A NaSty Outline – Character Grid.

Being a writer can be compared to being a sportsman. Every person has something that he or she is good at, and then – they have something that they struggle with. I like to believe that I’m pretty good with dialogue but, my weakness is number of characters. I never put more than three main characters in a story, and use no more than five as back up cast. It’s therefore quite a new experience to me to write a story that has 10 main characters. After completion of the last two Nasty Pixie Tale chapters, I realized that I was slowly but surely coming apart at the seams. Some characters were falling back and becoming back up characters were as others were threatening to become quite monotonous. I had to stop this immediately and try to pull back what was threatening to become lost.

So, today I did something I have never done before. I started planning and outlining, two words which have never been associated with my writing up until this moment. I’m a fly by night writer, sitting down in front of my computer and just letting the words spill out as they come. It’s worked pretty good up until now, but things were changing. I’ve been rethinking my style and process the past couple of months and it’s become clear that I couldn’t write this way anymore. The length of my fics and the strength and unpredictability of my characters didn’t allow it.

I needed help and luckily, I knew where to get it.

During November, the urban fantasy author Kim Harrison had posted a series of blog posts detailing how she planned her writing and her books. Among her hints, one thing stood out namely her character grid. This concept pulled at me immediately, but at the time I didn’t have any use for it. Now, when I desperately tried to regain order in my story, I realized that it might just be the thing to bring what might be a potential mess in order.

This is what I came up with (click on it for a bigger document):


The layout is quite simple. On the far left, you have a list of the characters, alphabetically listed. On the top, you have the location, day and the part of the story which it was posted in. At the bottom, you have a brief description of what’s been happening in the set location. And then, you have the colours.

These are my own initiative with the character grid. I needed a way to see how active the characters have been and this seemed to be the best method. I believe it’s quite simple.

The PURPLE blocks are ‘introduction’ blocks which basically say when the character stepped into the story. BLUE blocks are general blocks. This is when a character doesn’t take up a main conversational role or when all characters are general even in their actions. Blue means balance. Then, the GREEN blocks are ‘absent’ blocks. They count as indicators when a character hardly had any conversation or lines in a part. They are mentioned and might have one line, but in general, they do not hold a conversation. The RED blocks are active blocks. They indicate intense reaction between characters, when their plight/conversation/role in the part becomes the main focus, ie – Mud having a feisty dialogue with Tiffany when they needed to enter the club house.

By using this, I get a very good perspective about what’s going on in my story, and whether I’m maintaining a balance between the characters. I can see through this for instance that two characters, Phil and Marsha, need more main interaction as they are acting mostly like supportive characters than main characters at the moment. Mud’s not there yet, but threatening to slip down to their role. Kylie’s an interesting character, because although she doesn’t take a lot of main action, she’s constantly in the general action, more so than any of the others. She does this through her dialogue and her actions so, although she doesn’t have a lot of red blocks, she’s pretty well settled in the story.

I am pretty pleased with myself as this grid produced the result that I wanted from it. I’m hoping that eventually, I’ll be able to incorporate it into all of my fics. The layout is there, now I just need to use it accordingly.

You can find the original Kim Harrison post here:

5 thoughts on “A NaSty Outline – Character Grid.

  1. Phil June 29, 2010 / 8:09 pm

    Good job! I can totally see the need for this. And I like the idea of your giving me a bigger part, lol. Despite the saying that there are no small parts, only small actors! Pfft!

    • Alyssa June 29, 2010 / 10:35 pm

      *laughs* Your character is unappreciated. I’m still thinking of what to do to turn over the apple car with the dear naked nasty. 😉
      Thank you for reading!

  2. nastyromo June 30, 2010 / 11:24 pm

    I think tools like this are awkward to use at first, but after that first time, probably alot of people would start to use them naturally. I have a jumble of notes in different notebooks that i really need to find a stream-lined system to make them worthwhile…something repeatable in future projects. Very good, Alyss. 😉

    TonyR 😎

    • Alyssa June 30, 2010 / 11:50 pm

      I’m terrible with notes. Absolutely terrible. Every year, my new year’s resolution is to carry a notebook with me and jot down ideas as I get them. I haven’t done it once. This year though, i have to say I’m getting a bit better. I think it’s because I’m waitressing and I constantly have a notebook with me. I like this grid. I think I’m going to start implementing it in all my stories. Especially those I have running on fanfic.net at the moment because they are all nearing the 100K mark and I suspect I might loose control past that.
      Thanx Antonio!

  3. Kylie Ru July 1, 2010 / 3:53 am

    Woot! I am interesting!

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