Feb 22, 2010

Meanie Monday and moving on to Step 3


One week, one sentence. Wow, I'm making progress. No, but seriously. I have learned an absurd number of things in the last week that pertain to every aspect of my life as a writer. Today, I would like to leave Step 1, a one-sentence summary, behind and focus on step 3. I'll go back to step 2 shortly, I just really need to move on today.

Step 3) The above [steps 1 & 2] gives you a high-level view of your novel. Now you need something similar for the storylines of each of your characters. Characters are the most important part of any novel, and the time you invest in designing them up front will pay off ten-fold when you start writing. For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:
  • 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
An important point: You may find that you need to go back and revise your one-sentence summary and/or your one-paragraph summary. Go ahead! This is good--it means your characters are teaching you things about your story. It's always okay at any stage of the design process to go back and revise earlier stages. In fact, it's not just okay--it's inevitable. And it's good. Any revisions you make now are revisions you won't need to make later on to a clunky 400 page manuscript.
Another important point: It doesn't have to be perfect. The purpose of each step in the design process is to advance you to the next step. Keep your forward momentum! You can always come back later and fix it when you understand the story better. You will do this too, unless you're a lot smarter than I am.

The first character that I am am sharing with you is Scottie.
name: Andrew Scott, called Scottie by friends
one-sentence summary about characters storyline: Scottie does a lot of reflecting on being gay as he attempts to look forward and come out.
The character's motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?): He wants to find confidence and acceptance AKA an identity, within himself and from others, so he can move on.
The character's goal (what does he/she want concretely?): Scottie wants friends that he doesn't have to lie to.
The character's conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?): First boyfriend syndrome, mixed with running away from things he doesn't know or understand: Justin
The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?: His life is about him, he has to make the decisions that will move him forward.
A one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline: Scottie reflects back on the beginning of his life and realizes that he's known he's gay for a long time. Once he makes this discovery, he tries to figure out if this is what defines him, and if so should he hide it, flaunt it? When Justin comes into the picture, it's the perfect setup, until they realize they are to become stepbrothers. Scottie finds himself dealing with his and Justin's problems, while Justin just ignores them both. Scottie 'kidnaps' Justin.

Okay, so you see I have a start. I had written more out, but lost it, yay. So, this is off the cuff, so not my style, but here it is. What I am looking for, in the way of comments and feedback, is probing questions that you think will help me to further define and specify who Scottie is. Of course, I'd be happy with anything, except..."Looking good, Jon!"!

Also, head over to Ali Cross's blog, she has does an awesome vlog segment called Ask Ali, where she answers all of our pressing writerly questions. Today, she is answering my question about staying focused. Ch-ch-ch-check it out!


  1. I think you should probe motivation a bit more, yes it's a good motivation, but there is so much more to the whole acceptance of yourself issue. Even without being gay thrown in there. There are outside reactions, religious questions, even career moves. Try to narrow your focus a little..or be more specific. Especially in your conflict "running away from things he doesn't understand." Other than his sexuality, what else?

    I think this is an awesome "outline" for your main character and the plot in your story. Best wishes with it. Hope you don't feel like I tore you apart. It sounds great, really. :0)

  2. As a goal, you state that Scottie wants friends he doesn't have to lie to....or does he not want to lie to his current friends? Does he want the same friends to accept him or new friends that will? This could also be written as he wants acceptance, too.
    I'm proud of you, Jon. You are moving along nicely with this. I'm excited to start writing my next manuscript and I will use this method. Thank you for doing step by step, that will be very helpful for me when I attempt it!

  3. This is one step that I actually took from the snowflake method and kept throughout everything... well, sort of.

    I don't use the exact same fields, but I have the same premise. What I use is a little form I created early in college when I was regularly playing tabletop roleplaying games (Yeah, I'm a dork, I'm okay with it).

    It was something I used to make sure that my characters were rounded out. You know, strength, weaknesses, character flaws, etc... things that make them easier to relate to and thus easier to play, or in the case of writing, easier to write.

    I know you said that you lost what you originally wrote out, but I still think what you have is good. What you have written down forces a slew of questions regarding some of your information, but it is all philosophical/societal things that obviously aren't part of this step.

    Kaap it up.

