The sandbox technique is one of my favorite new tools for character development that I read about a while back in a Writers Digest article called “Layered Revision” by Gabriela Pereira. In the article there are five layers of revision. The Narration or Point of View, Characters, Plot, Scenes and Cosmetics (Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling & Word Choice.This week’s post will be focusing on layer two, Character Development.
“When you test things out in the sandbox, you eliminate the risk of accidentally breaking anything in your manuscript.” - Gabriela Pereira
I love this concept, there have been countless times when I feel like I have screwed my manuscript trying to fix character issues. Luckily I kept back ups of my original draft, my second draft, my third draft and so on so that I could return to them. For any writer I highly recommend doing this. When your first draft is complete and you are ready to edit save a copy of the document under another name labeling it the draft number that it is, this will save you a lot of time and heartache when you feel like you mess up your manuscript. However, if you are really looking for a good way to develop your characters heres some tips based on the “Layered Revision” Article.
The sandbox technique is all about taking your established character and throwing them into a totally different situation that the character does not face in your story or novel. For example, I took my character Kirsten from Shyelle - Rise of the Dragon Kingdoms and put her in a school setting and wrote from her first person point of view. While doing this I realized that the story was much better told from her first person perspective rather than the third person omniscient perspective the novel was originally drafted in. There is more room for readers to connect to the story and feel like they are in it, fulfilling the ultimate goal of writers connecting with their audience.
“Characters give your story meaning. They make us care about the events in your story, making those events matter.” - Gabriela Pereira
In order to write an exceptional character it is also important to know what motivates that character. You may need to do some digging to find this but when you do find it your story will be exponentially more engaging for your audience. Many times I have found that the inspiration for what motivates my characters is reaching down and knowing what motivates myself. A well written novel has characters that stand for something that they passionately believe in! This is especially important for your protagonist as their belief system will be a driving force that will guide their behavior through the entire novel. It may even be beneficial to put yourself in the place of your protagonist in writing a sandbox mode draft. Your belief system as the author will help you to form the belief system and values of your protagonist.
We tackled the protagonist but what about writing an with an effective antagonist? As many of us writers know having an effective antagonist to tempt your protagonist away from their mission is just as important as your protagonist. The antagonist needs to have defined motives for why they do evil. People usually do not to just decide to be evil overnight. Maybe your antagonist uses anger to justify their actions, maybe it's greed, or maybe it is fear that drives them.
Another really important thing to remember when writing with an antagonist is that most antagonists at some point where potential protagonists. Try writing the scene that your antagonist makes the defining decision to become the antagonist that they are now. This will help you to pinpoint your antagonist's motives. Keep working with your characters until you feel like you know them almost as well as yourself! Most important don't give up!