5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways from Libbie Hawker's Take Off Your Pants

5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways from Libbie Hawker's Take Off Your Pants

In her book Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, Libbie Hawker argues that writing an outline can help you avoid the unnecessary waste of time or words and ensure that your book will engage readers...before you’ve written anything. Writers will find her process of building character arcs and outlining plot points simple to apply.

Hawker promises that writers who apply her strategies will improve their writing speed, increase their backlist, and produce a better quality book.

So why not try it? Let’s take off our pants and start outlining!

NOTE: This book is summarized in a Q&A format; all answers are directly from Libbie Hawker (not lil’ ol’ me).

Why did you write this book?

My goal in writing this book wasn’t to dictate the one true story structure, or to decree that all works of fiction share these same qualities. My goal was to share an organizational method that has dramatically increased my speed and efficiency as a writer, and has allowed me to produce more books that readers love faster than I ever could before.

Which is better: plotting or pantsing?

Conventional wisdom dictates that whatever method works for you simply works for you, and one is not inherently superior to the other. In broad, general terms, I absolutely agree. But I’m going to go out on a limb and state boldly that there is, in fact, a superior method for writing a book IF your goals include establishing a full-time writing career.

It’s exceedingly rare nowadays, and getting rarer all the time, for a traditional-only author to make enough money to support himself or herself. Fortunately for all of us, now we have the option to self-publish or to combine the two career tracks. You must be able to write quickly enough that you can turn out several books per year. That kind of speed requires the meticulous organization and the confidence in the quality of your story that can only come from outlining before you begin.

You mentioned that stories have similar patterns that connect with all readers. What are the universal elements of a great story?

Every compelling story has the following five elements:

  1. A character

  2. The character wants something

  3. But something prevents him from getting what he wants easily

  4. So he struggles against that force

  5. And either succeeds or fails

That Story Core provides the hook that snags a reader’s attention and pulls them into the world you’ve created. Without a complete Story Core--without all five parts working in harmony--you can’t construct a solid outline, and you can’t write a compelling book.

Do I run the risk of losing the reader if I use predictable story patterns?

Your assurance of familiarity and predictable outcomes at the beginning of your story will not chase readers away, but will reel them in closer. As they read, they’ll find delight in the unique spin you put on the old familiar narrative pattern. You might even surprise them later, by deviating dramatically from the expected path. Save deviations and surprise twists for later, when the reader is thoroughly hooked. At the beginning, provide the comfort and lure of familiarity.

How long does it take you to outline your books?

After having written the outlines for more than twenty novels (including a few multi-main-character books, which take much more planning and thought), it takes me about four hours to complete an outline.

What if I’ve tried outlining in the past and it hasn’t worked for me?

Those of you who tried to outline a book and didn’t see much benefit from it simply didn’t do it the right way. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But take heart! There is absolutely a right way to outline a book--one that allows you plenty of creative freedom in the particulars of your plot, gives you a well-drawn map to guide your story through an arc you know will be compelling, and you can still leave much of the plot a total mystery to you, if that’s the way you prefer to write.

What is the “right” kind of outline?

The right kind of outline follows a particular structure, with a three-sided form. Each of your three legs is equally important. If one is shorter than the others, your story will feel rickety. If one of your legs is missing, the whole structure will topple. But build all three legs sturdily, with equal attention, and you’ve got a secure base on which to rest your Story Core. The Three-Legged Outline consists of:

  • Character Arc

  • Theme

  • Pacing

Wait, what about plot?

Many writers picture outlining as stringing together a plot--setting up events in a logical sequence and interlacing them so that there is a feeling of cause and effect. That’s an important part of outlining, but it should actually be your very last step, and it’s entirely mutable. Remember that plot is not the same thing as story. A story is a character arc--a personality making a progression from an emotional or psychological Point A to an emotional or psychological Point B. Story is all about internal growth, not external events. It’s a character’s struggle to shed old behaviors or beliefs that have held him back from becoming his “true self.”

