Characters and Plot – Make Your Characters Work For You.

Why do people read novels?

I think people read to find out what happens next. But what happens next is only interesting if it the “what happens next” involves characters or something important to a character.

Characters ARE your story. They act and react. They create emotion. They show motivation. Without any of this, you don’t have a story. That’s a tall order for your characters. So how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of them?

You edit your story and rewrite until your characters are performing at their best.

Characters and Novel Structure

Once you’ve finished your first draft, you most likely know who your characters are, what they look like, where they work, and so on. But what about how they fit into your story structure? To understand this and make the most of it, you must evaluate your characters in the context of the structure of your novel.

By this point, you know if you’re writing from first-person point of view (POV) or third person. You’ve also decided if you’re writing from multiple points of view. In essence, you know who is telling your story.

When thinking about the POV character for each scene, ask yourself:

  • What is the POV external goal for the scene?
  • What is the POV internal goal for the scene?
  • How does the goal relate to the plot?
  • What happens if your POV fails to achieve the goal?
  • How does scene impact your POV character?
  • How does the scene impact your protagonist (if not the POV for the scene?)

Once you’ve answered the questions, check each scene to ensure the reader will understand the answers. You can show, tell, or imply the answers. It’s up to you to find the right balance. You’re the creative one!

The more important an event, the more you should show the reader what’s happening. “Tell” the less important events, so the reader can move on to the good stuff.

Taking on the task of editing and rewriting your first draft doesn’t have to be overwhelming. A bit of organization will help you complete your rewrite without it taking forever. We created Fictionary to help writers perform their own story edit in a knowledgable and efficient manner.

Below is a look at my work-in-progress, Evolution, within Fictionary. Fictionary helps me focus on my characters on a scene-by-scene basis. It keeps me from convincing myself a scene is okay.

When I review each scene with a focus on the POV character’s goal for example, I know what my character wants. If a character doesn’t want something, the scene will lack tension, and hence be boring. In the scene below, Jaz Cooper has the POV. Once I know the goal, I can decide if she will achieve her goal or not. Sometimes she will. Sometimes she won’t.

I can assess her external goal versus her internal goal. The reader may or may not know what the internal goal is, but if I do, I can be consistent with my character throughout the novel.

It takes work, but I’m serious about making my story a great story, so to me, it’s worth putting in the time and effort. I’ll evaluate each scene focussing on characters, then I’ll evaluate with a focus on plot and setting.

Characters Per Scene

Fictionary shows you how many characters are in each scene. This gives you a chance to determine if you have too many characters in a scene. Too many characters might confuse your reader.

Scenes Per Character

Fictionary will also show you how many scenes each character is in and the order they appear in the novel. You can see I have 33 characters in my novel.

Jaz Cooper is in 85 scenes (good news for me as she’s the protagonist). Eighty-five is the maximum number of scenes a character is in. The minimum number of scenes a character appears in is 1. Dr. Patron is an example of a character who appears once.

Jaz is the first character to appear in the novel. Also good news. The less important a character is, the later he/she can appear in the story.

Fictionary is the first online tool for editing your story, not just your words. Think characters, plot, and settings. Find out more at

How Fictionary Works

A writer imports a manuscript. Fictionary automatically creates a character list, links characters to scenes, plots word count per scene, and draws a story arc.

The writer enters data regarding each scene, evaluates and edits the manuscript based the reports, and then exports the updated manuscript. The reports are dependent on the writer’s input and are created specifically for each manuscript. There are rewrite tips associated with each key element of fiction if you get stuck and need guidance.

Fictionary is designed for the serious author who wants to produce a high-quality manuscript.

Download our free eBook, Story Editing: 15 Key Elements of Fiction To Ensure Your Story Works and learn how story editing is all about evaluating the major components of your story.

Turn Your First Draft Into A Great Story

Try Fictionary for free. The first 10 days are on us. No credit card required.


Feedback For Fiction | Starting Your Rewrite With A Focus On Plot

Find out where to start your rewrite by focusing on plot first.

You’ve finished your first draft, and you’re about to embark on rewriting that draft, turning it into a novel readers will love. Now is the time to focus on story and structure. Word choice, style,…

Source: Feedback For Fiction | Starting Your Rewrite With A Focus On Plot

Write Better Fiction: Point of View Goal and Plot

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover How the Point of View Scene Goal Relates to Overall Plot. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor. Check the bottom of this post for links to previous Write Better Fiction articles.

