Your Characters as Your Customers ~ by Marj Ivancic

In the world of entrepreneurship and innovation, understanding the
customer is elemental to designing a product so spectacular consumers won’t know how they ever lived without it. One such tool to help inventors reach this deeper level of empathy with their potential customers is called the  Customer Value Proposition (from Strategyzer). Its template is laid out in a way geared to get product developers thinking through questions such as:

• What do my customers need to do?

• What gets in the way of them doing it?

• What does it mean to them to get it done?

• How can I mitigate or lessen the impact of the roadblocks?

• What can I give them to get those jobs done?

As an author, those questions rang familiar. Those are some of the same questions I ask myself when developing my characters and the story they have to tell!

So, I started thinking.

Maybe this “canvas” could be applied to the writing world. Maybe it could help a new writer get started. Or guide that person who’s written themselves so far down a rabbit hole they can’t see the light of day back onto a good path.

On the right side of the canvas, swap “customer” with one of your
Tricia Goyer free printables

What are the different jobs he has to do? Save the world? Find the bad guy? Stop the bad guy?

What are the “gains” or the positive outcomes and things he would get out of accomplishing those jobs? Revenge? Freedom? Pride? The girl?

What are the “pains” he faces, the things that get in the way of him completing those tasks? His own loneliness? Or a lack of trust? He’s new in town?

Jump to the left side of the canvas. Put on the product developer hat…or, in this case, the plot developer hat. What plotlines or twists can you as the author come up with to ease those pains and put those gains within reach? Does he meet someone who saves his life? Who rebuilds his trust in people? Or does he uncover a clue to help solve a mystery? Does he discover he has a power he didn’t know he had? Those things become the gain creators and pain relievers, filling in the other two portions of the left half of the canvas.

I’m sure most of my pantser friends are right now saying, “No way! My characters grow organically, in the moment. I can’t plan them!”

I get that. But I don’t think this is a one-and-done activity completed before a writer ever puts their hands on a keyboard. It is something that grows throughout the life of the story, matures with the author. And it can act as a mechanism to help writers keep track of their characters and the plot.

It certainly isn’t perfect nor is it the only tool an author should use. But what professional has just one screwdriver in their toolbox? So, if you’re stuck or lost, maybe give the canvas a try and see if helps you find your way back!


  1. I have a list of names I draw from. When I decide who best fits the story, I begin listing character traits. Then starts the chapter outlining. Sometimes I stick to the original outline, sometimes I don't. There are many tools in my box and there are days where I shut the lid, ignore them all, and blaze a new trail. Thanks for the great info.

  2. Interesting that your stories start with names & character traits!
    I think I start with a character and a scene and it builds from there.
    I definitely reach a point where I have to outline to some degree. I can't remember things!

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