Thursday, March 20, 2014

Character Mapping

Ernie Bisquets is an accomplished pickpocket, plying his trade in the affluent Mayfair section of London. Always impeccably dressed, and well versed in the current topics of interest to the swells he targets, he is able to blend in amongst them without raising a suspicious brow. He has his own code of honor ‘I don’t steal from those who can’t afford it’, and always thinks twice before putting himself or others in danger.  Likable, philosophical & pragmatic, streetwise, capable, and knowledgeable in his own fashion. He suffered hardship in life, never knowing his father and losing his mother at an early age, but has kept his kindness toward others and a positive attitude. Etc., etc., etc.
This is character mapping, one of the most important aspects in story creation. Besides the basic physical appearance of a character, you need to map the background, cause and affect of motivation, and, most importantly, how they interact with all the other characters. A simple grid can accommodate this last portion of the mapping, but for the essentials try this link- It’s rather extensive, but for complex characters you’ll need all the background you can dream up. For most characters you won’t need to fill in the entire chart at first, but as your story progresses you can continue to fill in as needed. All this is extremely helpful for a character series.
Once the backgrounds are established you can move on to relationships. I use a basic chart for this. Starting with character #1, chart their relationship with character #2, character #3, etc. After that, move on to character #2, charting their relationship with character #1, character #3, character #4, etc.  Do this until you’ve got a sound relationship between all your characters.
To continue this further, take your main characters–antagonist and protagonist–and detail what their intentions/motivations are, what obstacles are in their way, how they intend to overcome those obstacles, and who will ultimately triumph through the interaction between themselves and other characters. This will also give you the bones of a synopsis.
Once this is established, move on to your plot lines. How many plot lines in the story? The main plot is a given, but then there are the sub-plots. How do they affect the overall story? Which characters drive the plot lines? I find sub-plots to be an especially fun part of story creation. Taking what appears to be an unimportant plot diversion at the beginning of the story and weaving a specific aspect of it into the main story for that “Aha!” moment near the end is always exciting. Think of these little sub-plots as great foreshadowing tools.
Now, down to the writing. Like anything else, there is always more than one way to do something. Sift through all the advice that’s out there, but you need to find your own voice. As for the mechanics, some writers work from detailed outlines, some just forge ahead with a basic idea and a keyboard. You also need to figure this out for yourself. As for me, I start out with a basic synopsis of the story, and write a three of four line outline for the first three chapters. Once these are underway I let the characters takeover, continuing to jot down additional chapter outlines as we move along. My thought here is–if the twist in a chapter surprises me, it will probably surprise my readers.
Above all this advice is one basic rule, never give up. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Take the criticism in stride, pull from it what you can to make the story better, and then keep at it until it’s published.

Look for Passage Of Crime, 3rd book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Available now!

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