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Let's Talk Sub-Plots and Character Arcs: Time to Work on Character

Now, if you’ve read my post “How to Plot A Complex Novel in One Day,” here’s your next step. It’s character day! Now let’s think about those characters you came up with. You know a little bit about them, but now let’s look deeper, get them more rounded out so some will even carry their own sub-plots and a good number of them will show some kind of genuine development. Remember, when you first plotted out the novel (if you followed this from my last post), you were looking at the role of the character, a character with a role to play may require development to be fleshed out, but also might not. How you pick and choose who gets the air time and who doesn’t is really going to depend on what potential they have as you continue plotting. Let’s get this show on the road: 

  • List out all your characters. I suggest making a list just so you don’t forget about anyone and you’ve got them all there in front of you at once. It can be hand written on paper or on a word document - it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you. Just having the list is a good idea. 
  • Write down next to each character’s name what drives them. What are their motivations? Why are they a necessary part of the story at all? The more necessary they are to the story the more likely they will need to be fleshed out and seem like dynamic characters. Do these characters have any secrets? Write that down too - write down whatever the character is outwardly telling people. It may be a secret or it could just be something that doesn’t come up in conversation. Either way, it’s something your readers will as the character becomes more rounded out. 
  • Now actually think about these characters’ personalities. Don’t go too wild filling out 100 question character sheets. This could take hours anyway with only a few characters to work on. Just go with the basics:  1) Character’s name (first name or nickname is fine at this point, it can still be changed) 2) A few general concepts about what kind of a person they are (can be taken from the stuff you’ve already decided about them) 3) Personality traits (pick 4 or 5 - roughly half positive, half negative) 4) Personality type Indicators - give them a Zodiac sign and/or a Meyer-Briggs Type if you find this helpful and can do it fairly quickly. 5) Dreams and Aspirations - this can be quick, but this is important. Not only does it tell a lot about the character, but it gives opportunity to engage in character arcs and subplots. 
  • A deeper look into those Dreams and Aspirations. The important thing here is that most characters will want more than one thing. Say the character wants to go into business. He’ll want that top job, but beyond that he’s still got a life, maybe he wants a wife and kids too - this is a very quick generalization, but you get the point. The other things that a character wants are going to create subplot. This is why it so easily takes shape as a love story, but really it could be anything. 
  • Now character arcs: these also have to do with the characters’ dreams and aspirations. These come into play when the character’s dreams are challenged and when conflicts arise. You don’t have to know what these arcs will look like just yet if you’re not really into planning out your whole story, but here are things to think about: what happens if the dream they had is made impossible? What happens when they fail drastically? What would happen if they actually got what they wanted? Character arcs are where personality meets conflict. The character will be changed by this conflict or come out with some realization about themselves or their situation. This is the character arc. 

Now you’ve got a lot going on in this novel. It’s a good thing. Now just make sure you stay on top of these characters! Don’t let any of this hard work go to waste! Happy writing!


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