  4. Kristi - Thanks for the suggestion. Consider motivation being probed! Thanks for the great questions, they are helping already.

  5. Kelly - Good points, thanks. Your questions are my questions too, so I am going to implement them into Scottie's profile and think about it as I write the story.

    I am SOO excited to see you do the method, who knows where I'll be when you start. Step 3.5...

  6. Jonathon - I have no idea what "tabletop roleplaying games" are, but I am glad that they give you a cool perspective on character-creation. You created your own form, eh? Is this something you'd be willing to share? I'd love some insight into your genius.

    Also, great input, as always. Taking it all into consideration.

  7. I'm reading a book titled EVIDENCE by Jonathan Kellerman. It's part of a series. The detective in this book is gay, but he is not stereotypical at all...he's paunchy, overweight, bad dresser, in a "manly" occupation...the character is great and I'm wondering if you could include a gay character like him in your book.

  8. Anita - Is that a request or a suggestion? I have another YA book in the works titled SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. The book explores a gay character who is over-weight, poorly dressed, and a gamer. He tires to gay himself up, but discovers that he is losing himself in the process.

  9. Just kidding... sorry, I'm such a pain in the arse.

    Okay, but seriously, I think you are doing a great job! I do think you can, as Kristi Faith says in the first comment, "probe motivation a bit more" - and then also, your epiphany sounds good... but it needs to pack a punch, as that is the quintessential moment as he comes into his new, changed self. Not sure if you have it all developed in your head, but based on what you have written above, you might need to add more punch to it.

    I'm not sure if I'm being helpful or moronic... I need more coffee. Also, keep writing! I want to know more about Scottie already!

  10. These commentors are so smart. I don't have the ability to focus on Scottie right now (perhaps I should go directly to Ali's blog). I'll be back.

  11. I really liked how you've done this character work up. But I'm confused about the character's conflict. First boyfriend syndrome with who? Is he dating Justin before they find out they're going to be stepbrothers or do they just meet? I'm so impressed with how much work you've done, clearly well thought out and a great way to get to know your characters. How was that for shredding? Baby steps my friend, I'm taking baby steps.

  12. Yay progress! My comment is similar to everyone else's (darn... got here late...)

    So... um... how's the puppy? I think your puppy should be included in your snowflake process.

  13. Tabletop Roleplaying Games are a less-dorky way of saying D&D, or other various games. You know, video games without the pre-determined storyline and... video...

    As for the form, I'll have to see if I can pull it up. I'm sure I have it filed away somewhere.

    Basically, it was just a bunch of those weird questions like "What is your characters favorite fruit?" "If your character had to choose between being rich at the price of compromising their beliefs or a life of poverty, which would they take?"

    It was all essentially stuff like that, plus some things taken from the Snowflake form. It was all just a way for me to get into my characters head and forcing me to think how they would react in situations they never would actually be in. All for the sake of character development.

  14. This was really great! I tend to do my character development about a third of the way into writing and then I have to go back and add in more details to make everything work.

    The only problem is, I'm not sure if I could come up with it before? I think I'm going to attempt this with my latest novel idea.

  15. One thing I've noticed with strong characters in books or movies is that often they have some goal that they think they want or need, but in the end they wind up with something else entirely which is what they actually need. Does this make any sense?

    A cheesy movie example is Elle Woods in Legally Blonde whose goal is getting her boyfriend back and she think this is what she needs, but through the course of events she realizes she doesn't need that jerk and instead she ends up finding what she really needs which is her legal career.

    I point that out because sometimes it helps if character's are sort of confused about what they really want at the beginning of a novel or story and then only figure out things somewhere along the way.

  16. So, when I did this step. I didn't a little differently. It seems as though people are looking for more detail, but that is the next step, yes? Anyhoo, mine was more of a plot walkthrough from the character's POV. There is the plot that happens to "everyone", then there is the specific plot points that the character experiences all on their own. Also, I found that as I moved through the next few steps, I did come back and tweak motivation and goals. Just so you know. It may all feel vague now, but I guarantee. The next few steps are like pointing a hot hair dryer at a foggy mirror. It all starts to come clear. You are doing great. Just keep moving forward.

  17. Blech, ignore all the grammar and typos. Head. Hurts.

  18. Marisa - Thanks for the words of wisdom. I'll let your suggested changes have an opportunity in the coming week.

    TLL - I still love ya, even if you dismiss my site disclaimer.

