Ramblings About Stuff

Self-Publishing, Step by Step, Part 1.5

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Self-Publishing, Step by Step

Part One Point Five: Making Characters Do Things

This is technically the third article in a series which seeks to take an idea in your mind and expand it into a fully realized book. But chronologically speaking, it is the step in between forming the idea and preparing it for others to see it. If you’re someone who just likes to go with the free-flow of thoughts, this article will probably make you break out in hives. (Do you like to cook? We have a lovely recipe for you to try instead!)

But, if story planning appeals to you, keep reading.

Right now, this very second, I have a great concept which I am struggling to flesh out into a story, because I am a writer of flash fiction. I set up the story, then get out of the way before it’s resolved. But this? This is a whole new ball game which requires a whole new set of tools.

I write this not to be a “here’s the correct way to do this” type, but more of a “here’s one way to do this” type of post. It’s meant to help me as much as it is meant to help you. Are you game? Roll up your sleeves and dive in.

Making The Mess

  1. Make a list of characters and the role each plays in the story.

    (Main Character, Sidekick, Love Interest, Antagonist…)

    Delve Deeper: Give two of these characters a complicated backstory or tie, to introduce story tension and interest. It is not necessarily to explain what this tie is right away to the reader. Take your time revealing it if you must. But it should always be obvious to the reader that there’s more than meets the eye about the two characters, even if they’re not quite sure what that is just yet.

  2. From this list of characters, make a list of character traits of each, positive and negative.

    (Jane: neurotic, kind, punctual…)

    Delve Deeper: The antagonist has a trait that is the direct opposite of the main character. What is it?

    Write one scene concept used to highlight one of these character traits for as many characters as you would like. Doesn’t have to even be a full idea at this point. It can be as simple as, Jane is claustrophobic. But Jane is always punctual. Therefore, she always takes the stairs at work. What would happen if Jane is running late to a very important meeting on the tenth floor and the elevator is the quickest way there?

  3. Give your characters a goal.

    Write down one positive character trait they have which will help them achieve their goal. Write down one negative trait which will keep them from attaining that goal.

    Delve Deeper: One of your characters has a goal that is the same as, or is in direct conflict with the main. Which character is it? What is that goal?

  4. Write at least two ways the character can fail at achieving that goal.

    Delve Deeper: With their shared opposing trait in mind, how can the antagonist actively thwart the main character from achieving their goal?

  5. Make a timeline of cause-and-effect events in the story.

    The idea is that as each problem is solved, a new one pops up for the main character to deal with.

    Delve Deeper: Your antagonist must be key in either creating or aggravating the issue for the main character. Bonus points if one of the new problems is inadvertently created by the main character himself.

    Take note of any new questions that arise during this part of creation. These are questions that have to be answered in the story, and can create some new, great scenes which will enrich the story!

  6. Layer each event so that it is bigger than the last one, until the problems seem insurmountable.

    Delve Deeper: At the same time, a rather inconvenient secret resurfaces that also must be dealt with. What is it?

    Bonus Material: Watch this video. It will help you layer your cause and effect scenes in a way that keeps the reader turning the page. Do not skip this video. Be sure to download the workbook that goes along with it.

    Undoing The Mess

  7. Take stock of your current cast of characters again at this point in your story. Who stands with your main character? Who stands against her?

    Delve Deeper: How has this changed from the beginning of the book? Can this relationship be repaired?

  8. Go back to your main character’s positive personality traits. How can she call upon these now to fix the problems and achieve her goal?

    Delve Deeper: Go back to your antagonist’s opposite or shared personality trait with the main character. Did we find out anything new about the antagonist which might make the reader or the other characters view him differently? Is there a path of redemption for him?

  9. Give your characters a to-do list to fix the problems.

    Wrapping Up

  10. Did your character achieve his goal? Yes or no? Why?

  11. What has the character learned about himself, his friends/family, and the world he lives in? How has he changed, for better or worse?

    Delve Deeper: Your character has one regret about what happened. What is it? Can this be fixed?

  12. Treat yourself to a glass of wine, a slice of cake, or whatever makes you smile, because you did it. You finished the first draft! You are amazing!

L.M. Bennett is a contributing author to the Voices of Color Podcast, and the author of B-Sides and Other Misheard Lyrics: Short Stories and Flash Fiction.