Are your characters good guys, villains, gurus, egoists, or innocents? Do they have problems? Agendas? What is their fate? If a character has no role to play, perhaps they have no place in your story.
The exercise here will use the Character Arc template or the Character Arc map.
For You Linear Types – (lists) Your hero is detailed with the worksheet template.
For You Spatial Types – (pictures) we map out who is connected to whom and why the character’s reactions move the plot along as it does.
What I like about creating characters that are not based on anyone is that they can go anywhere you want to let them go. In a way, they will take over the telling of the story and show you what they have to say.
For memoir writing, this template and map can also work to inventory what it is you want to convey in a memoir. Using the Template and Map tools for a memoir also lets you see yourself (and other people in your life) in the form of fictitious characters long enough to make them someone disconnected from you – so that you can dig deep and be freer about telling a story full of more meaning – a truer tale.
Think about these characters you are writing about as strangers – even of you know them in real life. Get info about them you wouldn’t have coming out of your head– loosen up when you do these exercises: this is an interview – get down what it is they are saying to you.
- Example Toggle
Make yourself a grid, or table, or spreadsheet. Begin with two columns: Character/Plot Notes & Story Notes.
Let us assume the theme of your story is "Anna against the world.” And you're about to detail the character Anna.
Can you select an aspect of her physique and tie it to one of these revelations to symbolize what you want to say about her? Physically she is [physical trait], revealing [this character trait] about her.
Example, your two columns would be filled in like this:
- [physical trait] …[this character trait]
- Small.... inadequate, timid
- Large.... a misfit, uncomfortable
- Plain.... invisible, overlooked
- Loud.... in need of attention, demanding.
- Shy.... in pain, self-loathing
Get these details running through your mind so that you can bring up these folks in a vivid way in your writing. Refer back to these notes as you write.
Next, come up with your own questions as you fill out the worksheet:
- Who Works Against Your Main Character?
- Do you have an antagonist?
- What is the antagonist's one good point?
- Where are each of these characters vulnerable?
Draw a circle, make five spokes come out of the circle, and attach a new circle to each of the spokes.
One by one, let the next and next bubbles get filled in with what reaction each previous bubble’s action trips in your mind – one action should lead to the next reaction. This is about what you want to write about – states of being. She tells lies to cover up fear (we found Fear in our interview). See the example for how you might question and fill in the Map.
Continue letting each action trip a new state of things, you are building a plot for your character to follow. Five of these maps for a single character may be the bones of your story. Layering on other character’s maps will deepen that plot, since each will have their own agenda.
- Lesson Exercise 1 – Template Work Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1 – Template Work:
Did you notice that any one of these five physical selections (small, large, plain, loud, shy) can work with all the listed revelations? You can mix and match them. A physically small character can have any of these character traits - it is for you to decide which you will give her.
You might write: Anna is small, revealing that is in need of attention or she feels uncomfortable with herself.
I bring this up because it shows that there are no right answers to building a character. List your characters. One at a time, detail them by answering these questions for each one.
Make one template for each. No matter how unimportant your character is. No matter how little time they'll be on the page. Even if all you come up with is how they look, and what that may mean about their personality. Then come back and grab some small trait that will make your story better, because you’ve thought these people out beforehand.
- Lesson Exercise 2 – Map Work Toggle
Lesson Exercise 2 – Map Work:
You’ve drawn a circle, made five spokes come out of the circle, and attached a new circle to each of the spokes.
Let’s work with a hypothetical main character. Let’s say she’s a really big liar and that is what will drive the short story’s plot. Things will happen because of the lies she tells. Actions, reactions, and motivations will occur from one lie. Draw yourself a map, a circle, spokes, and outer circles. Or use a software tool for mind-maps, like Scrapple for Scrivener. Set your main character in the center of things.
Everything revolves around your main character. Use the intangibles you came up with in the Character template [in our hypothetical case: Lying] for filling in this map for this character.
Continue letting each action trip a new state of things, you’re building a plot for your character to follow. Then, use the Template, the Map, or both to plan your story.
You can get as involved as you like with these two tools. No writer is required to fill in Templates or Maps before sitting down to write. Using them does give you a way of looking at your ideas on the page. You can then turn ideas into some type of plan, no matter how slight. If using them keeps you from writing ‘accidentally’, then that’s always a good thing.