Plot is your sequence of events--the order in which things happen, their interlacing, the action outside of a character that influences his inner experience. If your focus your efforts on the Three Legs, you can change the specifics of the plot a hundred different times, and you’ll still have essentially the same story.

How do I craft an effective character arc?

Make your character flawed in a serious, big, scary, potentially life-wrecking way. When you start with a badly flawed character, the arc will be all about correcting that flaw--about your character growing into a better person, the kind of mythic hero archetype he was “meant to be” but couldn’t become until the events of your plot pushed him to change himself for the better. We all love an attempt to change for the better; even if that attempt ultimately fails. The self-bettering hero speaks to our deepest instincts and makes for a story that we just can’t stop reading.

So after I choose my flawed character, how do I turn that idea into an outline?

Once you know your main character’s flaw, the rest of your outline will start to come together with surprising ease.

Hawker recommended filling the outline in this order: Line 1, Flaw, Line 5, Line 2, Line 3, Ally, Theme, Line 4.

Line 1: Main character

Character’s name and any really important features that might influence the setting

Line 2: External Goal

The plot-centered, outside motivation that’s pushing your character along her arc. It’s the thing she’s trying to get--and probably for reasons which she thinks have nothing to do with her internal flaw. But, of course, you know that the external goal should provide an opportunity for your character to recognize and confront her weakness, and to decide whether or not she’ll embark on a journey to overcome that weakness and emerge with hero status.

Line 3: Antagonist

You can’t really know your main character until you’ve got your antagonist figured out. The antagonist is the person who is most heavily invested in achieving the same external goal;  a crucial cast member who shows you who your protagonist truly is inside and what he could potentially become at the end of his journey; a separate individual with her own personality and emotional journey (even though you might not explore her character arc in your book). Because this heavily-invested person will struggle just as hard as your character will, they will present the biggest obstacles and give your character the most compelling journey. A different reality motivates her, and she will use different tactics that your main character uses. Your antagonist will act as a sort of “photo negative” or inverse version of your main character. She offers an alternate view to multiple aspects of your book. The antagonist might provide a hint to a dark side of your theme--or a light side; give some foreshadowing to the book’s climax, hinting at the final battle that will decide who wins the external goal; or be a warning sign to your main character: “Change your internal flaw, or you’ll end up just like me.”

Line 4: Plot

The character’s journey--her attempt to achieve her external goal; the path that will lead your character to her success or failure with regards to the external goal and her inner flaw. Visualize the plot-structure as a bridge stretching from Point A to Point B. That bridge is made out of only three kinds of bricks: character arc, theme, and/or Story Core.

Opening Scene

Introduce your world, elegantly and cleanly, with action relevant to the main character--not with an unattached “info dump.” Give a clear idea of when and where this story takes place, and what your main character is like in general terms. Address the character’s flaw, the theme, or both to set up a strong subconscious hook, giving an immediate impression that there will be a major problem explored in this story. Think about your character’s Point A--their flaw. Eventually they’ll struggle to get to Point B--a higher state. But right now, they’re low-down. How can you show that their situation isn’t ideal, either externally or internally? Consider how you can provide an initial illustration of the book’s theme.

Inciting Event

Boot your character out of his everyday reality. Make him look around at his present state and decide that something isn’t quite right. Maybe he’s starting to get an inkling of his flaw, but hasn’t yet fully realized how deeply flawed he is. Or maybe he sees his external goal for the first time. Occasionally the inciting event corresponds with the opening scene, but sometimes it takes a scene or two before your character’s real incitement appears. The inciting event is almost always closely tied to your character’s external goal.  

Character Realizes External Goal

Sometimes the character’s realization of his external goal is exactly the same as the inciting event, but not always. If the two plot points do not overlap, sketch in the scene where your main character first decides that he will in fact go after his external goal.

