Past, Present, Future

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
I wanted to pass along one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve come across this year. It came from the book Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen Wiesner – a book I had the pleasure of reviewing. Feel free to read the review here.

She offered a lot of great ideas, but one of them stood out to me, and it’s something I’m utilizing in my current manuscript. Wiesner asserts that your protagonist cannot simply exist in the present. You must also establish their past and their future, and this must be done in every single chapter.

It seems like such a simple idea – one that, really, no one would disagree with. But I don’t know that it’s a concept I really thought about until I read her book. I mean, it’s something I hoped I was doing. But that’s just the point. Hoping doesn’t make it happen. And when I started looking at what I’d done so far, I realized that I wasn’t achieving it with my “make things up as I go” approach.

Aware that I was, perhaps, not creating enough depth, I made a chart. (For all of you non-chart people, hear me out). In each chapter, I wrote down how I addressed my protagonist’s past, present, and future. It will come as no shock that I was inconsistent, at best.

I went back to my first fifty pages and added this dimension with new scenes and information. Sure, it took extra work. Yes, it took extra time. And no, I didn’t increase my word count. But as I completed my chart, I could see a well-rounded, multi-dimensional, relatable character emerging.

I urge you to consider if your characters have the depth they need. If you are getting feedback that your protagonist needs work, isn’t likeable, or seems superficial, creating a chart like this might be of use. We all have a past, a present, and a future, and utilizing this concept can make our protagonists even stronger.

In case you’re wondering, my chart looks like this:

[Click to enlarge.]

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Joanne said...

Thanks, Bethany, for showing this practical strategy. It has given me lots to think about in my own writing.

Sheila Good said...

Great idea to help keep up with the details of your novel. thanks for sharing. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

What a great idea. I'll be looking for this in the books I'm reading too, just so I can see how they pull it off.

Renee Roberson said...

This is really interesting and I had no idea it was something I'm supposed to be working on in each chapter! Now I need to figure out how to address the protoganist's past without a huge dump of back story every time. I think I'll check out Connie's book. Thanks, Beth!

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