For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. —Lily Tomlin

When I was teaching at Sierra Nevada College, I worked with some very talented, ambitious writers. They longed to go really deep and far into their manuscripts—to write as much as possible as quickly as possible. After all, the Master’s program was only two years. There wasn’t much time.

The problem? Piling up manuscript pages can slow you down.

I know: “What? How! That’s logically impossible!”

Unfortunately, it’s true. I’ve seen many writers create twenty, fifty, or one hundred pages—or even more—and then stall out. This is usually because the writer hasn’t done the work necessary to explore the characters in their work.

My students often resisted writing “off book”, as I called it, or fleshing out personality traits and histories that might only be hinted at or not even show up in their manuscripts. But it’s essential to explore these—it’s how we understand (and therefore show) the reasons that our characters make the choices they do. It’s important to understand their motivation, or else the whole story fails.  

Stories are about who and what (happens), but mostly they are about why.

Once you know who the characters are and why they make the decisions they do, then the actual plot events tend to reveal themselves.

If you’re interested in a guide and/or checklist designed to help you develop your characters, check out the Characters+ tab that appears once you’ve started a project in Bookflow. You’ll find questions to guide your thinking as you capture the information you need.