Display of Flaw

Your character may have displayed his flaw as early as the opening scene. If he hasn’t yet made his flaw known to the reader, make it known now, so that it’s established early in the book. Clear establishment of the flaw will put tension on the hook you’ve already set. Typically the best way to establish the flaw for the reader’s benefit is to show the flaw in action, having some serious impact on another character.

Drive for Goal

Your character will now make his first attempt to reach his external goal. At this stage, giver your character an ill-fated plan. His plan must make sense within the context of the setting. This initial attempt should show the reader how his flaw still holds him back. This will cement in the reader’s mind that the character’s internal journey is ultimately more important than the quest for the external goal. The character might not yet realize that his inner flaw is holding him back, but that fact should be reasonably clear to the reader. Ideally, the attempt should relate to the theme in some obvious way. If you can involve the ally in some meaningful way, without stretching credibility too far, then that can also serve you well later on.

Antagonist Revealed

The antagonist is one of the most important characters in your book. He provides an imposing obstacle to your main character, and thus ensures plenty of drama and tension. He is also crucial because he offers a different way of seeing the world--a different lens through which the reader can examine the theme. A character this important deserves a great scene. Rather than simply making him a cartoonish villain, do your best to humanize him. If he is obviously a fully developed individual, and not a cliche bad guy, then his opposition to the main character will carry so much more meaning. The antagonist’s reason for opposing the main character should be logical, a natural progression from events in his own life. The antagonist has to want that goal as badly as your main character does. Show the reader why he wants it. He can be an entirely new character or an already-present character.

Thwart #1

Your main character hasn’t even come close yet to conquering his flaw and completing his personal growth. Here is where you must decide how and why he’s thwarted. Sometimes it’s because the antagonist has also made a bid for the external goal, and has pushed the main character farther away, or pushed him off course. Sometimes the “antagonist revealed” and “thwart #1” steps are one and the same, with your antagonist becoming known to the main character in the same moment that he meets defeat. Occasionally, the event has little to do with the antagonist, and appears to be a matter of fate (but is in reality a matter of your book’s theme).

Revisiting the Flaw

He’s resisting his duty to embark on the true hero’s journey and fix what’s broken inside him. This calls for a stern lesson. Rub his face in his failure. Here, you’ll show the character’s flaw again, so it’s clear to the reader that his failure to confront his flaw directly is the real source of his troubles. Begin sowing the seeds of self-doubt in the character’s mind. Introduce the character’s first inkling that maybe he’s not as flawless as he thought, and that perhaps some change is warranted. But he’s not quite ready to give up his old ways yet.

New Drive for the Goal

The main character makes a new plan to reach his goal. A bit more cautious now, thanks to his brief moment of introspection, and perhaps wary of the antagonist or other forces, he is just as motivated as ever to claim that external prize, but because he still refuses to own up to his failings and affect a change, it continues to dangle out of his reach.

Antagonist Attacks

The character has just begun to soften and examine his own behavior a little bit. Now is the perfect time to spring a strong attack from his antagonist. The events of this plot point make it clear to him that “fate” isn’t behind his failures. He has an antagonist—somebody else is driving toward his coveted prize. The prize just got even more desirable.

NOTE: Sometimes it’s wonderful fun to set characters up as if they’re allies, but to surprise the reader (and the main character) by revealing that they’re actually antagonists—either the key antagonist who will ultimately confront the main character at his most vulnerable moment of change, or minor antagonists who needle and plague him in subplots. Build these subplots with character arc, Core, and theme, and even your subplots will feel cohesive.

Thwart #2

Sadly for your main character, because he hasn’t yet accepted his need for change, he just can’t win. He is thwarted again—this time, clearly by his antagonist. Your main character now knows that his antagonist is powerful and driven. The external goal looks more out of his reach than ever before.

NOTE: You can add in as many drive toward goal/antagonist attacks/main character thwarted sequences as you like. The key to making repeated sequences feel relevant and not repetitive is to slowly increase the main character’s self-awareness with each thwart. Each time, his eyes are opened a little wider to the antagonist’s potency and his own inadequacy, until finally, he can no longer deny that his inner flaw is the source of his woes.

