5 Questions for Character Growth

Readers want to see character growth and change through the course of the story. This is the character arc of your story. Character growth can be as simple as having your heroine realize she doesn’t need a man in her life to be happy, or as complex as overcoming the childhood trauma of abuse.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself either before you begin to write or during.

  • What is my protagonist’s/antagonist’s overall goal in the story?
  • What change in my characters do I want to make happen as she/he journeys toward the goal?
  • What obstacles can I throw in the way to help my character grow? These can be internal or external.
  • What is the character’s goal in this scene?
  • How does the conflict in this scene affect change in my character?

As in life, it usually isn’t any one thing, but a combination of happenings that bring about change/growth in our lives. So it is with your story characters. These five questions will get you on your way to creating characters readers can connect with.

I highly recommend Nancy Kress’s book Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint. Check the link to the right for more information (affiliate link).

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013


Use Art to Spur Your Creativity

fire escapeTake a look at the picture above. What’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Danger? A bygone era? What ever your thought was, the fact is the picture triggered that thought. That is the creativity of your mind in action.

Now think about how you can use what’s in this photo in your work in progress.

  • Can the building serve as a location for one of my scenes? Where is this, what is this, what did it used to be?
  • Can your protagonist elude capture by climbing up the fire escape? Climbing down?
  • Was your antagonist once trapped here as child? If so, how? As a kidnap victim? Was the building on fire? Was she/he homeless?
  • What would your antagonist and protagonist think about this building? Spend 15 minutes writing in your voice journal for each character.
  • How can I use this building to bring conflict to a scene and my characters?

When you’re stuck on a plot point or feel your story is dragging, step away from your writing and visit a local art gallery or do some web surfing to galleries. Use the pictures to inspire you and spur your creativity.

As you meander through the exhibits, ask yourself the questions above and anything else that comes to mind. What is the potential conflict this setting can bring to my story? Even what appears to you as the most tranquil scene can spark conflict in your character if he/she associates that scene with bad experiences.

Be sure to take along a notebook or digital recorder so you can record your thoughts. Who knows, you might even find the gallery you visit to be a perfect scene location.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013


Ideas and Issues

What really gets under your skin? What issues make you want to speak up and shout to the crowd “This is wrong”? Politics, the environment, abortion, getting robbed, cruelty to animals?

Every story needs conflict, and because there are at least two sides to every issue. That means your protagonist feels one way and your antagonist feels the opposite. So your passions hold a treasure trove of ideas.

To mine these ideas:

  • Make a list of your passions
  • Pick an issue, and pick sides to that issue
  • Determine an argument to defend your position
  • Create an opposing argument
  • Create characters that will fit those arguments

Now put them in an antagonistic setting and let them come out fighting.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

How Do Plot and Scene Work Together, Part 2


What goes into a scene? All the same things that go into plot: characters, goals, conflict, and setbacks, on a smaller scale.

Scenes require action, and action comes through your character’s attempts to meet her ultimate goal (aka objective). A setback occurs when the conflict encountered obstructs the character’s immediate goal (scene goal).

In my previous example, the protagonist’s objective was [Read more…]

How do Plot and Scene Work Together? Part 1

Many writers struggle with plot, including me. We envision the end product and wonder how we’re going to get there. But much like a chef, our work has basic elements. The chef has meat, veggies, dairy, and spices. He combines these to create a delectable, unforgettable dish. The writer has characters, goals, conflict, and setbacks, and blends them to create a riveting (best-selling, we hope) novel.

At its very basic, plot is characters attempting to reach goals, but who meet with conflict and setbacks along the way. Whether you are a writer who [Read more…]

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