Episode Four

The Secret to Successfully Beginning Your Novel or Screenplay – Part II
In this episode of "The Wonderful World of Writing," published playwright and award winning screenwriter, Laura Cotton, MFA, MA discusses the second part of how to successfully begin your novel or screenplay.

There are many different opinions about the best way to create characters. Some writing coaches recommend that fill out a “character profile” which is basically just a long list of questions about your character. However, the problem with these profiles is that they can cause you to become fixated on insignificant details like your character’s hair or eye color. As a result, you may never uncover the story you wish to tell.


This lesson teaches explores four prewriting exercises that will enable you to consider the most significant aspects of your characters so that you can successfully begin your novel or screenplay.


1) Create a character arc.  


Your main character should evolve through your story, learning from his or her mistakes and growing as person. Writers call this the arc of a character. When you are prewriting based on characters, you should consider what type of person they currently are and what type of person you would like them to become.


Making a character arc is a simple process. Take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one side of the page, write down a few characteristics which describe who your main character is now. These could be something like “a liar, a flirt, and a workaholic.” Then make a list of characteristics which describe the opposite of this person. For instance, “a truth teller, a faithful husband, and a family man.”




Liar                                                                                                      Truthteller



Flirt                                                                                                     Faith Husband



Workaholic                                                                                          Family Man



Creating a character arc will allow you to see who your character is and who you would like your character to become. From there, you can start to think about a story which would transform your character into his or her opposite.


2) Write a fictional news article about your character.


Writing a fictional news article is not just a fantastic way to start thinking about your main character, it can also help to generate ideas for your story. To create your news article, first consider a goal that your character wants to achieve. Then write an article in which your character either achieves that goal or an article in which the opposite of that goal occurs.


For instance, maybe your character is a girl who wants a perfect SAT score. Your article could be about how she achieved that goal – or it could be about how he she was caught cheating. Or maybe your character wants to get married.  You could write an article about her wedding – or you could write an article about how she was left at the altar.


3) Write a biography or an auto-biography for at least one of your characters.


Creating a character biography or auto-biography will enable you to delve into the life of your character. The biography doesn’t necessarily have to start with your character’s birth. It could describe only their teenage years or only their thirties. In terms of the length of your biography, it could be a few paragraphs or a few pages, depending on your preference. If you need to give your character a motivation for writing his or her autobiography, consider doing this in the form of a letter or email.


4) Create a character collage.


A character collage is a wonderful way to start thinking about who your character is and what is important to him or her. To create a character collage, gather a bunch of magazines together and get a large piece of paper or posterboard. Then go through your magazines and select words and images that reveal something significant about your character. These images could be symbolic. For instance, you could choose a picture of a church if religion is confusing to your character. Or you could choose a picture of a home if your character is searching for his or her place in the world. Write an explanation underneath the images so that you will remember why you chose them.


Assignment Four: Select at least one of the prewriting techniques described in this lesson and create a character for your novel or screenplay. Keep in mind that it is perfectly fine if your character changes when you actually start writing.