Mapping Your Characters

Aug 26, 2018

Character Arcs.

With important supporting characters in a novel, we like to go on a journey of discovery. So if you know one character is fundamentally mean-spirited, make it possible, even just slightly, that she might be kind then move over the terrain of the novel to show us she is not. This movement brings life to your novel. If your main supporting characters have revelatory moral trajectories, the novel sings and dances.

Remember, the purpose of each character in your novel is to throw rocks at your main character. Those rocks can vary, some come as rock buns, some as lumps of granite, but rocks they are each and every one of them, forcing your main player to face reality.

Of course, some characters can remain irrevocably bad but probably not more than one or two or your politics are showing. (Bad time, bad people, bad place...) Equivocate won't you, to draw the reader into the book?

For each of my main characters I make the following notes. Giving them trajectories makes each one story-worthy:

From probably bad to possibly good.

From probably bad to probably good.

From probably bad to possibly bad.

From probably good to possibly bad.

From probably good to probably bad.

From probably good to possibly good. (A slight fall from grace.)

From possibly bad to possibly good.

From possibly bad to probably good.

From possibly bad to probably bad. 

From possibly good to probably good. (Make sure you have one of these.)

From possibly good to probably bad.

From possibly good to possibly bad.*

(*These are interesting characters blown about by events.)

And then of course, there are the most important senior cast roles which are stably good, and stably bad and don't change. They are the North and South poles of your world. Great novels have good and evil present. (Feel free to attenuate and demur if you're writing literary.)

Try and get a good spread of characters across the map of your novel's world. Consider where each of your cast falls using the tool which I have added as a download to lesson 17 in the Ninety Day Novel Course. (Cast Away!)

Looking at your spread is a really good way of checking the reality of your moral intentions as author. You might spot the hole that will sink the ship.

If you have too many characters in the 'bad' quadrants of the tool I've shared with you, you’ve got a personal problem with your novel which will tell in the end. You'll be wasting your time. Great novels are big-hearted. 

Doing this exercise helps you see your story clearly. So do it, pin it up, and enjoy your writing. It should help everything fall into place. Once you know your characters journeys, what they want and where they're going, you're ready to roll in any given scene.

If you liked this 'lesson', you'll love The Ninety Day Novel ® at This is the kind of lesson you're served by text and by video (with a certain novelist in her prime) addressing you daily with what you need to know and do that day to develop your novel as you write it.)

Back to School.

Kritikme is Back to School next week with members heads down all the way to a finished first draft, or second draft and pre-Xmas submission to agents or publishers. Yes, you can start and finish a novel in 2018 and be super-smug at New Years Eve. You'll have a great sense of achievement.

Now's the time to browse the courses and options available to you:

If you'd like to dig deep and originate a big story, go for The Classic.

If you have your idea and need to pace your writing and stretch yourself, then enjoy daily inspiration and step by step guidance with The Ninety Day Novel Course.

Join us for now for the free gentle warm up to the courses. Simply opt in to receive the Sunday blog and you'll receive the free trial.

Your Back to School packing list is now at our Facebook page.

If you need the support of fellow writer, join us as a member.

Make this year count, get that novel done in 2018. There's still time.

'And all of my girls are la crème de la crème.'

(Muriel Spark's 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' is one of the books we look at on the course - she wrote it in 4 weeks. Go girls!)

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