Free Webinar: How to Structure a Novel into Chapters and Scenes

Do you need to know who many scenes should be in a chapter? Or perhaps how to group scenes in a chapter?

We’ve invited JoEllen Taylor, CEO of First Editing, to talk about the importance of structuring a novel into chapters and scenes and how to do that to ensure a story is powerful.

Join us Friday, May 21, 2021 10:00 AM (EDT).

We’ll cover:

  1. Definition of a draft novel
  2. Target word count for genres
  3. What a scene is
  4. How to structure scenes
  5. What a chapter is
  6. How to structure chapters
  7. Common issues
  8. How is technology impacting structure
  9. Tips to format like a professional

Join us and bring your questions!

StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

When you subscribe after your two-week free trial, , you get the Fictionary Story Editing Masterclass for free.

Why is the Story Arc Important?

Story Arc

Whether you’re a writer or a story editor, you must understand why the story arc is important and how to check if a story is following this time-proven form. I have to confess, I love the story arc. It fascinates me that something can work for the human brain since stories were first told. Since before anyone knew what a story arc was.

Five important scene make up the story arc : the Inciting IncidentPlot Point 1, the Middle, Plot Point 2, and the Climax. For the story to be powerful, these scenes must appear in the right place of a story.

If the incident comes too late, the reader will get bored.

If plot point 1 is too close to the middle, the story will feel rushed.

If the Climax is too late, the resolution won’t satisfy the reader.

All bad things.

Monsters are also bad. So let’s do some time traveling and look at two monster stories. One ancient. The other modern. One an epic poem. The other a novel.  Both HUGELY successful.

History of the Story Arc

Let’s go way back into the past. All the way to circa 750 t0 700 BC when is it believed Beowulf was written. It’s an epic poem with 2669 lines. I used the translation of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published by Harper Collins (2016) to analyze the poem from a story arc perspective.

Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in British literature. Normally I write about novels, but novels didn’t exist back then. The long form of a story was a poem, often spoken instead of read.

Beowulf takes place in Denmark, where a monster terrorizes the people. Grendel is his name. Beowulf is the hero of the story and goes on a quest to destroy Grendel.

Beowulf Narrative Arc

Beowulf Story Arc Scenes

Inciting Incident: Line 279: 10% into the story.

Beowulf has heard stories of a monster who walks the night. A watchman allows Beowulf to pass into a kingdom, and Beowulf’s ordinary life is changed. He’s on his way to help King Hrothgar fight the monster.

Plot Point 1:  Line 665: 25% into the story.

Beowulf kills the monster, Grendel. This causes Grendel’s mother to seek revenge.

So far, so good. The key scenes are fitting perfectly on the story arc most used today.

Middle: Line 1315: 50% into the story.

You can tell I’m getting excited by this point. I wasn’t sure what the results of my analysis would be when I started out on my adventure to study the story arc more deeply.

At the middle, Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother.

Plot Point 2: Line 1958: 73% into the story. Right within range!

Beowulf learns his home is being ravaged by dragons. He’s at rock bottom. He left his home to help others, and now his home is paying the price.

Climax: Line 2260: 85% into the story.

Beowulf fights the dragon and at the end of the climax, he kills it.

The story starts with a funeral and ends with a funeral. It starts with a monster killing people, and ends with a person killing a monster. Perfect symmetry. Beowulf has been around forever for a reason.

The Modern Story Arc

Now let’s time travel forward 2700 years or so. We come to Twilight. Written by Stephanie Meyer. Published in 2008 by Harper Collins. I analyzed Twilight based on word count, not line count as I did with Beowulf.

Twilight was extremely commercially successful. This may or may not be the genre for you, and whether you liked the story or not isn’t the point. The point is a story has a better shot at being commercially successful if it follows the story arc.

Twilight Narrative Arc

Twilight’s Story Arc Scenes

Inciting Incident: 10% into the story.

Bella has already met Edward. This leads up to the inciting incident where Edward saves Bella from being killed in a parking lot. She gets her first glimpse of his powers and is set on her path of discovering more about him.

Plot Point 1: 25% into the story.

Bella suspects that Edward is a vampire, but she decides to pursue him anyway. Edward has emotional power over Bella.

Middle: 50% into the story.

Edward reveals his true powers as a vampire to Bella. He saves her from an attack, and this strengthens how she feels about him.

Plot Point Two: 75% into the story.

A bad vampire goes after Bella, and Bella must leave her home. Bella wants to survive, but not if it means risking those she loves.

