From outline to first draft, the master of Kung Fu and Friendship breaks it all down with his method for writing.
Blocking Out Character Arcs
This is so important we’re going to have it in big bold letters. The person who goes through the most change from the beginning to the end of your story is your main character. No matter how cool your villain or capable your sidekick, they can’t change as much as your main character by the end of the story, or you have the wrong main character.
So, on a separate piece of paper or file, we want to make sure we block out the character arc that our protagonist goes through. It helps to work backwards – where do you want the character to be by the end of the story? Who do you want them to be? What is their place in the world? What have they overcome?
These are important questions we want to ask, because transformation is key to great protagonists. Once you know where you want to be at the end, work backwards to find out where they started. Be careful of tropes and cliché here, as we can only have so many humble farmboys.
Next is the tricky part. Your character arc should ebb and flow with the beats of your story. You never want to feel like the development is tacked on through long exposition and paragraphs of dialogue. Remember – show, don’t tell. We should see your character transform organically, not because the character gets up in front of their class and begins a speech with, “I learned something today.”
This character arc tracking applies to side characters, too, as long as we’re not making them more transformational than our main character. Track their course through the story in a similar fashion. You can get as detailed or as vague as you want in here. This is just a tool to write your stories, no one ever needs to see these nuts and bolts, so feel free to write in shorthand. Whatever works for you and makes your story churn out is all that matters.
So, we have a frame to shape our characters and a video for plotting. Now have fun, and get crafting.