The column in the spreadsheet has long title, and if you can think of a better one let me know.

This is column where I analyze both the internal and external goal of the point of view character.

Each scene has a point of view character. This character must have a goal for the scene. If there is no goal, then what is the character doing?

Let’s deal with the external goal first. This is the goal the reader is aware of.

Finding a murderer is Kalin’s main goal throughout DESCENT. She also has goals within each scene where she holds the point of view. In the opening scene her external goal is to go skiing. Her internal goal is to be good at her job.

The reader is shown Kalin wants to go skiing. She doesn’t achieve this goal because a skier falls and is terribly hurt. She has to put her own wants aside and deal with the situation. This is the start of Kalin’s journey of searching for a murderer. At the time she doesn’t know she is witness to a crime, she’s only thinking of taking care of the skier. The external goal of skiing places her on the hill at the time the skier falls.

Kalin’s internal goal is to be good at her job. In the opening scene, she doesn’t know yet this will involve chasing a murderer.

For each scene, think about how the POV character’s goal is related to the plot of the novel. If you don’t know the answer, perhaps the scene isn’t relevant to the story, or perhaps another character should have the POV for that scene.

Your scene may just need some updating. Can you strengthen the character’s goal? Is there a way to add a goal to the scene so it relates to the novel’s plot?

You can also use this column to check for consistency. Let’s say your character is a tea drinker, and you put the character’s scene goal as finding a cup of coffee. That should trigger you’ve made a mistake.

When you’ve finished the spreadsheet for each scene, you should be able to scan this column and find any entries that are weak.

Your challenge this week is to check the previous column for internal and external character goal and determine if that goal relates to the overall plot.

I critiqued DESCENT and BLAZE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Descent & Blaze

Please me know in the comments below if you found this exercise challenging. Did it help you write a tighter scene?

Thanks for reading…


Write Better Fiction: #1 Question To Ask About Characters In A Scene.

Are you trying to figure out how to self-critique your writing?

Write Better Fiction is a series focussing on how to give yourself feedback.

Last week on Write Better Fiction we covered using a spreadsheet to critique your manuscript.

As you remember, we broke each scene in a novel into three categories.

  1. PLOT

There are other elements of a scene I believe you’re better off getting feedback from people, meaning editors or beta readers, as opposed to using a spreadsheet to organize your thoughts, so if you think something is missing from my list, that’s probably why. But if you’re not sure, just let me know in the comments below and we can discuss the idea.

As promised, I’m going to give you the #1 question to ask yourself for each scene element under the category of CHARACTER.


According to my research, it’s generally agreed upon that each scene should be written from one character’s point of view (POV). Of course, it’s up to you if you want to follow that advice or not.

I believe you should make a conscious choice. If you want to keep your writing tight and the reader engaged, you should at least understand if you’re writing in one POV and if not, when you change POV do so consciously.

There are many books written about what POV, so I’m not going to cover the topic here. I’ll list some of the books I’ve read on point of view at the end of the blog.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 5.06.20 PM


Is the point of view in the best order for pacing?

If you write from only one POV, then you don’t need to include this column.

Let’s assume you have multiple POVs. You can quickly check the POV column and evaluate the order of the POV scenes.

If you plan to change POVs the generally accepted writing advice is to do so early in your novel. Making a POV change 50% into the novel might jar your reader out of the story.

Too many scenes in one POV before switching to another can cause the same issue.

The genre you write in may influence how you use this column. In a romance novel you might want to give the female and male protagonists (read love interests) alternating scenes. Check if you’ve done this and if they each got a fair number of scenes.


Once I’ve entered a POV for each scene, I sort the spreadsheet by that column. It now tells me how many POV scenes each character has and how many different points of view I’ve written in.

Who is your main protagonist? Does this character have the majority of scenes? If not,  evaluate whether this character should be your main protagonist. If the answer is yes, you can review scenes where the protagonist is not your POV and determine if you can rewrite the scene from his/her point of view.

How many point of view characters is too many? That’s up to you as a writer, but if you’re getting feedback from your readers that they have trouble keeping track of your characters or lose interest in the story because of a point of view change, then the spreadsheet can help you figure out how to improve.

Do you have any characters that only one scene where they are the point of view character? Here’s your chance to reduce the number of POVs. Review the scene and determine if you can write it from another character’s point of view, perhaps one that has quite a few scenes.

