Disintegrating Characters

PhotonQ-Homer' s Evolution Theory

How should a novel’s characters evolve? Should one create the characters before the plot or as the story unfolds? Do you do sketches before writing your novel?

My first novel, Spiral of Hooves, began life as a rough outline back in 2000, but went through various versions, with characters changing their names, motives, roles, and in some cases ceasing to exist. Other writers in my novel writing group tried to suggest improvements, which I attempted to integrate into my evolving patchwork of plot and counterplot. Thirteen years later and I am taking on board the comments from my US e-book publisher’s editors. And I need to check the voice of some of my characters and their motives.

Time to check my character sketches. Except the 2000 versions are sketchy, if they even exist; probably on dusty floppy discs. But it seems that they only evolved in my head, not as updated notes. Bad move.

English: Spiral made of Floppy discs

English: Spiral made of Floppy discs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now I am producing new sketches and timelines as I check through the current manuscript. In most cases no old sketch exists so the page is blank, although I have an unfolding story to refer to, plus the scribbles in my head. Reminds me of writing character profiles in English Literature classes at school. Oh, and I need to create a timeline that matches the manuscript or at least shows where I have made errors.

Sounds like I’ve written my first novel in fits and starts, using multiple maps and asking the way from friendly faces that sent me via their favourite attractions. Just the basics to guide me so I must be a Pantser.

And here I am claiming to be a plotter. However I confess that almost all subsequent novels, now in various draft stages, have been plotted: detailed character sketches, timelines, scene by scene OR chapter by chapter outlines, and even research notes. But never set in stone, so when the first draft pours out, the unexpected and inspirational can happen. And my characters are often the ones driving the plots.

But which is best for characters sake? Pantser or Plotter? Will my plotted novels suffer the same fate as my first novel and spiral out of control, character sketches disintegrating as the timeline fractures?

Perhaps I need to upgrade my sketches more often, as the story evolves and the characters mature – like wine rather than cheese, I hope.

What do you do? What are your words of wisdom?

Creative Chinese Character Art

Creative Chinese Character Art (Photo credit: sinosplice)

8 thoughts on “Disintegrating Characters

  1. I’m a panster. No matter how I try to plot a character sabotages the story line. They either don’t behave and have their own minds or they gate crash! Uninvited and not even a glimmer in the plotting stage they wade right in and take over. Usually I run with them, or run after them , and it has improved my original idea… Until camp nano in April. Then a character gate crashed , I ran with him until he just wandered aimlessly around doing and being nothing until I rounded him up deleted him and all his story line and out of 50k words I was left with 10k ! I’ve always been a dead line girl, late starter fast finisher, sprint don’t jog, plan on the way to the lesson type of person. I probably won’t change, so a panster I will remain.


    • With NaNo I tend to go with the flow and the characters often change the plot, forcing me to become a pantser – or is it panster? Try not to let my characters take over but they do. One guy even insisted on being the villain….


      • It is pant ster but if I join up the letters IPad insists on correcting it to panster or prankster eek! S maybe I should say I am a definite fly by the seat of pants type! I know the villain feeling… In one of mine she finally finds a good guy to date, he seems to be perfect and I was happily writing along when all of a sudden he wants to commit a murder and I find myself in the middle of a genre change ! Who’d work with Invisible, imaginary people eh? I just love ’em 🙂


  2. I’m a frustrated plotter in that I think I have the idea, it has simmered on the back-burner of my imagination and is ready to go flowing onto the screen fully formed. That’s the idea. Except that, as said above, characters or plot lines just seem to sidle in and take over. Someone who was going to be a bit-part player decides to be very loveable (or thoroughly unlovely) and deserves more lines.
    A detour that was only going to be an “on the way to …” becomes a compelling incident.
    I have to face the fact that in my writing, as in everything else in my life, I am a dedicated pantster. (and I ignore my spellchecker!)


    • Unexpected adds flavour to the writing – as long as the lid doesn’t fall off the pepper pot (or salt…..). Then the frustration sets in with me. And I spend too much time educating my spellchecker – it clearly doesn’t read my kind of books.


  3. I love to do character sketches where I take a random picture and give that person a name, a job, and imagine what their life is like, what’s going on behind the photo. I always end up with a story idea from doing that 🙂



  4. Pingback: Character Sketch – Kai | Josephine L Brooks

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