So going forward I have asked that you use at least one full journal page for each of your main characters. You can use half pages for minor characters if you want. I have a lot of pages in my journal so I'm going to be wasteful and give every character lots of room for notes later on.
On each character page I am going to put the character name and a description. You can add as much description as you want. I know that my students get very excited to describe hair, clothes, and other physical details, but don't forget to add other details about them too. My notes are usually more purpose driven than appearance descriptive. For example, family tree breakdowns are important in this generational story I will be telling, so knowing who is related to who and how they feel about these people (living or dead), is important to me. Knowing their education, not just how smart they are, but what their source of education has been: a family member mentor? a formal school? learning on the job? What are their obligations? What have been their traumas?
I have a very long list of details that I like to know about my characters, but for our purposes, I tried to blend the idea of characters and settings being intertwined, so hopefully you were able to figure out some history and purpose for your characters based on the environments they journey through.
The one piece I did emphasize is the Goals and Conflicts. And this I simplified by my tried-and-true Someone Wants But So chart. I've blogged about this before, probably several times, and I find this essential for character driven plot.
How it works:
Character 1 Wants =
For good measure, think about this in two ways. What do they want in this moment? This will drive your chapters.
Also, what do they want most of all out of life? This will motivate them to react to the obstacles they face along the way.
Your characters should have at least two goals at any given time, the Overall goal, and the In The Moment goal.
Don't forget that you may have to dig a but deeper for the Overall Goal. Characters, like people, are not always aware of the deep driving forces they motivate them, or they aren't always able to put it into words. Often, what the character Wants and what the character Needs are very different things.
The example I gave my students is: Your villain wants to take over the world. Great! But this is an In The Moment Want, it is just a step that they think they need to follow.
WHY does your villain want to take over the world? To impress someone? Out of revenge? The answer to this question will give you your Overall Goal. And maybe your villain doesn't ever articulate that there is a deeper meaning behind it, but as the author, it is your job to understand all of those hidden secrets.
BUT!= The only reason to tell this character's story now is because they do not currently have what it is that they want. So what is that is standing in their way? Why don't they have what they want and how can they attain it?
SO!= This is the first step that your Character will undertake to work around or fix the obstacle.
Odds are that your Overall goal will require multiple steps, so you will probably face another obstacle and another solution, in fact, you may be facing one for each chapter! That's good. If the goal was easy to achieve, you probably wouldn't have that interesting of a story.
"Timmy wants to buy cookies. He takes his money and buys them at the store."
"Timmy WANTS to buy cookies, BUT the bully next door steals his money every time he leaves the house. SO Timmy builds a series of elaborate inventions to get out of the house unseen. BUT each invention has a flaw since he can only use scraps from around the house. SO he doesn't make it very far without the bully finding him. BUT the bully is so impressed with the inventions that he offers to buy them off of Timmy so that he can do practical jokes on his bullying brother. SO Timmy now has money and a friend in the bully who is less mean now that he is standing up to his own bully."
In this example, Timmy's WANT is an IN THE MOMENT. What he really wants is to not be bullied. So even though he wasn't planning on eliminating his bully, his motivations have led him to his desired outcome. The same result could be had if the neighbours all thought that it was the bully making all of that mess with the failed inventions, forcing his parents to send him to boarding school. In either case Timmy gets to keep his money, buy cookies, and not be bullies anymore.
Some of my students struggled to identify the steps involved. And it can be hard to narrow down desires and motivations, especially if you are writing from some real world influence. The closer it is to you, sometimes the harder it can be to see solutions broken down into steps. So to help, I asked this question: "What would change for your character if they achieved their goal?" Sometimes working backwards can help you to see how things could play out.
Don't forget to give motivational goals to those villains and sidekicks, too. They need a reason to be in the action together, no matter how similar or different their personal goals are from each other.
Good luck, Writers!
The next step is a hefty one. I have a lot to do before tomorrow!