Climax: 90% into the story.

The vampire lures Bella into a trap. She faces down the evil vampire and gets injured.

Can You Still Write a Unique Story?

Following the form of the story arc doesn’t mean the story isn’t unique. Of course it is. You are a unique person, and you wrote it. No one else can write the same story. My goal is to give you the best chance of writing a story people love.

Beowulf and Twilight are both about monsters, but they are very different stories.

And that my is my story of what the story arc is important.


StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

StoryTeller draws a recommended story arc and draws the story arc for your story. You can see how to improve the structure of your story within seconds.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

What is a Character Arc?

Fictionary Character Arc

compelling character arc is the emotional journey your character takes throughout your story that engages your reader. A character arc can also be referred to the emotional arc of a character.

Why is a Compelling Character Arc Important?

A reader wants to experience emotion. If a character doesn’t experience emotion, then the reader won’t either. This is a simple concept to understand but a hard concept to implement in a story.

If a character experiences emotion, then the emotional journey can be shown from the beginning of a story to the end.

What’s the Starting Point?

A character arc starts the moment your character enters the story.

Scene-by-Scene Character Arcs

If you pay attention to the impact every scene has on a character, you’ll develop a compelling character arc.

Let’s look at what that means.

There will be a point of view (POV) character for every scene. This means the character whose eye’s the reader will experience the scene from. There will also be a protagonist in your story. The story is mostly about this character. A good way to test who is your protagonist is to write a blurb (back cover text) and see which character you write about.

Make a list of your key characters.

  1. All POV characters
  2. the protagonist

Now, at the end of every scene, ask yourself:

  1. What is the impact on the POV character?
  2. What is the impact on the protagonist (if different from the POV character)?

When answering, all you need to know is it positive, neutral or negative compared to the beginning of the scene.

Let’s look at an example of how to evaluate character arcs for important characters.

Did you notice I said important characters instead of main characters?

This is because any character who is the point or view character is important. They may not be a main character, but if you have chosen them for a point of view character, they are important.

Here’s an example from the Fictionary Story Map insight.  Whatever method you use, it’s important to not only keep track of the character arc, but also keep track of the related story elements.  To dig deeper into the Story Elements, check out our video series.

Fictionary Story Map

In the Story Map example, there are three point of view characters shown. Shannon, Jake, and The Boy.

  • Shannon is the protagonist.
  • Jake is the love interest.
  • The Boy is the antagonist.

Using the Story Map,  I see all three characters and the impact the scene had on each character. I like to select the scene name along with the Purpose, so I remember what the scene is about and why it’s in the story.

In the first three scenes, Shannon ends each scene in an emotional state that is negative to how she started the scene.

The first scene shows Shannon’s ordinary world, so I’ve marked the purpose of the scene as The Setup.

The second scene introduces a key character, so I’ve marked the purpose of that scene as Character Introduction.

And the third scene is the Inciting Incident.  The inciting incident is the moment the protagonist’s world changes in a dramatic way. In this scene, Shannon’s is hurt enough that she is going to change her life.

At the beginning of the story, Shannon starts out in a positive emotional state. Scene 1 knocks that down a notch, scene 2 even further, and scene 3 is even harder on Shannon. The start of Shannon’s arc takes a big drop.

When Jake is introduced in scene 3, he receives a phone call that upsets him. He goes from a positive mental state to a negative mental state. In scene 4, Jake starts the scene unhappy, but moves to a positive frame of mind when he meets Shannon.

The Boy has the opposite emotional start in the story than Jake does. His first scene ends with him in a happy place. The start of the next scene, he’s happy but by the end his beloved father is dead. Most definitely not happy.

Neutral is Bad

To create a compelling character arc, it’s important write scenes where the emotional state changes. If the point of view character is happy at the beginning of a scene and in the same state of happiness as the end of the scene, what was the purpose of the scene? It may mean the goal was not strong enough to make it meaningful.  There are definitely issues.


The Story Arc and Compelling Character Arcs

The protagonist’s emotional state must change dramatically in the key story arc scenes. The key scenes have a big impact on the story, so they must have a big impact on the protagonist.  The impact should be stronger than in the other scenes. And in the climax scene, it must be the strongest.

The inciting incident is the moment the protagonist’s world changes in a dramatic way.

If the protagonist’s emotional state does not change in a dramatic way when their world changes in a dramatic way, then there is a problem. Perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong protagonist, or perhaps the inciting incident isn’t related to the plot. Whatever the reason, the scene needs to be rewritten.

