Tuesday, July 11, 2017

0 Getting to the Heart of Your Story: The Character Brainstorming Worksheet

Characters are the secret recipe at the heart of every novel
Even if you think you're not writing a character driven novel, it still all starts with character. Even the greatest premise in the world can fall flat if readers don't have a main character they want to follow into the story. To be curious about.

"Don't let yourself slip and get any perfect characters... keep them people, people, people, and don't let them get to be symbols."
~ Ernest Hemingway

What Makes a Story Compelling?

The most compelling stories, the ones we think about long after we close the book and the ones that people tell their friends about, use plot to push the characters to their limits--because that is where change occurs. Human beings are built to resist change. We're comfortable with what we know, even if what we know is hurting us. In other words, we're afraid of the unknown. Partly, that's why we read, because we want to reduce the number of things that we don't know by living vicariously through characters we care about who are pushed into solving unfamiliar problems that nevertheless having meaning in their own lives. Note that statement. Let's break it down.

As writers, we need to give our readers:
  1. Characters they care about--because they like them, because they're intrigued by them, because they're curious what motivates them . . . 
  2. An unfamiliar problem the characters need to solve, or a familiar problem that the characters are forced to solve in an unfamiliar or unexpected manner . . . 
  3. A driving force, internal or external, that pushes the character into internal change that enables them to solve that problem in the course of the story when they wouldn't have been able to solve it previously.
  4. A universal lesson to the victory or defeat that makes it relatable to the reader--some connection that they can establish after reading that makes them able to see how the lesson learned by the character(s) has potential relevance in their own lives.
Sure, you can write the story in other ways, but you'd be missing out on opportunities to give your reader the payoff for slogging through all those pages.

“But if you don't understand that story is character and not just idea, you will not be able to breathe life into even the most intriguing flash of inspiration.” 
~ Elizabeth George

Make Your Readers Care

Readers want to see characters changing, growing, feeling, because that's what enables the reader to feel along with them, to experience the things that the character is experiencing. That's what makes them love a book, which in turn is what makes a book successful. The reader has to be able to form an emotional connection with it.

Whether you are approaching your story from a plot perspective or from a character perspective, at some point in your creative process, you need to know your character really well. You need to know:
  1. The characteristics, mannerisms, perceptions, misconceptions, secrets that make your character(s) different enough from anyone else the reader has met in life or in fiction that they spark curiosity enough to pull the reader into the story.
  2. What your character(s) care about enough to pull them into conflict.
  3. The circumstances your character(s) lived through before the story you are telling began and the things that shaped them into the person they are at the beginning of the story. 
  4. Which fears/secrets/misconceptions/wounds hold your character(s) back from being who they need to be in order to solve the problem that forms the core of the story.
  5. The motivations/driving forces that could push them into learning the lesson they need in order to solve the problem. 
There's no right or wrong way to discover the answers to these questions. You can write out free-form answers, journal, do a synopsis, write scenes from key moments in your characters lives, whatever works for you. But since sometimes having specific questions can help to jump start your imagination, I developed a worksheet way back when that combines a lot of different perspectives and approaches. I've had a number of people ask about this worksheet recently, so here's a link to it.

Character Brainstorming Worksheet

I hope you'll find it helpful!

Happy writing

About the Author

Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She’s the award-winning author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island series, including Compulsion, Persuasion, and Illusion from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse and of the Celtic Legends series for adult readers beginning with Lake of Destiny.

She lives with her husband, children, and a lopsided cat, she enjoys writing contemporary fantasy set in the sorts of magical places she’d love to visit. When she isn’t writing, she’s addicted to travel, horses, skiing, chocolate-flavored tea, Quality Streets, and anything with Nutella on it.

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