Changed Goal

Because his external goal now seems so very out of reach, your character changes his course entirely. He gives up on the external goal, or shifts his focus to a different external goal that is barely related. When you create the changed goal for your main character, be sure it’s logical and has some ties to the other elements your story. He has a new external goal now, and is ready to give the original goal to the antagonist.

The Ally Attacks

Here, after your main character has given in to the tempting distraction of an barely-related goal, is where your ally must launch her attack. Using her great influence over the main character, she makes him look deep into a mirror and truly face what he sees there. It’s the ally who finally smacks the main character upside the head until he acknowledges that he is the cause of all his own troubles and failures. In this scene, the ally must give the main character no choice but to see that he must correct his flaw.

NOTE: You can position the Changed Goal and Attack by Ally elsewhere in the stream of Drive to Goal/Attack by Antagonist/Thwart headings. Where you place the sequence depends on how you want the reader to feel about your character, and what kind of atmosphere you want to give the entire story. Placing the sequence early in the book—say after Thwart #1—will change the way the reader feels about your main character. The reader will see the character in abject misery for much longer—and therefore will feel more sympathy. If you place the sequence later, the reader will see the character in need of fixing their flaw for longer, and will feel more tension to witness that change finally come about. The character may be more difficult to like if you place the sequence later, but the change can feel much more gratifying when it’s finally made. As long as it happens before the final battle with the antagonist, though, you can’t go wrong.

Girding the Loins

He is humbled now, gives up on his new, false goal, and finds in himself a will he never knew he had before. He decides that he will renew his pursuit of the original external goal—and he acknowledges that he must confront the powerful antagonist in order to do it. The main character is under no illusions now. He knows how deeply flawed he is. He knows that the antagonist is probably more powerful than he is. He knows that he may not succeed. But because of the ally’s influence, he has seen the light. He is ready to face his flaw, to conquer it if he can, and finally win his prize. What can you write that will show his changed mental state? Sometimes it’s a quietly introspective scene where he reflects on his past and knows that those days are behind him. Sometimes it’s a dramatic scene where he makes a symbolic sacrifice. Sometimes it can be conveyed more subtly, through imagery. Whatever you choose, make it clear to the reader that the main character has reached his awakening. His feet are firmly on the hero’s path now, and he won’t stop until his journey comes to its rightful, hard-won end, whatever that end may be.

The Battle

The main character squares off openly with the antagonist. They strive for the external goal, but the reader knows that the main character is really striving to conquer his flaw and achieve his hidden goal: personal growth. The “battle” scene doesn’t have to be a literal battle. It’s simply a confrontation with the antagonist, and it must come after the main character has girded up his loins. He gets awfully close to winning the external goal. But the battle isn’t yet won.


The “death” is usually the most impactful scene in the book. A literal death isn’t necessary (though sometimes you’ll find that a literal death has the greatest dramatic value). What dies in the “death” scene is the character’s flaw. In the midst of his final battle with the antagonist, the main character reaches deep within himself and finds the strength to conquer his flaw. He effectively “kills off” the person he was before—a person whose life was controlled by his inner brokenness. Now he has the chance to emerge as a whole, relatively flawless being. This is the scene when the main character makes the final thrust with his sword, the final sprint to the finish line. With one last, desperate, painful effort, he grows. (Or he doesn’t. But does try even if he fails). It’s the great climax of your book, so make it memorable. Typically the “death” will involve a dramatic sacrifice. The main character will make some grand, symbolic gesture to show that he is a totally different person now. The sacrifice is a signal to the reader that the old version of the main character is gone for good, and the new version is here to stay, with his hard-won hero status intact.


Did you decide to give the character a hard, soft, or ambiguous lesson? That decision will guide you in sketching out the basics of this last scene. The final segment of your book should make it clear whether the character won or lost his external goal. We already know that he managed to win his inner battle, conquer his flaw, and attain hero status. Now all that remains is for us to understand the aftermath of the great battle with the antagonist. Show who ultimately won the external prize, and spend some time reflecting on the implications of your character’s arc. Theme is your unifying concept, so one last revisitation of the books theme in the final sentences will offer a satisfying sense of closure and cohesion.

