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How to Better Develop Your Web Series Characters using Secrets

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If you’re producing a fictional web series, you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time developing the story arcs. While I don’t personally produce web series, I have written my fair share of fiction, and today I wanted to share with you a character development technique that I learned from a fiction-writing class and that helped me create better characters for my fiction.

The One-Sheet

The first step of this character development technique is to write up a one-sheet for each main character, starting with your protagonist and expanding to include any character with a recurring role or any character who is important to a single episode. Essentially, if the character is given a name, you probably want to write up a one-sheet profile.

Each one-sheet includes as much information as possible about the character’s background, even when the details aren’t shared in your web series. When was your character born? How did he or she grow up? How does your character react to stressful situations? What does your character like to do on the weekends? Is your character healthy? Fill up the profile with details, details, and more details. Then, when you think you’ve written enough, add more details!

The Secret

Next, take a look at the one-sheet you wrote and give each character a secret that makes sense.

In life, we all have secrets. Even very innocent people have secrets. Maybe your character shoplifts. Or maybe he or she has a bank account the spouse doesn’t know about. Maybe your character cheats on his or her diet. You can make the secret as big or little as you want. If your character is likely to have several secrets, focus on the secret he or she finds most important and is least likely to tell anyone.

The Telling

Lastly, you want to write a quick scene where your character spills the beans. What would possibly get your character to tell someone else his or her secret? For a character who is pretty innocent, this might be as easy as admitting it to the person behind them in line for coffee. For someone more secretive, the answer might be that they tell someone while on their deathbed.

Again, this secret and the scene where they tell it do not have to be related to your web series at all (though it might give you some good ideas). You can get as detailed or be as vague with the scene as you want; just make sure you think it through. What would your character really keep secret and why would he or she ever tell someone?

What Have You Learned?

After completing the exercise, think about what you’ve learned about your character. You can incorporate this into the rest of your story to make a more realistic, cohesive character. For example, when I completed this exercise for a character in one of my short stories, my character was a mother who kept very little secret – other than the fact that she often got very bad headaches sometimes and was too afraid to see a doctor. This led me to thinking about how mothers, like the one in my story, often take care of themselves last and although they can seem superhuman at times, they have fears just like the rest of us. I incorporated what I learned into the story and it was much stronger than my first draft.

I hope this exercise helps you with your own character development. If you give it a try, leave a comment below letting me know if it worked for you!

Could You Write with the World Looking Over Your Shoulder? One Novelist is Giving It a Try

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Fantasy author Silvia Hartmann is writing a novel via Google docs. Read about her public novel writing project and why this might be a very good—or very bad—idea.

Writing is a pretty personal endeavor for most people. More and more, however, authors are using social media and other online tools not only to connect with fans and drive sales, but also to create their actual content and allow readers to interact with characters.

One author is taking it to the extreme, though. Silvia Hartmann (aka Nick StarFields) isn’t just crowdsourcing for her next novel. She’s allowing fans to read her content every step of the way, giving feedback and suggestions as she goes. Silvia is writing her novel in a public Google doc, so you can see the entire process from first draft to finished product. She’s calling it “The Naked Writing Project” and announcing writing sessions via her social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter. (Read more at The Guardian.)

The Advantages of Crowdsourcing

Although she says that she’ll ultimate go with her gut, even if readers don’t agree, Silvia will ultimately get tons of suggestions and opinions from her fans and curious bystanders. With readers involved in every step of the writing process, she’s creating a brand new crowdsourcing experience with readers watching her write in real time. While the prospect might be a scary one for most writers, this type of crowdsourcing also has its advantages:

  • Fans feel like they helped write the novel, which may make them more likely to purchase the book after it is published.
  • Allowing fans open access to this novel helps promote anything else she’s written or will write in the future. If people like this one, they’ll probably check out her other work too.
  • Fans can be extremely creative and intuitive. They aren’t as close to the work as the writer, so they can more easily spot plot holes and come up with ideas the author herself may have never imagined.
  • This kind of project, to my knowledge at least, has not been done before. So she’s going to get people checking it out just because they’re curious and people (like me) writing about her because it’s a unique way to write a novel. It’s a great way to find new readers.
  • It holds her accountable. Raise your hand if you have a half-finished novel or book somewhere on your computer. You can’t see it, but both of my hands and a foot are raised right now and I bet most of you out there are “someday novelists” too. By writing in such a public way, the author is committing herself to this novel. If she doesn’t log online and write, fans will get cranky.

Potential Public Writing Problems

Of course, any writing process is not without its problems. Putting your first draft online for the public to watch you write has several issues:

  • Silvia already said that she’s not going to listen to fans when her instincts don’t agree. This could potentially lead to angry readers who stop participating or refuse to purchase the book because she didn’t listen.
  • Whenever you put your writing online, you’re going to have to deal with trolls, not just valid comments. Along with trolls, she’ll also have to deal with negative criticism and even if it is constructive, some people are pretty rude online. All of this negativity can really weigh on a person trying to do something creative online.
  • If fans are reading the novel every step of the way, they may have no motivation to actually purchase the book when it is finished.
  • Most writers jump around during the writing process. If Silvia writes scenes out of order, readers won’t be surprised by plot twists. Even if there are no big reveals in this novel, it can really affect a plot to read it out of order. You see the complete picture, but you don’t have the experience of reading the story as it is meant to be read.
  • Having drafts of your book online can affect the publishing deal you get in the future. Publishers typically want certain rights, and having your novel online in draft form, even if it is later removed, can affect this contract, potentially scaring some companies away.

Would You Ever Write a Book Publicly?

Despite the disadvantages, I think this is a really cool experiment and I’ll be watching it to see her progress and how it affects her writing progress. It’s a brave new media world we’re living in, and it’s interesting to see people using online tools in innovative ways.

Would you ever consider such a public writing project? Leave a comment to tell us what you think about Silvia’s project!

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