Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks —Anthony Bourdain

Before starting on the draft of a novel, it’s important to start the mise en place. That’s a French culinary term that means “putting in place”—specifically, gathering and prepping the ingredients before you start cooking.

Many writers start by creating characters, but a character is more than just a list of characteristics and personality traits. Stories depend on conflict, which means that your character has to want something and has to have relationships with the other characters in the story (and sometimes with people who don’t appear in the story).

Right now, I’m building out the cast of my latest novel. When I get stuck, I use Bookflow’s character checklist:


What's good about your character? To explore this idea, write a scene in which his or her positive attribute shines. (Even villains have positive attributes, even if it's simply that they are intelligent or powerful.)


What is your character's weakness or negative attribute? Use the space in your character description to explore a moment in which your character's flaw was obvious. 

External Desire

What does your character want? Why does he or she want it now? (Bonus points if your character has a "stated intention," ie, "Gosh darn it Velma—I'll win that dance contest or die trying!") 

Internal Desire

What does your character need? (This is an emotional need that your character is probably unaware of.)

Guiding Belief

What is your character's worldview? 

Formative Moment

This is the moment at which your character's guiding belief is solidified. Take the time to fully develop this moment. Even if it never actually appears in the lines of your story, it will impact your character's development over the course of the novel. 

It reminds me that time taken to fully explore my character’s backstory, personality, and motivations is always time well spent. Having the elements in place, fully prepared, makes drafting much easier.

Ready to build your character? Try Bookflow free in a 28-day trial.