Line 5: End

If you know your character’s flaw, you already know the lesson she must learn as she goes on her inner journey. Now it’s only a question of whether you want to give your character a hard lesson (she doesn’t achieve her external goal, but learns how to be a better person), a soft lesson (she achieves her external goal and learns how to be a better person), or an ambiguous lesson (can fall into the hard or soft category, depending on how you look at it). Describe whether your character succeeds or fails in her external goal--the goal that’s related to the plot, not the story. Show whether the character overcomes her flaw (remember, it’s valid for your character to fail) and provide information about whether the lesson is hard, soft, or ambiguous.


A good flaw provides obvious obstacles to your character’s growth. It has to hold him back in some meaningful way, keeping him trapped in an uncomfortable state. It must also be something the character is capable of changing--something she can conceivably grow out of, if she makes the right decisions along her journey. The flaw has to prevent your character from living life to its fullest, or from achieving full actualization of self. It can even cause your character to hurt other people. It sets a hook in the reader, giving them a reason to truly care about your character--and therefore, about your book. It signals to the reader that this is a character who has the potential to become a true hero. The promise of a hero’s journey signals to the reader’s subconscious mind that this will be a juicy story, likely to deliver a satisfying payoff for all the time spent reading it. Once you decide on a flaw, the external events you choose must provide a logical framework for your character’s arc, stepping stones for him to make it from Point A to Point B and to change for the better (or fail in the attempt). Your character’s flaw will dictate the inciting event, the antagonist, the ally, and the “false starts” he makes at bettering himself.


Your main character will get sidetracked from the task of fixing his internal flaw. He’ll appear to be pursuing his external goal, but really he’s running from his inner flaw, afraid to face his weakness. But he’ll never be able to attain his external goal until he finally confronts his weakness. The ally is the one who has the power to force the main character onto his correct path. It’s the ally who will finally turn the plot toward its climax, by backing your character into a corner and forcing him to confront his flaw. The ally is so important to the protagonist that when he finally speaks up, the main character can’t help but listen to his voice. Allies can be so subtle in a story that they seem totally inactive. Yet they still hold an astonishing power to influence the main character’s thoughts and actions. The ally might be an obvious friend-type figure, might masquerade in the guise of an antagonist, or might actually be a true antagonist at certain points in the story. The ally doesn't even need to be somebody your character gets along with. But it must be somebody who has the power to force your reluctant character to face his flaw.


Theme serves as one of your most useful guideposts. It will allow you to quickly discard scenes or concepts that don’t bear directly on the point of your book. Theme is a unifying force that keeps a story feeling cohesive and coherent, even though the author might explore a plethora of subplots and take on countless main characters. I find it very useful to understand my book’s theme before proceeding with the rest of the outline. Theme, for the purpose of your outline, isn’t layered meaning or a profound truth. It’s just a way of boiling down the point of your book into one sentence. It’s the overarching concept that unifies your story. All of these questions will help you identify your theme: What outlook on the world, or on human behavior, are you trying to explore? What’s the setting going to be like? How old is your ideal audience? What flaw have you chosen for your character; and what does your interest in such a flaw say about your outlook on the world? What point are you trying to make by exploring this particular flaw? How does this character’s journey reflect your beliefs or interests?

So now I’ve built two parts of the three-legged outline. How do I address pacing?

Your outline at this stage is only a loose sketch with ideas for your chapters and scenes. You need to refine and define your loose sketch, pumping it up until you have a clear vision of each chapter and scene in your book. In this process, it’s easy to lose sight of your book’s overall pace, but a tight pace has everything to do with creating a compulsion to keep on reading.

Do I really need to outline every little scene?

