If your character changes throughout a story, it can be difficult to track their development. This is especially true in longer works, or if multiple characters undergo complex changes.
Solving this issue is deceptively simple. All you need to do is make a list of the changes each character has and link them to events in the story. At a minimum, jot down these five things about a character:
Character’s state at the beginning (the lie they believe)
Character’s state at the end (the truth they discover)
Event(s) that show the beginning state (living the lie)
Event(s) that drive the change (discovery of the truth)
Event(s) that show the ending state (acceptance of the truth)
By linking the changes to specific events (scenes, actions, even just a bit of dialogue), you will show the why and how of the change to the reader, and you will be able to identify any incomplete or unexplored character arcs.
Spreadsheets can be helpful for laying out the information:
In many cases, you will have a single character go through multiple arcs. For example, if this was a longer piece of writing, Benjamin could also struggle with his relationship with his mother, which ultimately drove his clingy nature. Just add a new row on the spreadsheet (or another set of bullet points).
For a novel, imagine if this story was told via switching the point of view between the two characters, and each could have a dozen or more changes that they go through in this life-altering encounter. Keeping track of it all would be a hassle, but now you know how!
In the Google Docs link below, you’ll find a combined list, without duplicates, of all the winners and nominees of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for Best Novel. The novels are sorted by author’s last name (to aid in book shop hunts).
Feel free to save your own copy using “File -> Make a copy”. With your own copy, you can use the green filter icons at the top of each column to sort or filter the table by that column. For example, if you only wanted to see winners, and not nominees, you would filter by the first “won/nom” column for only “won”.
If you are interested in chatting about novel writing, check out our Discord Server, The Library, a chatroom for fiction writers. Discord is a free and easy-to-use chat application for the web, desktop, and mobile devices.
How do you become a better writer, anyway? This is a question we see frequently. It’s fairly straightforward.
STUDY. Read books and articles on how to write. If you only write, without learning how, you’ll waste time generating a large quantity of low quality work. This work may be fixed in editing, but it’s much more efficient to write the best first draft you can. We have a good list of learning resources on our Resources page.
READ. Study the work of good writers, especially in the genre you want to write. Combined with a study of writing techniques, you will see how writers construct stories that entertain their readers. Remember, you are writing for your reader—not for yourself! Pay attention to what the writer is doing, and how it affects you as a reader. Take notes if you want, and review them at the end. Studying high-quality writing is crucial: check out the National Book Awards, or for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, or any other relevant literary awards.
WRITE. Practice your writing skills, especially short stories. You can start a huge novel project, but a better choice is usually a series of short works such as journal entries, short stories, or articles. Short pieces are faster to write and edit, so there is less risk of burnout, and you will be able to see your progress as you improve. Writing prompts can be helpful if you are not sure what to write about. We have thousands of writing prompts available via a chat bot on our Discord server as well as monthly short story themes.
EDIT. Most of the work of writing is really editing. You may edit as you go, or edit at the end, but most first drafts need a lot of editing. Give yourself permission to write bad first drafts, then polish them into decent second drafts, better third drafts, and so on. Most successful authors revise their work dozens of times before it is published. Editing or critiquing the work of others, and having your own work edited or critiqued, can help you see your blind spots. Studying, reading, writing, and editing (as above) will build your skills so that you can give good critique, and understand the critique that people give you. We have active writing and critique discussion on our Discord Server.
That’s it, those are the steps! The rest is up to you: be disciplined and spend the time to build your skills—or don’t, and you won’t.
You don’t have to do those steps separately; you may get better results and find it more interesting to switch between the different tasks as needed. Just make sure not to neglect any of them and you’ll be on your way. Good luck!
You can also create diagrams for one single character, sometimes called a “mind map” of all the things that describe a character. Images can be helpful. Here’s one for Harry Potter.
Another type of helpful diagram is a plot diagram. Here are a few from around the internet that break up some popular movies into the standard three-act structure.
Your plot may not actually follow this structure, and that’s OK. As long as it’s a good read, you can do whatever you want. The point is that diagramming it can lead to insight into how to outline or edit your story.
Here’s the structure for The Matrix (above) and Thelma and Louise (below) for some examples.
Hopefully these examples will give you some ideas about how you can think about outlining and editing your story visually, as well as with the more standard spreadsheets and bullet-point outlines. Now back to writing!