  19. Crystal - Well, don't you have a distinct advantage, being one of the only people to have the actually writing in their hands! I appreciate your input here. When you start reading, keep those questions in mind for me and we'll discuss.

    Mariah - It's funny that you'd bring Puppy up. When I commented on your post about predetermining themes for the days that you post, I can totally relate. The main reason I created my themes is because I couldn't always think of something off the top of my head and when that was the case, I'd stick some puppy pics into the post. It got me a lot of followers...in fact, many of my original followers haven't been here in a while, ever since the pup pics disappeared...oh well.

  20. Jonathon - ...what's D&D? I'm so not making this easy for you, am I? If you find your form, I'd love to feature it as step 3.5.

    Julie - That sounds like a great idea. Feel obligated to come back here and share what happens.

  21. Alissa - Great input! Thanks. I don't even know very much about the characters yet, but like Tina Lynn points out, that's what this is for. As the character changes, so do the blanks that I now have.

    Tina Lynn - I love how you call it a plot walk through! Have you ever played The Sims? I feel like I totally need to do that in my mind, excluding the learning how to pee, and play Scottie in my mind. Once I really get him rounded out, I am going to live as him for a week. Same thing with Justin.

  22. Has the snowflake method left you out in the cold yet? (Just kidding. I love it. And to answer your question, I do like the program still. I think it'll be even better when I'm working on something from scratch.)

  23. Amber - Very funny. Actually, I've been giving it the cold shoulder...not really, but I couldn't come up with anything else. Glad to hear that it's still worth it.

  24. I can't tell you how to write characters, but I really like the character I'm reading...so, I guess it's a suggestion. Also, chunky kids fall in love too, but you hardly ever read about it.

  25. Okay, first off, you've written more than me on a new project just by making that up off the cuff. I don't do anything. I keep all this kind of stuff inside my head. No wonder I have problems!!

    Two, I really like how you broke it down into what the character wants and can't have and where they are at the beginning and at the end.

    I think what you need are "pinches." I just heard this term a week or two ago.

    The pinch is the pressure needed to make the character act. So what's going to make Scottie act? I think you've got one where Scottie "kidnaps" Justin, but what triggers his other epiphanies? What's "pinching" him into action?

    When I ask myself those questions, then I find out a lot more about my characters and why the "pinch" launches them into action. I mean, we all react to things differently right? So why is this THE PINCH for THAT CHARACTER?

    Does that even make sense? I swear it's in English.

  26. Anita - Noted. Fat kid, love, write it.

  27. Elana - Whoa. Wow. Shazzam. Not only does that make perfect sense, your comment is my very own real-life PINCH! I got what I was supposed to do for this step before, but I didn't get what I was supposed to do for the character or to the character. Ugh. I still feel guilty for giving you MIA crap, but sure am glad I did!

  28. Here you go Jon, this should explain D&D.


    As for my form, as I said in my last comment, it was really just a lot of character building questions. They way I put my form together was by stealing or modifying questions from other such questionnaires. Do a search on "Character Development Questions" or "Character Creation Questions" and you'll get quite a few results.

    That's really where I started. I read through tons of them, pulling out questions or fields that I liked and simply compiled them into about 3 different lists, each one corresponding to certain genres... I mean, obviously a medieval fantasy character isn't going to be able to answer the question, "What is your favorite CD?"

    Some of the questions are overly corny (such as the example I gave) and some might seem irrelevant, but the way I chose questions was I took the ones I thought were important, and then I took the questions I thought might come up in small talk or a first date.

    Can your characters answer the question, "What is your first memory?" or "What's your favorite childhood game?"

    Those are the things that might not ever come up in your story, but by answering them you better understand your character and they begin to take a life of their own.

    However, this all may just be something that helps me give a voice to my characters. Others may be so in tune with theirs that they don't need it.

    However, should I find my list/form, I'll hand it off to you.

  29. Well, I think it IS really good ;)

    But, I felt like your "kidnapping" thing was just flung out there ~ I wanted to know why he did that. Was it to force Justin to face his sexuality? Or just Scottie? (or is that the same thing, really?)

    Thanks for the shout-out Jon. You're too cool :) ♥