If you’re the type of writer who likes to leave much of your book open-ended, available for you to discover as you write it, this is where your outlining work ends. With your rough outline as a guide, you can let your creativity run wild and still be assured of a good book when you reach the end. However, if you want to maximize the efficiency of your writing time, I recommend you proceed on to learn about pacing.

What is pacing?

Every good narrative—every well-paced book—has exactly the same shape: an inverted triangle. Tight pace is a series of funnel-like events, broad at the beginning and skinny at the climax, each one leading logically into the next. First you have your character—a broad idea, and the character might go off in any direction. But next, he realizes that he wants something. He picks his direction. Something stands in his way, and the walls of the triangle begin to narrow. He struggles for what he wants, and the squeeze grows tighter. As the walls squeeze, he moves faster and more directly until finally, he either succeeds or fails at the point of the triangle, the climax. That squeeze, which produces speed, direct movement, and a focus on the story’s climax, is your book’s pace.

Every single chapter in your book must have this same pattern. At the beginning of a chapter, the character has choices (will he choose an action that takes him closer to fixing his flaw?). He’s faced with distractions (will he deviate from his hero’s journey here?). Early to midway through the chapter, the character must want something specific, and set his eyes on the prize. This goal may be related to the larger, external goal—the one that’s driving the whole plot. Or it may be related to your story in a vaguer way, connected by character arc or theme. He must come up against some sort of opposition. He struggles to reach his goal, and either succeeds or fails—and that success or failure is the direct cause of the next chapter.

The same applies to scenes within chapters. In the overall story, your character has his external goal. In this chapter, he has a more immediate, less motivating, but still important goal. He believes (and maybe he’s right) that by achieving his in-chapter goal, he’ll get one step closer to achieving his external goal. Chapter goal, chapter opposition, scene goal, scene opposition. Chapter and scene goals/opposition don’t need to be big, monumental things. But they must be logical, with one naturally leading into the next, and all of them ultimately converging on the main character’s big, external goal—in order to keep the reader glued to the page.

How do you make in-scene goals feel important without overwhelming the importance of the external goal?

I’ve found it helpful to pay special attention to the final moment in a chapter or scene—the moment when the character reaches the point of the triangle, when he is just on the verge of spilling out of his funnel into the wide mouth of the next logical triangle. I call these moments “cymbal crashes.” Just like a cymbal in an orchestra, these moments highlight the big, dramatic crescendos, and punctuate the climaxes of passages—just to be sure the reader doesn’t miss the point of the passage. A cymbal crash leaves the reader with a vivid visual and emotional “final image”—a sensation that the main character’s choice really means something, and will spur further action in the book. Most of the time, cymbal crashes should be rather subtle. Does your final image cause a thrill up the spine, a “Whoa,” an “Uh oh,” or an “Ah ha?”

So how do I apply the principle of pacing to the outline?

It’s time to expand your outline into “beats”—brief descriptions of what happens in each chapter and scene. Once you’ve got all your beats in place, each with a triangle shape that funnels into the next, you’ll be ready to write your book by simply fleshing out each beat with prose. In a new document, begin creating your beats. You can number them if you like, so you’ll have a clear idea of where chapter or scene breaks might fall. I like to simply create a new paragraph for each beat (and each beat will become a chapter, or a significant scene within a chapter). Paying heed to character arc and the external goal, I fill in beats with details about actions and personality. Just take it one beat at a time, envisioning a logical way to bridge the gap from one heading to the next. Always keep an eye on pace—remember that each beat should have a Story Core hidden somewhere inside, with a new (albeit minor) goal, conflict, and resolution for your character, and a cymbal crash at the end to maintain a sense of tension and importance.

How do you create an outline for books with more than one central character?

Any main character—anyone who goes on a hero’s journey, struggling to conquer his flaw and emerge after the climax as a better person—will need a complete character arc. But how do you know whether your characters are really main? The very best yardstick for determining a main character is the presence of a serious flaw. Does this character have an inner problem that’s impacting his life or the lives of the people he loves? Then he’s in need of a hero’s journey: let’s give him an outline.

