I want to see characters grow. Change. Struggle. Thrive.
I’ll outline a story to a point, but then it’s up to the characters to carry out the actions or encounter the people or events I’ve set up. Sometimes those characters change what was in my expected outline. Since I frequently write scenes out of order, that means I have a lot of documents lying around with thousands of words I’ll never use. Often the outline gets cast aside at some point, a skeleton of its former self as I focus on what the characters are doing or the roadblocks I put in their way.
Unlike outlines, I constantly edit my query letters. Yes, sometimes I do it to ensure I’m following a particular agent’s guidelines, but other times it’s because I know I can improve them. (If I’m honest, improvement is a factor every time.) Sure, a lot of wordcrafting is involved. However, recently the focus has been shifting. I want my books to be about people. People in fantastical places and/or with fantastical abilities running into fantastical situations, but people nonetheless. Much of what I write is plot-driven, yet I want to learn about the characters trapped within that plot, and I hope I never sacrifice character development for the sake of plot. If I do, revision alarms better be going off in my head.
Writing pitches for #PitMad and #SFFpit revealed a few unexpected things for me in one of my novels. Those pitches drove me to create an outline of an already-written book not about the plot, but about the growth of one of the characters. It followed her evolution from someone who reacted to the things that happened around her to someone who made those things happen, who took control of her life and made hard but clear choices about the next step she would take.
Of course, that meant I had to go back to the novel and make sure she consistently followed this outline. Surprisingly, the course of events remained about the same. Instead, I had to fix her thoughts, her dialogue, even her body language as her motivations and her beliefs became clearer in my mind. In the process, she became a more crisp character on paper.
Now I can’t wait to give her another book. I may have to spend some time outlining other characters today.