Editor Roundtable: Bite Size Edition – Character Development

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Welcome to the Bite Size Edition of the Editor Roundtable Podcast. Here on the Roundtable we’re dedicated to helping you become a better writer, following the Story Grid method developed by Shawn Coyne. In these episodes we bring you some shorter solo articles and interviews on topics that interest us as writers. 

In this episode, Valerie Francis and Leslie Watts discuss character development.

 

 

A few weeks ago, we had a listener question about how to develop characters. That’s not a storytelling principle we’ve spent any time talking about here on the podcast, but it’s certainly something we’ve studied in our own practices. Our regular episodes are so packed with information that we only have a few minutes to answer questions, but we thought this one was worthy of further study.

The question, simply put, is how do we develop characters?

There are lots of character sheets floating around—Scrivener even has one. But those things are focused on the external and superficial aspects of a character. We need to focus on who the character is on the inside because the truth is that characters aren’t developed, they’re revealed. 

As Valerie began working on her novel, she developed a new type of character sheet to help her discover who her characters are. There are seven key points to consider when developing a character, and the first one is objects of desire. 

  • What does the character want and need?
  • Why do they want and need these things?
  • What’s standing in the way of them getting it? (In other words, what are the forces of antagonism at play?)

To get a copy of the full character sheet, sign up to Valerie’s inner circle, at valeriefrancis.ca/innercircle or connect with Leslie at Writership.com. Today we’ve focused on the theory of objects of desire in character development, but on our Un-Podcast, we’ll go further and apply these principles to a story so you can see how they really work. And you can access those episodes in the same locations, at valeriefrancis.ca/innercircle or Writership.com.

Join us next week for another episode in which we’ll all deepen our knowledge of story and level up our craft.

Want to keep reading? Check out another article from Story Grod on Character Development.

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

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About Leslie Watts

Leslie Watts is a certified Story Grid editor, writer, and podcaster. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember: from her sixth-grade magazine about cats to writing practice while drafting opinions for an appellate court judge. When the dust settled after her children were born, she launched www.Writership.com to help writers unearth the treasure in their manuscripts. She believes writers become better storytellers through practice, and that editors owe a duty of care to help writers with specific and supportive guidance to meet reader expectations and express their unique gifts in the world.

About Valerie Francis

Valerie Francis is a Certified Story Grid Editor and best-selling author of both women’s and children’s fiction. She’s been a Story Grid junkie since 2015 and became a certified editor so that she can help fellow authors become better storytellers. To learn how to put story theory into practice join Valerie's inner circle: valeriefrancis.ca/innercircle
Story Grid 101: The Five First Principles of the Story Grid Methodology
by Shawn Coyne
What are the first principles in writing a story that works? At Story Grid, it’s easy to get distracted by the tools, spreadsheets, commandments, macro lense, micro lense, and on and on. However, all of this eventually comes back to five first principles. In Story Grid 101, Story Grid founder Shawn Coyne distills 30 years... Read more »
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Comments
By Leslie Watts and Valerie Francis

16 Comments

julekucera says:

Valerie and Leslie,

Thank you so much for this episode!

I especially appreciated the distinction between characterization and character, and the idea that the antagonist is actually a gift to the protagonist, to strip away the protagonist’s characterization so that the protagonist can more fully develop into who they really are—their true character.

This stuff is so cool!

Jule

Reply
Leslie Watts says:

Thank you, Jule! We appreciate hearing what’s most useful to you.

Reply
Drew Emery (@InlawsOutlaws) says:

Thank you Leslie and Valerie! I loved this episode. There’s a fair degree of overlap with Laurie Hutzler’s Character Mapping technique, a way of tying the mask and genuine self into the want and the need, and then mapping that over a three-act structure. Regardless, it’s the same dynamics at play, understanding character by what drives them.

The episode also got me thinking differently about the term “character development.” Before, I thought of it exclusively in terms of the writer developing what they needed in their characters. But now I also see it as the character being further revealed through action and ultimately via crisis – the development, in this case being from the reader point of view. So when we think of all the ways we plant small bits early in a story that reward the reader in the ending payoff, so too can it be with character.

Reply
Leslie Watts says:

You’re welcome, Drew! Great insight! It’s a very special form of conversation.

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Valerie Francis says:

Hi Drew,

I haven’t heard of Laurie Hutzler’s Character Mapping technique. I’ll take a look once I’ve finished writing my thriller (I’ve got to be disciplined and focussed during the writing phase because otherwise, I’ll be distracted by every new shiny object – lol!). I’m so glad to hear that this episode was helpful for you. I’m starting to think of it as character revelation rather than character development, since what we’re doing is revealing who the character has been all along.

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Drew Emery (@InlawsOutlaws) says:

That is exactly right on, Valerie. It’s all about revelation… and, conversely, withholding.

But first it starts with us knowing and understanding, which is where you and Leslie are doing much to help the likes of me. Good luck with the thriller!

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Miles White says:

Another great discussion that has helped me reformulate the idea of what the ‘force of antagonism’ can be. Thank you.

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Leslie Watts says:

Fantastic, Miles! I’m so glad this is useful! Valerie has more excellent insights on forces of antagonism to come in other season 6 episodes. Stay tuned!

Reply
Carol Painter says:

Great episode that had me engaged and thinking right from the start. Thanks so much – especially for the respectful and intelligent interplay between the two of you.
I’d love to download the worksheet Valerie has created but depite connecting to both your websites, I can’t for the life of me work out how to request it. Help! Looking forward to parts 2 and 3. Carol

Reply
Leslie Watts says:

You’re welcome, Carol! We’ve had a slight technical glitch, but if you join Valerie’s Inner Circle or the Captain’s Blog (or both!) (links above), you won’t miss the character sheet or the next episodes.

Reply
Valerie Francis says:

Hi Carol,
The character sheet went out to you as download in an email on January 25, 2020. At the time of writing this message (March 4, 2020) new subscribers get the sheet as part of an autoresponder series. However, I’m in the process of setting things up a little differently in the inner circle so that members can easily find the resources and un-podcast episodes. That should be up and running in the next week or so (at which time, Leslie and I will officially launch the un-podcast). I’ll be sending out an email to all inner circle members to show you what to do.

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Lissa Johnston says:

Very helpful for only a bite-size! My favorite tip is about gradually stripping away the veneer, and how we as authors must be very selective in what and how we choose to reveal that inner character.

I have a question about Walter White. I think you say his WANT is third party validation, but wouldn’t that be his NEED, and his WANT is to succeed as a drug kingpin and provide for his family? IDK. Still sorting out the differences between Want and Need.

Thanks again for a great episode. Very helpful.

Reply
Leslie Watts says:

You’re welcome, Lissa! I’m so glad this is helpful. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your favorite tip! (It helps us to know which information is really landing.)

Reply
Valerie Francis says:

Hi Lissa,

Excellent question. I think Walter White wants 3rd party validation because that’s the real reason he does what he does. Initially he says it’s for money for his family but the real reason is discovered when he tells Jesse he’s building an empire (I think that’s at the beginning of season 5). He doesn’t have a burning desire to be a drug lord. He has a burning desire to have his skill as a chemist recognized. That’s what he wants. He wants other people to recognize his skill. He’s a Nobel Prize winning scientist who has been toiling away, barely making ends meet, while his 2 colleagues enjoy fame and fortune. He wants a piece of that.

Hope this helps!

Reply

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