NOTE: Flaws are good on their own, but if each main character’s flaw isn’t some exploration of unifying theme, you run the risk of making the reader feel as if she’s reading two stories at once.

Once you’ve determined that you do indeed have multiple protagonists, work through their outline as you would for a single-main-character book. Complete the outline process up through the “sketch in plot headings” phase, and write beats for each character’s first one or two scenes. Then it’s time to begin weaving your multiple outlines together. Look for opportunities for your characters to meet. Bear in mind that multiple main characters are usually one another’s antagonists, so pay special attention to how you’ll maneuver each character to the conflict points, where they will vie with one another for their external goals. Write beats that will move our characters toward their meeting points or conflict points.

Now and then you’ll need to leave off one main character’s storyline for a while, in order to take up another’s and develop his logical chain of events, leading inevitably to the next conflict between both main characters. When you drop one character’s storyline, be sure to deliver an extra-big cymbal crash at the point where you let it go. A big cymbal crash helps assure the reader that you’re not just trailing off pointlessly, losing interest with the first character and moving along to another who has nothing to do with the story. Cliffhangers can work well here, but they're not necessary.

How do you know when to switch between main characters?

Don’t feel like you must switch rhythmically between one main character and the other. Commit to switching between you main characters only when you can give the reader a really loud cymbal crash--when one character’s storyline has built up to a really dramatic moment. Then you can change gears, and take up the storyline of your next main character. Let the drama and tension of your pace be your guide.

Do all of my main characters need to arrive at the climax at the same time?

In multi-main-character works--especially very long ones--some main characters may drop out of the plot at one point or another. If they reach the natural end of their character arc long before your other protagonists do, don’t sweat it. They may lose their goal (but learn their personal lesson); they may die heroically trying to achieve their goal. As long as you still have one protagonist and one antagonist locked in a struggle, your story is still going. Don’t feel like you must make each character’s arc end at the same climax. Remember that each character is the hero of his own story, and as far as he’s concerned, his story has little to do with anybody else’s.

How do I handle a character’s arc over the course of a series?

There’s really no right or wrong way to approach a character’s arc within a series. One way to apply character arc over a long series is to allow the arc to build slowly over the course of multiple volumes. There’s also an entirely different method of plotting a multi-book series that features the same character(s). You can allow your character to resolve her initial flow by the end of Book 1, but give her a whole new flaw to tackle in Book 2. As long as the new flaw is derived from the events that took place in Book 1, it will feel relevant and coherent. Your character must go on a whole new hero’s journey, but the new flaw has grown organically out of the trials your character has already faced. Another means of handling multi-book/same character series can be observed in popular thriller and cozy mystery books. Your character might struggle to overcome the same flaw in every book. This happens frequently in genres where readers key into comforting familiarity and appreciate endearingly quirky traits in their main characters.

Thanks, Libbie Hawker.

My 5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways are:

  1. If I want to make money as a writer, I need to learn how to churn out good books quickly and efficiently; outlining is the key.

  2. Every good story includes the same Story Core: A character wants something, but something prevents him from getting it, so he struggles against that force, and either succeeds or fails.

  3. If I build my plot AFTER I define my character, flaw, antagonist, ally, theme, and ending, my narrative will feel more cohesive and leave the reader wanting more.

  4. To effectively pace my novel, I need to shape the character arc, chapters, and scenes like an inverted triangle (or nested inverted triangles).

  5. For a story with multiple main characters, I can write an outline for each character, then interweave their stories together.

What is your favorite takeaway from Libbie Hawker’s book?

Share your favorite in the comments below.

To free the writer today, let’s use Hawker’s outline to explore the narrative that’s been sloshing around in our brains lately. It’s an investment of 4ish hours that’s worth so much more. Let me know how it goes.


A writer like you: Elizabeth Chatsworth

A writer like you: Elizabeth Chatsworth

A writer like you: Barbara Russell

A writer like you: Barbara Russell