BOOKS I’ve read on POV:

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Next week I’ll share with you the #1 question to ask yourself about SETTING. Using a spreadsheet to force yourself to critique your own writing and give yourself feedback enabling you to write better fiction.

Please comment below and let me know what you think of the advice. Do you agree, disagree or do something different to evaluate point of view?

Thanks for reading…

Introducing Write Better Fiction

Introducing Write Better Fiction- Give Yourself Feedback On Your Manuscript

Feedback is an important part of the writing process. There are some elements of your novel you’ll need human feedback for, but there are others you can analyze on your own. Today, I’m kicking off a series called WRITE BETTER FICTION. Every Wednesday, I’ll post on the topic of self-critiquing.

Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, the thrilling moment will arrive when you’ve written a first draft.

Are you ready for beta readers to see your work for the first time?

How do you know when it’s time for an editor and a proofreader?

Are you thinking of hitting the publish button?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to share your writing with anyone until you’ve done your best to perfect it. Maybe you’ve read hundreds of writing books, maybe you’ve taken courses and information is spinning in your head, but how do you keep track of the knowledge and ensure you’re using what you’ve learned? With a spreadsheet, of course.

Writing Books
Some of my books


A novel is made of of scenes, and scenes are made up of elements. Over the years, I’ve created a spreadsheet, and every time I learned about a scene element, I added that element to my spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet consists of  65 columns. That may seem like a lot, but each element needs to be considered if you’re writing a scene for maximum reader engagement.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 5.06.20 PM

To make analyzing easier, I’ve broken the spreadsheet into three categories.

  1. PLOT

To quote James Scott Bell in his book, PLOT & STRUCTURE, he says,“Plot happens.” To me that means it’s the action of the story. So every element not included under CHARACTER or SETTING is grouped under PLOT.

Each of these categories has a set of elements, meaning when I work on a scene I can work on more than one element at a time. Over the next 65 weeks or so, I’m going to explain how I use each element in the spreadsheet to strengthen scenes, and thereby strengthen the novel. Hence this is the first in a series of blogs I’ll tag, “Write Better Fiction.”


Once I have a completed draft, I look at the most important element of each category. Today I’ll start with PLOT.

The first element under PLOT I evaluate is the purpose of the scene. The purpose of the scene must relate to the overall story. If it’s not driving the story forward, then ask yourself what is the point of including the scene in your novel.

Here are some examples of the way the purpose of a scene can drive the story forward. You can choose one of these to define your purpose or come up with your own definitions.

  • Is the inciting incident
  • Introduces characters
  • Creates an emotional connection between characters and reader
  • Provides character development
  • Establishes setting
  • Introduces or intensifies conflict
  • Builds suspense
  • Establishes mood
  • Reveals a clue
  • Shows a red herring
  • Is the climax
  • Provides resolution


I articulate the purpose of the scene first, so I can address other elements of the scene and test if they are in line with the purpose.

Let’s say you fill out the list of objects in a scene. You can weigh the objects against the purpose of the scene and see if there is a way to use them to further the purpose. This goes for revelations, tension, conflict, weather, etc. Basically, every scene element can be tested against the scene purpose.

After you whittle down the purpose of a scene to a few words, one of three things will happen.

  1. You’ve got the purpose nailed, and you understand why this scene is included in your novel.
  2. You have a weak purpose, but there is still some value in the scene.
  3. You have no idea what the purpose is.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 4.56.40 PMIf you landed on number 1, give yourself a gold star and move on to the next scene.

Number 2:  consider rewriting the scene, keeping the parts in the scene that further the plot. Or take the important bits and place them in another scene which has a strong purpose. You could also take two scenes with a weak purpose and combine them into one scene to create stronger purpose.

Number 3: consider removing the scene. We all end of with scenes that seemed relevant when we wrote them, but might not work within the novel as a whole. However, don’t delete the scene. Remember to store it somewhere. You’re next novel might have a place for it.


I don’t use my spreadsheet to evaluate voice, dialogue, balance, style, consistency, etc. For that, I think another human is the best source for feedback.

Using a spreadsheet to force yourself to critique your own writing and give yourself feedback will enable you to write better fiction.

Next week I’ll share with you the #1 question to ask yourself about CHARACTER.

Please comment below and let me know what you think of the advice. Do you agree, disagree or do something different for the purpose of a scene? Do you group elements of a scene in a different way?

Thanks for reading…