Plot Point 1 is the point of no return. The character can’t back out of the central conflict. This is the moment when the setup of the story ends and Act I is over.

Let’s face it. If anyone one of us changes our lives and can’t return to our previous life, we are going to feel differently when that happens. Your protagonist must too.

The midpoint is when the protagonist changes from reactive to proactive.

Here again, the protagonist is going to change their behaviour, and the only was that happens is if their emotional state changes.

Plot Point 2 will be a low point for your protagonist. Her actions since the middle have caused disaster. At PP2, she becomes more determined to reach her goal.

Note the word disaster in the description. That pretty much tells you to go from a positive to a negative emotional state in this key scene.

You’ve built your story up to the climax with rising action, and now the climax scene (or scenes) will have the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval.

Depending on the type of story you’re writing, the protagonist either wins or loses. They achieve the main story goal or they don’t. And that must impact their emotional state. Let me repeat that. The climax scene MUST impact the protagonist’s emotional state.


Story Structure

Too Many Negative Endings

For a compelling character arc, the scene can’t end with the protagonist in a negative emotional state compared to the beginning of the scene for too many scenes in a row. The reader will start to believe the protagonist will never reach their plot goal and what’s the point of reading the story. There has to be a hint that the protagonist can succeed.

Too Many Positive Endings

Too many scenes in a row where the protagonist’s emotional state is better at the end of the scene than at the beginning will bore the reader. If the character reaches every goal too easily, the story will lack tension.

Scene-by-Scene Character Arcs

There’s no way around it. To create a compelling character arc, you’ll evaluate every scene and keep track of whether the emotional state goes from positive to negative or negative to positive.Separator


StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

When you subscribe after your two-week free trial, , you get the Fictionary Story Editing Masterclass for free.

What is a Plotpoint or is it Plot Point?

First, let’s talk about spelling of plotpoint. One word or two. It’s doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you know what a plotpoint is and how to use it in your story.

My point. It won’t matter how perfect your spelling and grammar are if you don’t have a powerful story. Knowing what each plotpoint is will help you evaluate if you have a powerful story.

Why is the Story Arc Important?

Also known as a narrative arc, the story arc has been around for centuries. Want proof? Check out The Story Arc: A Look Back in History.

The story arc is a proven form for stories. The human brain is somehow attracted to the form and it’s the way we love to experience stories. It doesn’t matter if the story is an epic poem, a novel, or a movie. The form is the same.

And this form contains plotpoints.

Plotpoints of the Story Arc

Plotpoints are events in the story that have meaningful impact on the protagonist.

To start, in the inciting incident an event happens that shakes up the protagonists world.

In plotpoint one an event occurs that the protagonist can’t turn back from. This could be something that happens to the protagonist, it could be a decision the protagonist makes, or it could be something the protagonist causes.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trialand tell powerful stories?

At the midpoint, the protagonist changes from reactive mode to proactive. This is where they take action to achieve their goal.

During plotpoint two, the protagonist is at the lowest point in the book. An event happens and the protagonist thinks they are lost, there is no way they can achieve this goal.

And then on the climax. This is the big event where the protagonist either wins or loses.

What do Plotpoints Have in Common?

  1. The protagonist is in all the plotpoint scenes. This is a must or the character arc will fail.
  2. Each plotpoint scene is written in active form. There is no narrative summary here. The reader wants to experience the scene along with the protagonist.
  3. The key event in the plotpoint scene relates to the plot and to the protagonists main goal for the story.

Master this form, and you’re on your way to being a master storyteller.

For some fun, this is my favorite video on why stories captivate.

StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to self-edit a novel, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

StoryTeller draws a recommended story arc and draws the story arc for your story. You can see how to improve the structure of your story within seconds.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trialand tell powerful stories?

Make Every Scene Sing!

Scene-by-Scene Editing Makes A Scene Come To Life

By Jordan Rosenfeld

Great stories, just like any large structure, are built of many smaller parts, known as scenes. So what is a scene?

I guarantee that even if you’re unclear on the elements of scene making, you’ll recognize when you’re reading one intuitively: Scenes invigorate and enliven dry narrative. They put characters into compelling action and powerful dialogue. They use sensory detail to bring the reader viscerally inside the characters’ lived experiences and reveal setting. Scenes wake stories out of slumber.


Scenes, in a nutshell, are the moments of a character’s experience written with such clarity of detail that the reader feels as though they are living it, not just reading it.


