How I let my characters save my ending.


This morning I shared a post expressing gratitude that one of my characters had saved the ending of my current novel.

I wanted to also share the process of how I got there, because I found it quite helpful to overcome a point where my narrative had become entirely unmanageable.

I spent about 3 days doing what I called a "motivational breakdown." In short, it's just a twist on writing character sheets for each of your characters. But I took it in the specific context of my current predicament. The process looked something like this for each character. For every single character that had any influence on my ending, I rewrote a specially tailored character sheet from a "where we stand now" perspective, and incorporated some mixture of the following steps:

Write a flavor quote for the character.

This was my first step for every character. It's the only step I never skipped for any of my characters. It helped me to bring each character into focus. It helped me to both see and hear them before I got started with the hard parts.

Make bullet lists of their goals and motivations.

The goal is the what, and the motivation is the why. For some characters I started with their goals. For others I started with their motivations. Do whatever feels right, here.

Write a mini-scene/journal entry from their perspective.

The important thing here is to try and use the character's voice as much as possible in the scene. These don't have to be in the context of your current scenes. For some, I wrote scenes from their past. For others, I wrote snippets of upcoming scenes. Whatever came to mind quickly. Don't dally in a single scene. Write what comes easiest.

Don't be afraid to write more than one scene, if more come to mind.

Context-specific quotes

I needed to sample out things the character might say in upcoming scenes. Things that would give me a seed for a specific scene and give me ideas for where I could go.

What would they do if they they suddenly overcame one of their character flaws?

This is a particularly enlightening question to ask yourself when plotting out a novel's climax.

The end of a novel is a great place to have a character overcome one of their critical flaws. Ask each character what they would do if they chose that moment to try and finally overcome theirs. Maybe one of them will surprise you and steal some scenes.

Plot their endgame

This may sound just like plotting goals/motivations, but I think there's a key distinction. A character's goals and motivations can be ideal-scenarios, and might not account for the interference of your antagonists (or even other protagonists).

I asked myself three questions.

Where do I want this character to end up? (What will be a compelling point to wrap up this character's personal arc?)

Where does this character want to end up? (Can I aim them in that direction? Should I?)

Where do my other characters want this character to end up? (Will they interfere? Will they support? Will they be preoccupied with their own problems?)

By the end of this, it was easy for me to rework the outline of the last stretch of my novel. I literally rewrote it in 10 minutes once I finished the above process for all the players on the field.

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