Chapter Prewriting Guide: Essential Character Inventory, by Kristen C. Strocchia

checklist-2470549_1280As Darcy Pattison likes to say, no character comes into a chapter or scene neutral. So, as the author, there are a few things that I need to be aware of before sitting to write the next chapter or scene of a character’s story:

First of all, who are the characters in this chapter? Orson Scott Card, in his book Character and Viewpoint, talks about the characters who must be there and the ones who might be. It’s important to consider both, to know why these characters must or might be present and how they interact with one another and the plot.

Second, what is the main character (MC) feeling right now? This emotion is not a random cosmic hiccup or an arbitrary feeling fit by the author. It should flow justifiably from the emotional set-up of the preceding chapter, which possibly hails from a deep-rooted character trait and of course backstory. This emotion can and probably will change as the chapter unfolds and each other character is introduced to the scene.

Third, what is the tension in this chapter? And how does my character respond to this tension? The MC will have overall goals, stakes, and conflict propelling the novel, but what is the particular tension in this chapter that will keep the MC on edge and readers right there turning pages with them?

Fourth, when and where is this chapter occurring? Just like no character emotes in a vacuum, no character reacts in a black hole. Knowing whether it is light or dark out, just before breakfast or just after, in a desert or a frozen tundra makes a hug difference in how the character will respond.

By taking the time to consider these things, I can ensure—even in a first draft—that the emotional path and reaction choices stay more consistent with the character than if I just write through my plot outline. Not only that, but I can take this inventory a step deeper before putting pen to paper and ask: is this combination of MUST be, MIGHT be, justifiable emotion, chapter tension and setting the best possible choice for fleshing out this character? Does it serve both the character development arc and story arc? Is it absolutely essential?

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