First, what types of things do characters know? To some extent, they know themselves, what’s happening around them, their motivations and other characters. One element of creating a character arc is the character’s (typically) increasing awareness of these elements and their consequences. Sometimes characters are ignorant of these aspects of their world. However, there’s all the difference between intentionally keeping a character in the dark and achieving ignorance because we failed to realize that by now the character should know more than he does.
So how does a writer control, at each stage in the story, how aware a character is of these elements? First, we must be aware of what our characters already know. Then we must decide whether they should know more. To check your characters' self-awareness at each stage of development, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the main stages of development in the character’s arc? What might the character not know but need to realize by each point?
- If the character doesn’t know something, such as his motivation for betraying someone else, is it due to a flaw that fits the character, or because you’ve forgotten to develop the character’s awareness at that point?
To add texture to characters and story, also note the consequences of what the character does and doesn’t know. It can be daunting to do this exercise for each character. So start with your main character. The very effort with one character often enables you to be mindful of him or her and of other characters from that point on.
What should your main character know by now that he or she doesn’t?
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