Thursday, April 15, 2010

If Snow White Wrote a To Do List (or Why Your Character Needs One, Too)

When I'm stuck in my writing, when a character has drifted into the doldrums, and when I'm not sure of anyone's motivation anymore, I find making my characters write a "To Do" list is a great prompt to get things back on track. Not only does it give me a course for what needs to happen next with the plot, it can also help flesh out the character as a whole. The fact that my heroine is out of tea bags might not need to be in the final novel, but I now have a greater sense of her character just by peeking at her list and seeing her preferences (she likes Tetley, for the record).

To Do lists are helpful for villains and secondary characters that have a tendency to become cliched or lifeless. They can reveal their motivations and ensure everyone in the manuscript has an agenda.

For example, let's look at the simple story of Snow White & the Seven Dwarves.

Snow White's To Do List:
-Laundry detergent
-Facial moisturizer
-Ensure I stay hidden from evil stepmom
-Continue kindness to strangers on my doorstep

Evil Queen's To Do List:
-Research poisons (apples viable option? check)
-Brush up on disguises
-Buy new mirror

Handsome Prince's To Do List:
-Give the horse a run
-Look for beautiful maidens to rescue (forest might be good? check)

I'll save you from each Dwarf's individual list, but you get the idea. Character To Do lists are especially helpful if I've just ended a big scene, or I've reached that dreaded spot where I have no idea where to go next. Just a little tip to help keep things rolling along. Happy writing!


  1. What great advice and what fun! I loved this post. Will definitely give it a try. :)

  2. Thanks for your kind words! I have a tendency to let my villains slip a little when it comes to character development, so it is an interesting exercise. And a lot of fun. :)

  3. What a neat idea. i am stuck on something I'm writing and intend to try this. Also, isn't it fun to see the impact of fairy tales on our lives?
    June Sengpiehl

  4. Thanks, June! I hope it helps you. You're right - fairy tales are great fun. Their examples of story arcs are definitely working taking a look at when you get stuck!

  5. Excellent idea. Any kinds of "tricks" like this which force a writer to develop the characters into *real* people is so useful.

    Even though I write nonfiction, I find myself often working hard to recreate the character that the narrator (that's me) and others in my life WERE at the time, and I make lots of lists about what they were doing, thinking about, wanting.

  6. Thanks! Excellent point about using it for non-fiction as well - to capture who people were. I hadn't thought about it on the non-fiction side of things, but it certainly makes sense.