Wednesday, June 23

How I Write: Week Two – Developing Character, Plot, and Setting


This week’s topic is all about the work that goes into developing your character, plot, and setting. Every writer deals with these pieces differently. Pantsers, or writers that like to write by the seats of their pants, spend little time planning out their stories before hitting the computer or pad. Meanwhile, plotters like to have their stories mapped out in outlines, diaries, and notes before starting. Even with my love of all things office supply (hold me back from the post its now), I’m mostly a pantser. I like to have an idea of where I’m headed but it might not happen until 1,000 words or more into my novel. This doesn’t mean I don’t spend time thinking about my plot, my characters or my setting. I do and I need to, if I’m going to have a cohesive, interesting, and well developed story.

  • Character. My stories are all character driven. Characters come to me at night in dreams or during the day in little flashes of insight. I learn about the plot through them and it is my characters that I hope will keep readers turning the pages. During the early days of a story, I think about my characters endlessly. I imagine conversations (Let’s keep that between us.) and play a lot of games of ‘what if.’ During this time, you’ll find me saying things like “of course” or  smiling to myself while washing the dishes or cleaning up toys. I run through their goals, the conflicts, and their motivations. I do not keep detailed character sheets but keep little notes about last names, family relationships and major physical characteristics.
  • Plot. As I mentioned before, the plot comes to me through my characters. I learn about their internal and external conflicts and how they came to be the people they are. I don’t write out detailed outlines but I do get down a sentence or phrase to describe the action I anticipate in each scene. I keep to it loosely, letting the story develop as I write. I’ve learned not to force the story and to let it unfold as I write. There are bound to be surprises, like when the hero proposes several scenes earlier then expected.
  • Setting. My focus currently is on contemporary novels set in small towns on the coast of New England. Not unlike the town I grew up in, the small towns in my novels are infused with ocean air and small town gossip. Living far from home and not even in the United States, I bring myself back with photos I find on Flickr and Deviant Art and music that reminds me of home. In my novels, setting comes alive through the eyes of my characters. As the author, I need to know the place as well as they do. That means knowing who the town drunk is, how to get to the grocery store, and what the name of the high school mascot is. I might not draw maps or detail the town’s history but I aim to know that town as well as any other citizen.

Click on the link above to find a listing of the other writers participating in this blog series.



Getting to Know Your Characters – Jenna Peterson’s take on character development

The GMC Wizard – Shawntelle Madison’s neato tool to help you develop your character’s goal, motivation and conflict

Character Worksheet - Visit Tatiana Caldwell’s blog (another writer participating in this blog tour) to pick up her character worksheet


Novel Outlining 101 – Lynn Viehl’s article on how to outline your novel

Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure – Holly Lisle’s article on how to plot with notecards.

Outline your Novel in Thirty Minutes – Alicia Rasley’s article.


How Much of My World Do I Build – Holly Lisle’s workshop on worldbuilding

The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life – a great article on how to bring in your setting without underwhelming or overwhelming readers


Tatiana Caldwell said...

Looks like I missed this post last week somehow. And it's a good one, with links to GREAT resources. *takes lots of notes*

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