Develop Your Story By Listening To Your Cast

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develop your story

You can listen to your cast of characters at any stage in the writing process, but it might be especially useful near the end when most of the story is fleshed out. It can be a good check of your story logic and add a last ingenious layer of polish.

Are you stuck developing your story? Are you looking to add more details, weave plot points together, or answer unresolved questions? Do you want to enrich the plot with more hooks, twists, reveals, or surprises?

Do you still have to figure out how all the elements of your story coalesce — or do you need a final creative burst to smooth out all the edges?

Here’s a trick: Listen to your cast of characters.

Think of your characters as your cast

Imagine your characters coming to life and sitting in the room with you. Perhaps you are used to seeing characters in your mind acting out what is happening, but how often do you put everyone in the same picture?

The first benefit is to think deeply about all your characters as a “cast.” What really matters in the end is how your characters interact, hero and villain, lover and loved, parent and child, in pairs and in groups.

How does each act around the other and why? Do they act differently in pairs or groups than alone? Why? Why do you need each and every character? What do they offer the story?

Test your timeline

After thinking about your cast as a whole, think about them acting within your story timeline. What is each one doing off the page?

What is the villain doing while the hero is on the page? What is the hero doing when the villain is on the page?

Go through each scene and check. Who is on the page and who is off? For those who are off, where are they and why? What could they be doing? What should they be doing? This kind of sanity check and opportunity to brainstorm can often lead to story inspiration.

Do all the trajectories of your characters through the story make sense? Is your timeline sound?

Check your ending

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Do you know your ending so well that each character can tell it in exquisite detail from his/her own perspective? If you are having trouble getting to the end of the story, this is one way to see it from a new perspective.

Mulling over your story in hindsight helps transform the “what ifs” you might still be considering into solid decisions and facts.

What if you ask each of your characters for their version of “let me tell you what happened.” Maybe you’ll discover a new angle on the essence of the story.

Take notes or write out these short summaries — they can provide great new material. This is about seeing the story from a bird’s eye view, after it has hardened into fact.

What will the hero say? His love interest? The villain? How does the hero’s sidekick see it? Or the waitress at the deli who is in only three scenes?

How does each person spin what happened? What do they highlight and what will they leave out? How do they talk about the other characters?

Do some characters have too much to say and others not enough? Do you need to bulk up or cut some of the roles? Maybe merge characters or add a foil for a character who isn’t shining enough yet?

Are you inspired to create new plot details? “Ah! You were there on the night of the murder!” or “You need to be there on the night of the murder!”

If you know where you want to end up, the path to completion is much easier. Keep talking to your cast about the ending until you shore up all the details.

Check for change

Ask your cast to ponder how different they all are compared to where you placed them at the start of the story.

What secrets did they divulge? What secrets do they learn? What new people did they meet? Where did they go that they hadn’t been before? What new skills did they pick up? What regrets do they suffer?

Did they save anyone or anything — or themselves? Did each one like how things ended or want a different version? How can you further build your story based on what you hear?

This is a great way to maximize the amount of change each character experiences.

Over the finish line

You can listen to your cast of characters at any stage in the writing process, but it might be especially useful near the end when most of the story is fleshed out. It can be a good check of your story logic and add a last ingenious layer of polish.

This method of listening to your cast on and off the page might just slide those last puzzle pieces together or help you uncover a great plot twist. At best, it might confirm you have everything in place and that your book is ready to go out the door.

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Dawn Field

About Dawn Field

Dawn Field has written 86 posts in this blog.

Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing. She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor. Her first book, Biocode, was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Contact her at unityinwriting@gmail.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Very valuable information; thank you.
    At one level or another, I had been touching on some of these points. To see it all spelled-out, that just clarified the process for me. I have already put a few questions down, for my cast to ponder.
    Again, most appreciated.

    D A Barr

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