book inc  –  journal  –  Drafting for Character, Revising for Plot

Drafting for Character, Revising for Plot

By Caitlin Maskowitz

July 11, 2022

When my writing group began drafting our novels-in-progress, we explored using the Save the Cat! beats as a writing guide. I experimented with the beats but felt hemmed in by the idea of fitting my story into an outline. Instead, I focused on the characters. Two in particular––a grieving widower and his wife, the woman, who died. I spent a lot of time getting to know them. Who were they before tragedy struck? What are their fears and motivations? How do they react in a fight?

Knowing what drove my characters guided my writing. I envisioned arcs for each of them. Their needs and desires dictated every scene. I always knew why they did what they did. At the end of my first draft, there were many improvements to be made, but I felt that I had captured each character’s journey through the story.

Once I had a first draft and knew my characters, I felt ready to create an outline. I retrofitted the beats onto my manuscript to make sure I had the necessary elements of a satisfying story. I mapped out the major escalation points, specifying how each character’s actions and reactions impacted subsequent moves and choices while asking myself: did everything make sense? I was able to eliminate redundancies and alter sections to be more effective. I discovered during the process that using beats and an outline after the first draft was an effective way to tackle my revision.

Caitlin Maskowitz is a founding member of book inc.