Cathy Eats Her Words

October 10, 2007

More about characters

Filed under: Character,NaNoWriMo — jeanne @ 10:38 am

Here’s something borrowed from how to write a novel, the snowflake method

  • The character’s name

  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline

  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)

  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)

  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)

  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?

  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These “character synopses” should tell the story from the point of view of each character. As always, feel free to cycle back to the earlier steps and make revisions as you learn cool stuff about your characters. I usually enjoy this step the most and lately, I have been putting the resulting “character synopses” into my proposals instead of a plot-based synopsis. Editors love character synopses, because editors love character-based fiction.

Take another week and expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character. The standard stuff such as birthdate, description, history, motivation, goal, etc. Most importantly, how will this character change by the end of the novel? This is an expansion of your work in step (3), and it will teach you a lot about your characters. You will probably go back and revise steps (1-6) as your characters become “real” to you and begin making petulant demands on the story. This is good — great fiction is character-driven. Take as much time as you need to do this, because you’re just saving time downstream. When you have finished this process, (and it may take a full month of solid effort to get here), you are ready to write a proposal and sell this novel. Do so.

Make a spreadsheet detailing the scenes that emerge from your four-page plot outline. Make just one line for each scene. In one column, list the POV character. In another (wide) column, tell what happens. If you want to get fancy, add more columns that tell you how many pages you expect to write for the scene. A spreadsheet is ideal, because you can see the whole storyline at a glance, and it’s easy to move scenes around to reorder things.

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