While I’m a big believer in letting yourself write mediocre scenes in order to get the first draft written, it’s helpful to know how to revise your scenes later to bring them to life.


Make Every Scene Sing

Here are some suggestions for scene-by-scene editing to make sure they really sing:

Focus on the action:

The hallmark of a scene is action, often called momentum—that beat-by-beat energy that creates a feeling of real time passing, plus dramatic action—the “what happens” of the scene that reveals new plot information and creates consequences for your character.

So always ask: Are my characters moving through space and time in acts and words, and, is there something significant that happens in this scene? (And does it create a consequence or sequel for the next scene?). Scenes without action aren’t scenes at all—they’re often long passages of narrative summary, loops of internal monologue or passive descriptions of setting without character interaction. On that note, have characters think less and do more.

New plot information:

Ask yourself, what does the reader/character learn in this scene that they didn’t already know? A new clue to the plot? A new piece of character information? A who, what, where, when or why? If you can’t pinpoint one, you know one thing your scene is missing.

Active character discovery:

Is your character actively involved in the new pieces of plot information? Do they discover, uncover, learn, reveal, seek, find, chase, call, etc? If the information is coming to them passively, the scene will feel too easy and the climax unearned.

How are you using dialogue?

Are you writing “conversation’s greatest hits” (thank you Jessica Page Morrell, from Between the Lines)? Avoid mundane pleasantries and discussions about food, weather and giving directions. Dialogue should be stylized and strategic, used to reveal character and develop plot. Try not to rely too heavily on it, either, so that you’re using it as an info-dump rather than letting characters discover plot elements in action.

Are you saturating setting?

If you find yourself writing the kind of setting descriptions that could run in an Architectural Digest article, you’re probably boring the reader with too much summary. Make sure you reveal setting as the character interacts with it. Just enough to ground the reader in the scene, but not to the point of overkill.

Scene structure:

Scenes, like the novels they comprise, have a design. A launch, a middle, and an ending. They should launch with new action or continuation of a prior scene’s cliffhanger; they should build, through obstacle and challenge, to a high point—epiphany, danger, discovery—and then end in a way that creates a consequence for the character to tend to in the next scene.

Tighten tension:

Lastly, ask yourself if your scenes deliver a sense of urgency and intrigue, conflict and danger, suspense or withholding—that’s the stuff of tension, which creates page-turnability. Without tension, things happen too easily, people are too nice, too beautiful, too successful without any challenge. When tension is in place, characters must struggle with everything from their own internal flaws to their antagonists to dangers and conflicts thrust at them from many angles.

While there are many more aspects to editing your own scenes, follow these seven guidelines for stronger scenes that build a powerful story.

Jordan Rosenfeld

Feb Fictionary's Choice Editing Book of the MonthJordan is author of the suspense novels Women in Red, Forged in Grace and Night Oracle as well as the writing guides How to Write a Page Turner; Writing the Intimate Character; Writing Deep Scenes; A Writer’s Guide to Persistence; the bestselling Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, and Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life.

She is also a freelance writer and editor. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly,, Scientific American, the Washington Post, The Writer, Writer’s Digest and many more.


Free Training by Jordan

Jordan is teaching free Zoom-based writing workshops March 27 through April 8, 2020. First come, first served.

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StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work with scene-by-scene editing. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

StoryTeller gives you a method to perform scene-by-scene editing. Use it to apply Jordan’s advice to your story and you’ll edit faster and with higher quality.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

Manuscript Editing: Two Editors Compared

Manuscript Editing: Two Editors Compared

Thirteen editors perform a Story Edit on the same manuscript.

Image Source: Fictionary

We’re going to share the results, so editors and writers can learn from the experience.

Fictionary’s series on manuscript editing is just beginning. The goal of this series is for writers to know what they’re buying and for editors to know what to offer as part of their editing service.

First, we’ll review a scene where two editors performed a copyedit as part of a Story Edit.

Story Editing

As a quick refresher, a Story Edit, also called a structural, developmental, or substantive edit, is the primary structural review of your manuscript and the story you’re telling.

Story Editing is your big-picture approach to preparing for publishing. It’s your first structural revision. This is when you rework your characters, plot, and settings to ensure the story line and narrative flow smoothly while every scene contributes to the story’s purpose.

Story Editing means looking at the characters and asking why each one is in the story. It means looking for patterns, finding emotion, evaluating the structure of scenes, structuring chapters and word count. It means testing the setting against the plot, and so on.


