This is something I’ve been doing tonight as a means of focusing my thoughts and centering myself on the story at hand. Because really, it’s the characters who matter. You get them, and the story will fall into place. But if the characters are weak, the plot will be, as well.
So…these aren’t new, you’ve probably seen them elsewhere, but it’s a good exercise in basics:
1. Who is your character?
2. What does your character want?
3. How is your character going to get what he/she/it wants?
Simple questions—and If you know in your gut what you’re doing, these will be easy to answer and flesh out. Quite the opposite, if you’ve got a blank spot in your head when it comes to Jane or John Doe. But it’s good you find out those issues. Good to attack them, even if you’d rather just keep pushing ahead, trying to muddle through (which works sometimes—and is easier if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands).
Here’s something else to remember. Don’t do this exercise just once and think you’re off the hook. Maybe you will be. Maybe the book won’t change from its initial vision to the page, not even after the 100,000 word long haul. But I’ve found, in my limited experience, that the answers can evolve over the development of a book—and then you need to reevaluate. Don’t be afraid to do that—to refocus, to clarify. Nothing wrong with playing things by ear—as long as you know what you’re playing at.
And, like I did tonight, you might just get inspired.