As the center of your story, a protagonist requires deep planning, especially since they will have an arc to follow as events unfold. We recommend taking the time to visit each tab; if you are a pantser, you may only wish to make notes in the areas that will help you understand this character’s core personality, fears, and motivation so you can write their behavior and choices accurately. For a more structured route, visit each tab and section in order, as this will make your planning easier and ensure all the critical areas of character development are addressed.
Planning the main character of a story takes time, because they require depth to be a compelling lead. Investing in the brainstorming process is worthwhile because it will allow you to gain a clear understanding of who this character is, what they want most (their goal), what motivates them (why this goal is important), and which internal challenges (the lie, fear , and fatal flaw) they will need to overcome to achieve their goal. This information will help you build a custom character arc blueprint in the motivation tab, which you can use to plot out the character-driven elements of your story.
In many stories, the level of planning needed for a love interest is similar to that of the protagonist. What draws the two together will impact not only the storyline but shed light on the protagonist’s insecurities, fears, and unmet needs while indicating what sort of inner growth is necessary. When choosing how much to plan, first consider the importance of the romance: is it the primary plot or a subplot? Then ask yourself: How big is the love interest’s role? The more important a character is to the story, the more you may need to plan.
If their role is significant, they will have their own goals, fears, and reasons for what they do that may be completely different than those driving the main character. We recommend you visit all tabs and sections therein just as you would with the protagonist. If the love interest has an arc of their own (and many do), it’s especially important to know their backstory, including any wounding events. Behavior and emotional range are also important to define in a push-and-pull storyline, as readers must believe that the characters’ actions and choices are logically grounded. When it is time to dismantle whatever negative friction is keeping them apart, this too must be handled in a way that ties back to each character’s inner motivation and the internal growth they have achieved.
When working with a sidekick, it is best to know the scope of the role they play in the story. A sidekick should be pulling for the protagonist, helping in some way. But they can also have their own goals that exist as subplots. These may align with the protagonist’s or cause friction and complications—it’s up to you. The big thing is to understand this character’s mission is in the story, why it’s being pursued, and where the sidekicks’ aims fit into the bigger picture of the main plot. This will ensure that they’re more than just comic relief or someone for the protagonist to confide in.
For the sidekick, light backstory planning is suggested, with a strong focus on personality and behavior. They often reflect something back on the protagonist, such as providing a different viewpoint or embodying a trait, quality, or attitude the protagonist lacks. Know enough physical details to be able to describe them, and in daily life, carefully consider their valuable skills and hobbies, since these will often benefit the protagonist in some way. If this character has an arc, make sure you’ve explored enough of the backstory tab to figure out their motivation so you can work it into the subplot progress and outcome.
This character’s main function is friendship—to support the protagonist and be the voice of reason, helping to lightly steer them regardless of whether the main character wants guidance or not. With a friend, the protagonist can be a bit more open and vulnerable, so answer this question in the planning stage: Why is the protagonist this person’s friend?
A friend may not play a huge role in the story, but they should have commonalities with the protagonist (likes, dislikes, beliefs, worldviews, etc.). If they have a shared history, focus on the backstory tab. If they are connected more through daily life, understand what that looks like and how they are connected. Above all, make sure this character has enough of a personality (especially positive traits) to help readers see why they are liked by the protagonist.
This character won’t have an arc unless they also have another story role (such as a rival or sidekick), so you may not need to dig into their outer motivation or what drives them to act. Plan as much as you need to. If they grow more important as you write the story, you can always come back and add to their profile.
An antagonist is the force (a rival, enemy, competitor, etc.) that opposes your protagonist, standing in the way of their goal. As such, they play a big role in the story. If your antagonist is a person (as opposed to an element, like nature or society) they will almost certainly have a mission or agenda of their own, which means they’ll have a character arc. In this case, they require deep planning—the same as a protagonist—starting with their backstory and moving through each tab to capture any critical details about how they will obstruct the main character.