After you’ve finished a Story Edit, copyediting is the most essential and fundamental preparation you need before publishing.

A basic copyedit includes checking your grammar, spelling, and punctuation for accuracy; ensuring consistency in your writing, word choices, style and compositional spacing; and eliminating jargon and repetitious words. It’s your last edit before formatting and proceeding to proofreading and publishing.

Two Story Edits Performed by Two Editors on the Same Manuscript

Both editors worked on a story where a writer requested a Story Edit and not a copyedit.

Image Source: Fictionary

(1) Comma removal

Editor 1 recommended removing the comma after the word “grief” in the following sentence.

Death was there along with sadness and grief, but the real problem was the gathering of people.

The sentence is made up of two independent clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction. Therefore, the comma is required. The advice to remove the comma is incorrect.

The sentence could be written as two sentences and still be grammatically correct.

Death was there along with sadness and grief. The real problem was the gathering of people. 

(2) Deleted sentence

Editor 1 has used the track changes functionality to delete the sentence “Too many people.”. The first problem is there is no explanation why this is being recommended. The second problem is this is a sentence level style recommendation. This type of recommendation should be given during a copyedit and not a Story Edit.

(3) & (4) “Unfamiliar” versus “not familiar”

Both editors recommended changing “not familiar” to “unfamiliar”. It’s the same advice, but Editor 2 explains why they recommended the change. The more informative advice will teach the writer how to improve their style and show them what to look for when they eventually perform a copyedit.

Know What You Need

Imagine you’re a writer who has paid for a Story Edit. Are you going to be happy with copyedit changes that are incorrect or come with little explanation? Probably not.

Sometimes a copyedit can give the impression a lot of work was done. That may be true, but it’s the wrong work at this phase of the editing journey. Both the writer and the editor may feel productive, but spending time on style changes before the story is strong can waste time.

I’ve only shown you a small portion of the Story Edit to illustrate different styles editors have.

My assessment based on the edit of the full manuscript is that Editor 1 is a copyeditor who is working outside their area of expertize or comfort zone by taking on a Story Editing job. Editor 2 performed minimal copyediting during the Story Edit, and when they copyedited, they gave the writer an explanation of why they recommended changes.

As a writer, you need to be clear on what you want from an editor. If your knowledge of grammar is strong, having changes recommended without an explanation may be perfect for you, so you can accept or reject changes quickly. If grammar is not your thing, and you’re learning as you write, then you’ll want an editor who gives explanations.

Knowing what you need as a writer will help you choose an editor who is a good fit.

Knowing what a writer needs from you as an editor will help you deliver exceptional edits.

Post Written by Kristina Stanley.

Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a bestselling, award-winning author and fiction editor, Kristina Stanley is the creator and CEO of — creative editing software for fiction writers and editors. She is a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and a Story Editing Advisor to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Her novels include The Stone Mountain mystery series and Look the Other Way. She’s the author of The Author’s Guide to Selling Book to Non-Bookstores. She’s a passionate guide-dog trainer and hiker.

Story Editing: Create A Powerful Story — BookBaby Blog

Thanks to BookBaby for hosting Fictionary!

Ups Downs Family History

By BookBaby author Kristina Stanley Editing a manuscript is a big undertaking, both intellectually and emotionally. It takes time and being thorough can be difficult, but the creative story editing process always pays off. Getting your novel ready for publication is an exciting journey, and part of getting ready is performing a story edit on…

via Story Editing: Create A Powerful Story — BookBaby Blog.

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Everything You Need to Know About Fiction Editing

Posted on Alliance of Independent Authors

Getting your first book edited can be an overwhelming experience. There’s different types of editors, huge swings in price ranges and that’s all before you receive the feedback itself. ALLi partner member and CEO of Kristina Stanley, is here to explain everything you need to know about fiction editing.

Why is Fiction Editing so Complicated?

Let’s start with the terms. Substantive, developmental, structural, line, copyedit, proofread. Lost yet? When I started as an author, I researched these terms to figure out what they meant. Now that I’m a fiction editor, I want to uncomplicate this for you.

Read More…

We’re proud to announce Fictionary is now a vetted, trusted Partner Member and affiliate of Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi).

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Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?   No credit card required unless you love StoryTeller as much as we do and decide to subscribe.

Like to learn more about StoryTeller, check out our blog StoryTeller: Creative Editing Software for Fiction Writers.

