I’m not one of those people that holds to the adage of creating a character sketch. I grab some reference pics, and I go – otherwise I just get bored and forget whatever things I wrote about my character. At my recent trip to New York City for the Writer’s Digest Conference 2017, I attended a session on character webs. It opened with the following:
Your Protagonist, Before Page One
Before you start your book, keep in mind that you need to know these things about your protagonist. Write them down, and be specific!
- Who your protagonist is. You can learn about them as you go, but you’d better start somewhere!
- Your protagonist’s goal and why it matters. Be specific. She doesn’t “want respect.” She “wants respect so that she can…” This helps us relate and engage.
- What’s at stake. This keeps us reading. It has to have real significance, both to the character and to the reader.
- What happened before page one. This drives the character. Articulate what drives them.
- Define the protagonist’s journey:
- What they think they want.
- How that want affects them.
- Whether their character changes or is revealed through the course of the book, and how.
How to Use This
Here are ways you can use that information in your draft:
- Drive the Story. Each item on this list can cause an event, which causes another event, which causes another.
- Intensify. Make the issues and plot points more important and “larger” over time… the stakes getting higher,from a personal to a cosmic level.
- Define Change. This can help you see what will change as the book goes along, a useful thing to have defined in the back of your mind as you write. Remember, change can transform not only the character, but the story itself.
Side Characters, Simplified
I found the following character map once, to be used on every character before your book opens. It’s simple and easy and hits all the right points, so I felt like sharing:
- The character’s main strength (physical/mental)
- The character’s main flaw (physical/mental)
- What the character wants/their motivations
- What the character fears
Regardless, be sure to at least have the general gist of a character when you start your book – but don’t be afraid to learn about them as you go along! Always allow room for change. This will lead to authenticity of character in the end.
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