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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making your characters and plot intertwine

Please welcome guest bloggers Sue Viders and Becky Martinez


Characters and plot are at the heart of any good commercial book. They are the workhorses of a story. Without them you are going no place and you have no one to take you along for the ride. A good setting is important, a wonderful climax and resolution are critical, but a reader won’t get into that setting and won’t make it to the climax if the characters and plot don’t carry the reader along. A great story teller gets the job (or story told) through the use of interesting, unique characters and a compelling plot.


While it’s true that a good character can carry a story by him or herself, it’s also true that a fast moving plot can get a reader into reading the book. But to create a truth page turner, though, it takes both. The two must work together. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel,” agent Donald Maas says, “Great characters are the key to great fiction. A high octane plot is nothing without credible, larger than life, highly developed enactors to make it meaningful.”


He goes on to explain that we need to create characters who are “larger than life,” and this is possible, even if we work with characters we have based on real people. We want to see our characters react in a way we would like to, but can’t. How many times have you walked away from a conversation wishing there were things that you had said that you didn’t. In your fiction you can replay that scene and say all those things you didn’t say.


In the same way you can develop your plots by basing them on real events. Utilize real incidents and make them turn out the way you wanted. That is the great advantage of being a writer. You get to make all the decisions.


But there are still some things that you must do to make your story work.


The most important is to make the character and the plot work together.


Otherwise the story won’t work. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where the plot is all action, but you don’t feel that you really got to know or care about the character? Or have you read a book where you feel the character just wasn’t challenged enough? That demonstrates the lack of a good plot for the character or the lack of just the right character for that plot.

That is exactly why it’s important to marry the two. Here’s a quick look at the difference between a plot driven by character and a plot that drives the book as we define in our class “Character Driven Plotting.”


A character driven plot progresses because of the actions of the characters, wherein a plot driven story is where the character simply reacts to events beyond their control.


For example:


  • In a plot driven story, the character reacts to a hurricane and rushes to save his/her loved ones after the storm has passed.


  • In a character driven story, the character learns that a hurricane is coming andrushes to put his/her loved ones in a safe place before the storm arrives.


Plot driven disaster stories are rather simple. The reader/audience knows that the character, after going through a series of problems caused by either a hurricane, mountain mud slide, dust storm, murder in the family, sea monster, unknown virus, or meteor, will, in the end, prevail.


Examples of such stories are:

        • Jurassic Park
        • The DaVinci Code
        • The Hunt for Red October


Many murder mysteries and for certain most series mysteries are driven by the main characters, such as Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books or Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s Alpha Bet series.


Most romances are driven by the hero and heroine, which is what makes them so important to the book. Examples of other plots that might be driven by the main character:


        • she decides to get a divorce
        • he steals the money in order to
            • get medical treatment for his sick son
            • to expand his company/empire
            • change his identity

Examples of character driven stories:

        • GI Jane
        • Memoirs of a Geisha
        • Portrait of a Lady
        • Gone With the Wind
        • Lots of children’s fairy tales

So how do you make character and plot work together?


You begin by getting to know your character as though they were your own sister or brother. Or even yourself.


Start by building a fully rounded character. Think of yourself, your emotions, your sister or mother’s emotions. Consider how the people around you react differently to different situations and then think of how you might react. Then think of how your character is going to behave.


Perhaps you might not be able to tell off your boss because you fear losing your job. Part of the fun of being a writer is to show fearlessness in someone else. Let your character tell the boss off. So he/she loses the job. So what? You get to find him another one and that might bring him/her into a new adventure that sets your story in motion. And since you’ve demonstrated that trait in your character, it might get her/him into all sorts of interesting dilemmas.

Maybe your character is curious along with being unafraid. That curiosity might make him/her look into a murder mystery or go off in search of a treasure.


But maybe your character is afraid of the dark. How about putting him/her in a situation where he/she has to find a way out of a darkened chamber. Using fears, strengths and quirks of a character can help to move your plot along.


The point is to get to know your character and then use that character’s personality, fears and strengths in the plot. That will not only make your characters more real, but it will make the plot more interesting.


In our up-coming Character Driven Plotting class we’ll show you how to take your character through the story in several lectures and several easy to do exercises. We hope you will join us for the trip.


Sue and Becky

Teachers of on-line writing classes for over 25 years and

authors of several writing books and sites on writing



Sue Viders is the author of more than 20 books, numerous articles and columns for both artists and writers. Her writing book Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, is used in many college and university writing courses. Her latest book, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters is gaining use as a practical workbook for writers who want to develop their characters.


She is a practicing artist, seminar leader, and educator with on-line classes both for writers and artists. Her latest product for writers is Deal a Story; an interactive card game consisting of 101 cards and six sections and is based on her Heroes and Heroines book.

Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist and published author. Her latest book, Deadly Messages was published by The Wild Rose Press in February 2010. Her first romance novel, Love on Deck, was an Aspen Gold finalist. She has had several short stories published and contributed a short story to The Trouble with Romance, an anthology that was a 2007 New Mexico Book Award finalist.


She was also one of the co-authors of Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, a workbook for writers


Character Driven Plotting runs July 26th through August 22nd

1 comment:

lynnrush said...

Wow. This is a great post. Thanks for explaining this in a new and very understandable way. Very helpful.