Technically at this point, you can be cut loose with your one-sentence summary and barrel into NaNo and the pantsing world. Pantsing, if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, is when an author flies by the seat of their pants instead of relying on a plan or outline. Generally, pantsers do have an idea of their story; it’s just not fleshed out. So, if you’re traditionally a pantser and want to keep claiming that title, read no more. Close this window, open a new window, navigate to YouTube, and watch cat videos for six days.
Everyone else, follow me.
Today, we’re going to get to know our new literary family. I’m talking about your characters, of course. When you think of character planning, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Interviews about their favorite color and sports team? A litany of physical descriptions as if they were on the FBI’s most wanted list?
What if I told you none of those things really mattered? Not right now, anyway. Well, they don’t. Instead of filling out yet another questionnaire that you probably filled out in middle school during the age of MySpace, focus on some of the more deeper questions instead.
What is it that your character wants the most in the world? What internal obstacles are they up against? What’s their deepest secret?
For more types of questions, I turn back to the Snowflake Method. (We’ve skipped several steps, so if you’re trying to be a devout Snowflaker, check out Randy Ingermanson’s blog post about the method and how to properly implement it.)
Here are the entries I focus on:
If you can’t read the top image, it says name, ambition (abstract thing the character wants to be happy), story goal (concrete goal the character believes will enable him to achieve his ambition), conflict, epiphany (what the character will learn), sentence summary, and paragraph summary.
In the above image, what I most focus on are how the character sees themselves and how other characters see them. Especially if there’s a huge disparity between these, this could be fun to show this in the narrative, without coming out and telling the reader, of course. It sets you up to utilize the unreliable narrator, which is one of my favorite character devices.
Once you have a good idea of your character’s internal world, you can bring that to their external world. I find that writing relevant backstory information through each character’s eyes is helpful knowing not only where characters are coming from but also getting inside their minds and voices. Here’s a helpful resource to help you write backstories and deciding what’s considered relevant to your story.
If you’re a worksheet person (like me!) and you like having everything structured, here is a great resource for authors. There are all types of worksheets on this Pintrest board, not just for characters. (My personal favorites are the villain, another villain, naming characters, and the narrator.)
By now, you should have a full cast of characters with their own voices and goals/motivations. Next, we’ll break it down and determine which type of structure works best for your story, and we’ll wrap it up with planning individual scenes.