Plot Versus Story

When Lisa at asked me to write about plot versus story, I thought no problem. I’m a story expert. However, once I started researching the topic, I realized there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

I also realized a discussion about plot and story would be incomplete if we didn’t mention structure. Understanding the difference between plot, structure, and story is important because knowing the difference and how they affect your writing process can help you tell a powerful story.

Read More…

Make the Most of Your Cast of Characters

Hi All,

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for Fictionary that I thought might help any of you who are working on your characters.


Readers love to cheer for a character. Make them feel the sadness, the terror, the happiness your character feels, and you’ll keep them reading.

In a novel, giving your readers someone to cheer for and follow for 300 or so pages might make the difference between the reader dropping your book on the coffee table after chapter one and staying awake late into the night reading until the climax satisfies their need to know what happened to the character.

The Cast of Characters is the list of characters in your story.  These characters act and react. They create emotion. They show motivation. Without any of this, you don’t have a story. That’s a tall order for your characters. So how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of them?

The first thing to do is review your Cast of Characters.  This is my cast from an early version of my first novel DESCENT as shown in Fictionary StoryTeller.

Cast of Characters


Once you’ve written a first draft of your story, you can create a cast of characters. StoryTeller does this for you, if you’d like to try it. StoryTeller scans your manuscript on import and within seconds, creates your cast of characters.

While reviewing your cast of characters look for:

  • Character names that are too similar. There’s nothing more frustrating to a reader than if a character is killed and it’s Bill, but there’s also a Bob in the story. If the reader is left wondering which character was actually killed because the names are too similar, they might put your book down.
  • Names used for more than one character. This one may be a surprise, but it happens. Working on a novel over months or years makes it easy to forget a minor character’s name and use it again.
  • Any typos in the names. This list will help you catch typos that are hard to find when proofreading. For example: Kristina versus Kristine. Your spell checker won’t find an error, but when you see the names listed together, you can’t miss it.
  • Too many characters.

Character Names That Are Too Similar:

Review the names when listed together, and look for names that would confuse the reader by having names that are too similar.  You can see above I have Derek and Donny. These names are similar (both start with D and have two syllables), telling me I should change one of the names.

Here’s an example:

In a book I was reading, a sheriff and his young deputy are questioning an older woman and a young nurse. The deputy’s name is Molly, and the nurse’s name is Maggie. Both are young women. Both names start with M. Halfway through the scene, one character put her hand on the older woman’s shoulder. I thought, “Why would the deputy be so personal?” I had to reread and check which character touched the woman. Of course, it was the nurse.

This was frustrating. Renaming a character is an easy fix.

Names Used For More Than One Character:

Once, I gave two minor characters the same first name. One was in an early scene, and one was in a later scene. None of my beta readers nor my editor picked this up because the names were too far apart in the story, but StoryTeller did. I was glad I caught this before Imajin Books published my novel.


Viewing your cast of characters in alphabetical order for both first and last names allows you to quickly see any typos. Here StoryTeller has shown me I’d used Ginnie and Ginny for the same person.  It’s a small detail, but one that could cause readers to drop the book.


Cast of Character Typo


Too Many Characters:

You don’t want readers to flip (or click) to previous pages to find out who a character is. Too many characters can cause this problem. Here, StoryTeller counted my characters for me. Including minor characters, there are 34 characters in DESCENT. Not bad for a 86,000 word novel.

Total cast of characters

If you’re worried there are too many characters in a scene, ask yourself if the story needs each character. It’s not your need for the character that matters, it’s the story’s. Can the plot move forward without a character? Then it’s time to cut, cut, cut. 

You can also reduce the number of characters by combining two characters into one. Can the role filled by one character be fulfilled by another? If the answer is yes, think about getting rid of the character. 

Here’s an example:

A novel I edited for one of my clients had too many characters. The main character had a best friend who had a wife and two kids. The main character also had a brother who had a wife and two kids. I suggested merging the brother and his family into the friend and his family. This meant rewriting the scenes with the brother (replacing him with the friend), but it also meant a tighter story where the reader had more time to get to know the friend and his family. The author decided to make the changes, and her story is more powerful.

The fewer characters there are, the more time there is available to develop each one and the more time a reader has to grow to love the characters.

Next we’ll cover how to look at your characters on a scene-by-scene basis.

Are you a visual learner? Watch our 1 minute  video on Cast of Characters.

If you’d like to listen to an in-depth discussion on story editing, check out Story Edit Like A Pro.

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