It’s important to be clear on the motivation tab, as understanding what drives the antagonist means the difference between a flat character and one that is credible. Also pay attention to personality traits, and plan to have some of this character’s personality and morals clash with the protagonist’s. Their strengths, along with their talents and skills, can also help to make them a real threat, forcing the protagonist to work harder to win (if this is your intent).
In the case of a successful change arc where the protagonist will succeed, you’ll want to pay special attention to planning the antagonist’s fatal flaw , as not only should it tie into the protagonist’s internal growth in some way, the fatal flaw will ultimately be the antagonist’s undoing.
This information is equally important if your antagonist is going to win. Both characters will have a fatal flaw, but rather than the antagonist’s getting the best of him, the protagonist’s will be his undoing, resulting in a failed arc.
A villain is different than an antagonist in the sense that there is an element of evil or specific intent to hurt. They are not merely competing with the protagonist for something or trying to prevent them from achieving a goal that clashes with their own; they actively wish to do them harm. Understanding why requires digging around in this character’s dark places and the history the two characters share. Spend a good amount of time in the backstory tab, as the villain’s darkness will be rooted in a past wounding event (or events). Whatever happened has warped how they see the world—especially how they view the protagonist. There will be an element of blame (deserved or not) directed toward the protagonist as a reason for the animosity.
We recommend working through the tabs as you would for an antagonist or protagonist, as the deeper you go, the more realistic and credible a villain will feel. To avoid an evil-for-the-sake-of-evil-type villain, readers need to understand why such hatred for the protagonist exists. To write this effectively, you as the writer must first understand it yourself—both where it comes from and how to show it through the villain’s emotions and behavior.
Note: sometimes, the villain is the main character. In their eyes, they are the protagonist of this story. A full profile and arc workup are needed in this case, since this character must enthrall readers while also repelling them. Usually this means giving them qualities or skills that are fascinating or admirable, making them likeable enough so they don’t alienate readers. Their motivation must also make sense; what they do can still come across as awful to readers, but they will at least understand why the character behaves that way.
If the protagonist is to prevail in your story, the villain must lose. If this is the case, pay close attention to the villain’s fatal flaw, as this will tie in to the outcome and be part of the their undoing. If the villain is to succeed (resulting in a failed arc for the protagonist), their fatal flaw is still important; it will make it harder for them to succeed, but the protagonist’s inability to overcome his or her own fatal flaw will ultimately result in them failing to reach their goal.
This character has a pivotal role: to teach or advise the character in a time of need or to offer periodic help over the course of the story. The biggest thing to uncover about this character is WHY. Why does the mentor care enough to help the protagonist? The answer to this question will dictate how much planning is necessary.
If they share history or have similar backgrounds, this is something to figure out in the backstory tab. If the protagonist’s goal aligns with the mentor’s in some way (a common enemy, righting a past wrong, fulfilling the mentor’s missing need, etc.), use the tabs to plan this. Explore the personality and skills of this character, along with their emotional range and behaviour, the knowledge they’ll offer to the protagonist, any daily life elements the two share, and how they met. Whether they have known one another for some time or their lives eventually collide, you’ll need to show this to readers.
At some point, the mentor must be removed from the story, forcing the protagonist to forge ahead alone. They may not reappear or they may show up only for a brief moment toward the end. If the mentor has no arc in this story, you can likely skip the deeper backstory planning and motivation details (as long as you have answered the primary question of why help is given).
Minor characters require the least development of all. We recommend that you focus only on their key personality points, behaviors, occupation, and any skills that will help further the plot. If you choose a quirk to make them interesting, make sure it’s meaningful rather than random, as that will only confuse readers. Physical feature planning doesn’t need to be deep, either. Figure out a few details. Focus on a mannerism or think about how they can move or speak in a way that helps to characterize them so readers can imagine what they look like.Other
Occasionally you will have a character who cannot be easily defined by a role. This might be a strange force at work, a deity who has influence over the world without being directly involved in the plot, or even an unreliable narrator who operates beyond the scope of the story. Whatever the role, think about this character’s impact on the story, their influence on the main cast members, and the motivation behind their actions. This information will help you determine how much planning is required.