Writing Update- Planning Sheets, Chapter Guides, and Character Arcs

I’m in the middle of editing my latest work in progress and it’s been a pretty overwhelming endeavor. I’m using a little different process this time around though (click here for more info!), and so far so good πŸ™‚

I’ve read through my entire novel, made extensive notes, and now it’s time to compile all those notes. There’s tons of guides out there to help clean up scenes, such as C.S. Lakin’s Live, Write, ThriveΒ  Scene by Scene Outlining Template. Or looking to clean up your first page? Check out her First Page Checklist.

I’m also a huge fan of The Manuscript Shredder. Check out her Scene Planning Worksheet if you have a chance πŸ™‚ And Veronica Sicoe’s blog article on The 3 Types of Character Arcs was also particularly helpful.

So, What’s My Process?

I’ll admit, my process hasn’t been as neat and clean as all these guides suggest, but I’ve worked out a pretty decent personal method to help clean up my manuscript after the rough draft is complete:

  1. Full Read Through
  2. Story Mapping
  3. Large Scale Edits (next up…)
  4. Chapter Level Edits
  5. Line Edits

1. Full Read Through- DONE!

Have you read through your entire manuscript from front to back? Do this over the span of a couple of days, maybe a week at most (to keep everything fresh in your mind). This was a great piece of advice mentioned on an author panel I attended last year. If you can’t read through your own story without getting bored or confused, how can you expect another reader to do the same?

2. Story Mapping

Chapter Notes

This is the part of the process I’ve made it to with my current WIP. As I read through, I found it helpful to take extensive notes on each chapter–writing down key pieces of info. Specifically:

  • Where the chapter opens (is the opening dynamic?)
  • Point of View (especially important if it changes from scene to scene!)
  • Key emotions (how do you want the reader to feel?)
  • Key information presented (check for info dumping!!!)
  • Scene goal (could the book exist without this scene?)
  • Barriers to goal (can’t make things too easy for our characters…)
  • Where the chapter ends (cliff hanger or resolution?)

Time Line

This is something I tend to struggle with, but it can be very helpful when you have this handy reference. Some planners (versus pantsters) might have a strict time line from the beginning, but if you’re like me, you find yourself with three day weekends or impossible simultaneous events… oops.

Mapping out the order of events can be a great visual way to keep track of your story and make it believable and easy to follow for your reader. Use a calendar, grid paper, computer document, whatever is easiest for you.

Setting Sheets

While you compile notes on each chapter, it’s also import to keep your settings consistent and dynamic. It can be helpful to keep guide sheets with key pieces of information to reference while editing your manuscript.

Settings can be as large as nations in you high fantasy novel or as small as a specific vehicle your character drives around. Just make sure to be consistent!


This is an example of one of my own setting guide sheets. Not very technologically advanced, but it works.

It’s helpful to have pictures, whether it’s hand drawn, part of a Pinterest board, or an intricate map. Write down key elements of your setting–things like weather, types of people found in this setting, colors, interesting facts–whatever pieces might be important to the story.

Since my setting above is a space station, I’ve drawn rough maps of the layout, what sectors are included, and even noted gravity, population, nearest planet, etc… Things that would be important to my characters!

Character Sheets

Last, but not least, it’s important to keep track of all your characters! Guide sheets can help you stay consistent with information such as physical attributes, jobs, hobbies, etc. But more importantly, they can help you establish your character’s growth throughout your novel. Import things I like to include are:

  • Physical description (pictures help)
  • Personality (honestly, I’m a super geek and like to break it down using the Dungeons and Dragons Alignment System…)harry-potter-custom
  • Skills (could be jobs or hobbies, etc.)
  • Weaknesses/fears (every character needs these to be relatable!!!)
  • Character arc (how does your character grow and change throughout the book

Although many people like to spend a lot of time coming up with physical descriptions and deciding specific likes and dislikes (maybe my villain has a weakness for frozen yogurt?), the most important piece here is the character arc. Technically every character should have an arc in your story, but usually we focus on our main characters.

There are three main character arcs– growth, change, or fall, depending on what happens in your story. It’s broken down like this:

  1. Set Up–Where is your character at the beginning of the story? What’s the inciting incident that signals a need for change?
  2. Reaction–How does your character react initially? This is a great place to raise tension. Is your character reluctant to change or do they seem like the type to face the problem head on?
  3. Attack–Usually this is where things get serious. Maybe a new barrier throws a wrench in your character’s plans, or they somehow muck everything up. You can’t make things too easy for your character!
  4. Resolution–This is the climax of the story. Your character either grows to overcome their barriers, changes, or falls beneath the wait of failure. How does your story end?

Now What?

So, you’ve read through your rough draft and made up some handy guides to follow…. and realize you’ve got a lot of work to do.

Maybe your characters don’t have a clear arc. This the time to fix that! Determine how you want them to change by the end of the novel.

Or maybe you’ve been inconsistent with your settings. Or character descriptions. Go back and fix these things!

Possibly your chapters are a mess and you realize that you have no real goal in a couple. Maybe those need to be cut out. Or there’s very little emotion in this chapter–fix it!!!

You’re ready for step three–making the big cuts and changes! It can be scary to slice and dice through your WIP baby, but it’ll all be worth it once it’s all bright and shiny and polished!

Stay tuned for more updates!

Working on a piece of your own? Leave a comment and share how it’s going πŸ™‚

Happy Writing!!!

3 thoughts on “Writing Update- Planning Sheets, Chapter Guides, and Character Arcs

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