’s a shift in time and place from the first section (deciding to go to the dance) to the second section (getting ready for the dance). Chapter endings set the pace for reading as well as bring closure to the scene so that the reader can readjust for the upcoming events.

But lately, that’s not how pop fiction handles chapter endings. The brakes are put on early in the scene, then swerve readers fast in another direction. This only causes the story to lose steam mid-chapter before ramping up the speed before the false chapter ending comes up.

That’s quite an exhausting way to read.

When I thought back to when I read that book, I remember checking my watch and counting how many pages I had left mid-chapter. That’s because the story reached its natural chapter ending, even though the book dictated that the chapter had 12 more pages left.

So the question now is this: Does pop fiction ignore the rules of chapter endings—or did pop fiction rewrite the rules of when a chapter ends?

Personally, I prefer when a chapter ends at its natural spot. I like collecting my thoughts about the chapter events before carrying on to the next chapter, whenever that may be. I also don’t want to be tired at work the next day because I simply couldn’t put the book down.

As if I don’t have self-control.

Now I want to know what you think. When do you think a chapter should end? Share your opinion below.

Making Time to Write

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After sitting down at my favorite café table (by a window, of course) while setting up my supplies and sipping a mocha, I did what I hadn’t done in a long time–I continued writing my novel.

 

Actually, I was outlining my novel.  But I’ll dig deeper into that in another blog post.

 

It’s been a month since I had carried on in my fictional journey.  And after reading over my previous notes, I leapt right back in: plotting out my plot, digging deeper into character quirks and histories, sculpting out more details in the scenery.

 

So what kept me from this project for so long?

 

A lot of things.  I’ve been submerged in job applications, holiday shopping, pet sitting, household chores, freelancing, and promoting my blog.

 

There’s never enough time for the writer to write.

 

Writers have lives beyond their world of writing, and it’s always difficult to jot down an idea when a baby’s crying or there’s a pressing deadline at work.

 

But these are excuses for not writing.  Not reasons.

 

The reason for not writing is simple: we don’t value writing enough to make it a priority.

 

Sure, “write story” is scribbled down on our to-do lists, but it’s at the bottom after “exercise” and “pick up dry cleaning.”  After everything else is crossed out on that list, it’s 9 at night and we’re too exhausted to pick up the pen.

 

I’ve been there…and currently am there.

 

Some days we won’t write because of Sally’s birthday or your nephew’s wedding or that big business presentation.  Some days we choose dedicate our time to the people, job, and occasions that we value.

 

But that’s a reason for a handful of days.

 

During periods like this when your writing becomes a dissolving note on your desk, what needs to be done is a reevaluation.

 

First, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Do you value your writing? 
  • How invested are you in your writing project? 
  • What would you do to make this writing project succeed?

 

You may find that you value writing as a hobby, or even a past flirtation.  Or you may find that you are desperate to get back and don’t know how to break this writing-less pattern.

 

Here’s how to bring value back into your writing:

 

Put your writing at the top of your to-do list.  Highlight it.  Underline it.  Surround it with exclamation points.  Write it in bright, unavoidable colors.  Your new mantra is “I will write today” and your new goal is making it fit into your schedule.

 

Schedule writing sessions.  Pick a time and place that you can realistically uphold.  Even once a week is more than never.  Even ten minutes is more than never.  Make a commitment and dedicate yourself to keeping it.

 

Have a writing plan. Take the intimidation out of writing and know what you need to work on.  Make the task as specific as possible.  When your writing session is done, define what needs to be done next time. 

 

Don’t complete your sentence.  One of my favorite writing tips: leave off your writing session in the middle of a sentence.  If this is too painful for you to do, end your session in the middle of a scene.  You are more willing to return to your writing when you are going to finish writing exciting action or complete that big revelation.

 

Join a writing group or online community. Writing groups keep regular meeting dates, regular assignments, and regular support and encouragement.  You get to see your readers and hear what they have to say about your writing.  Wanting to give your readers more to read will bring more value to your writing.  This will also motivate you to keep a set writing schedule and to improve your writing.

 

Make use of down time.  While you’re in the elevator, driving down the road, or waiting for your leftovers to heat in the microwave, brainstorm!  Pick something small that needs work (a character’s motivation in a scene or the next plot turn) and shoot around ideas in your head.  Small problems can be solved in spare intervals.  And, if you think you’ll forget it, scribble down your solution.

 

Since my last writing session, I can’t stop thinking about my story.  I fall asleep every night planning out the events of my story and exploring my characters’ histories.  I am keeping the excitement of writing alive in my life even when I’m not writing. So when I finally get around to picking up the pen, I will be eager to do so.