Tag Archive: multiple characters

Character Development: The Reaction Chart

Creating characters to populate your novel or screenplay is a lot of fun. You get to devise different backgrounds and opinions and alliances and secrets and all kinds of interesting stuff that brings the cast to life. But you can have the most detailed character sketches and richly drawn cast ever, and your story could still fall flat. How? It all comes down to how your characters react.

Character Reaction Chart

A couple months ago I wrote a post about how characters interact with each other (Character Development: The Interaction Chart). Today I’m focusing on how characters react to story events. This is especially relevant with ensemble casts who are together as a pair or group for much of the plot, common in such genres as horror, buddy comedies and heists.

I’ve created two types of Reaction Charts: General Emotions and Plot Points.

The General Emotions Reaction Chart

This one is handy for the brainstorming stage and/or the pantser who doesn’t plot out their story. Put the general emotional situations your characters will likely encounter together in the top row, and the character names in the left column. That top row will differ depending on what genre you’re writing. You can have as many columns as you need. Here are a couple examples I came up with…

General Emotions Reaction Chart — Comedy Reaction Chart - ComedyGeneral Emotions Reaction Chart — Horror

Reaction Chart - Horror

The point of making this chart is to ensure the characters don’t react the same. I was reading a book a couple weeks ago, a creepy horror that started off pretty good, but as the story went along I became bored. Why? Because even though the characters had different POVs and personalities, every time they faced the monster, they all reacted exactly the same way! Why have three characters if they’re all going to do the same thing? In my opinion, the fun of an ensemble horror is seeing how each character reacts, who is going to screw up, who is going to fight the monster, who is going to run from the monster, etc. If everyone reacts the same, you might as well just have one person encountering the monster (or going on the road trip, or robbing the bank, etc), and that simply isn’t as interesting.

The Plot Points Reaction Chart

This chart is for the plotter who made an outline, or for the pantser who is done their first draft and wants to check their characters’ reactions to actual story events. Basically, this is a handy way to see how each character reacts to the major plot points of the story. (For a review of these plot points, check out this post: The Basic Story Beats.)

Reaction Chart - Plot Points

The point of making this chart, besides to diversify your characters’ specific reactions to the plot, is to track how the characters’ reactions change as the story progresses. For example, a character who reacted by rushing into danger at the beginning might learn to hold back and plan first before confronting the enemy. We all know our characters should grow and change, but sometimes it’s hard to see how that is happening within 300+ pages. That’s why I find this chart so useful.

What about you? Do you chart your characters’ reactions? Or do you have another way to keep track? Let me know in the Comments!

 

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5 Tests for Writing Multiple POVs

Multiple POV means writing separate scenes from the viewpoints of different characters, staying in one character’s POV for an entire scene and not switching to another character’s POV until a new scene.

Stories with multiple POVs are difficult to write. I’ve read more books that attempted this technique and failed than books where multiple POVs not only worked but improved the story. But recently I began reading Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series and OH MY GOSH GUYS the first two books blew my mind with how well the multiple POVs were handled.

Unwind book series

Here’s a basic list of what Shusterman did right:

– Each POV character has a distinct outlook on the situation (main plot problem and world of the story).
– Each POV character has a unique role to play that affects the main plot.
– Each POV character has a fascinating and fully flushed out character arc (they change).
– Each POV character has their own complete storyline (no one is a mere sidekick to the others).

These are all great things to have in your novel even if you’re not telling it from multiple points of view, but if you are, these things become absolutely essential. Now the big question: if you’re writing a novel with multiple POVs, how do you know if you’re pulling it off? Well, I’ve made a little test for that.

Test That POV – is it warranted or unnecessary?

1) Does this POV character disagree with the other POV characters? Even if they’re pals, they better not have the same outlook or their POVs are redundant. The foundation of great multiple POV stories are characters with wildly different opinions and perspectives on the same situation.

2) Does this POV character give the reader crucial information regarding the main plot that could not come from another character? If yes, then you have a legit reason for telling the story from their POV. If another character could give (or worse does give) the reader the same information or perform the same actions, then this POV character is unnecessary.

3) Does this POV character change by the end of the story? If no, then this person isn’t affected enough by the plot to warrant telling the story through their eyes. Stick to POV characters who are deeply affected and changed by the story because readers will care about them more, and caring is what keeps people reading!

4) Is this POV character the hero of their own story? In other words, if you took away the other POVs, would this character still tell a complete story? For example, in Unwind the three main POV characters are Connor, Risa and Lev. If we only had Connor’s POV, we’d still have a complete story with an inciting incident, rising action, crisis and resolution, we just wouldn’t know as much about the situation (i.e. everything that happens outside of Connor’s viewpoint). Same if we followed just Risa or Lev. All of these characters could have carried the whole novel from just their POV, but the story is richer because their individual plots weave together. If a POV character couldn’t be the hero and carry the story, then they’re unnecessary.

If you’ve done this test and concluded that your POV characters are all necessary or discovered POVs that weren’t and cut them, the last thing to do is write a few scenes that switch between the POVs. But before you give these pages to beta readers, take out identifying names and gender hints. Replace all names with “Character” and all gender identifying pronouns with “they”, and ask your beta readers this:

Test That POV – is it distinct?

5) How many POVs did you read?

If you had four POV characters but your beta readers only identified two, a couple of your characters’ voices are too similar. Find out which ones and work on making them distinct.

It’s a lot of work to write novels with multiple POVs, but if done right, you might just blow some lucky reader’s mind. (Thanks Neal Shusterman!)

 

Footnote: For those who’ve read UnWholly, you know there are DOZENS of POV characters, too many to be heroes most people would argue. After all, some of these POVs are only used once or twice! However, each POV character is majorly affected by the story, even if just for that scene, and each experiences a change and gives the reader information no other character could know. So, impossible as it sounds, this test actually works on that novel. Honestly, that book blows my mind!

 

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