Plot and Character are codependent upon each other in many ways.
Our Characters give us someone to relate with. Who is this person? What do they look like? How do they dress? What sort of personality do they have? Nice, mean, shy, bubbly, gloomy, rebel, or maybe very plain . . . these all matter to the reader; more so, "why" is our character this way? Characters - just as everyone in the world - have back stories: dreams, motivations, accomplishments, failures, and defeats. Your Character is real… but they can’t function alone.
Plot is the wondrous road our Characters travel. Where are we? What time of year is it? What is happening around us - around the world? How did we get here? If things are bad, how do we get out? In many ways, a Plot can be seen as a Character within itself. The Plot needs a back story much like your Character. How do we create a Plot or Character that people can believe in and provide enough history/motivation to keep it all from falling apart?
Let’s start with some basics.
You need to ask yourself: is my story plot-driven or character-driven? Are there amazing things happening in your chaotic world and your characters are along for the ride? Maybe the world is quite normal, but it is the characters who are vast and evolving. It’s alright if your don’t have an answer. You might not actually realize the truth of how your story works until you are well within it. Just keep the question in mind… it will help you later.
~The Map & Schedule~
Where are we going? What time is it? The following is a conversational snippet I have experienced many times (though the words were always slightly different, the result and content was the same):
Me: “So, you are going to write a book. That’s wonderful! Can you tell me about your story?”
Girl: “I want to write a romance with a bit of comedy and maybe some sci-fi.”
Me: “Oh… when will the story take place? Past? Future?”
Girl: “I was thinking past, but future would be easier.”
Me: “I prefer future myself. Have you started working out your outlines or plot ideas?”
Girl: “I said my plot was a romantic comedy.”
Me: “Um… that would be the genre. I meant the actual story line.”
Girl: “You know, the girl and boy don’t like each other but then they fall in love…. with funny things happening.”
Me: “Right… and where will the story take place?”
Girl: “I’m not sure. I will figure it out as the story develops.”
Me: “And your characters… have you started them? Developed back stories and passions?”
Girl: *shrugs* “I’ll figure out who they are while writing.”
Me: “Well… I look forward to reading it when you finish. Any idea when you plan to be done?”
Girl: “I have to change some of the story around and rewrite most of it, but I think I could be published this spring. (3-5 months)”
Me: “How long have you been writing this story?”
Girl: “About 2 weeks… why?”
Me: “Just curious. Well, good luck!”
As I am sure you see, this girls problem was a lack of direction. She wanted so badly to create something with her name on it, but had no idea how she was going to do it. She had no plot and no ideas for characters besides “they fall in love”. She hadn’t thought of a world for them to live in or circumstances for them to overcome/face. She also hadn’t thought of when her characters were going to live. (this girl has developed a lot since our conversation and I am sure she is reading this now. *wink*)
Sadly, this is a recurring theme for many prospective writers. “I want to write a story”, but no plan of where the story will start or what the story’s goal is. You must have at least one plot idea. It could be set anywhere within your story - the beginning, middle, or end - so you have a point to build from. The author Terry Brooks has stated that he tends to have the ending idea in mind and writes up to that conclusion. You just need a corner stone.
How am going to get there? Knowledge in the fields Psychology and History can be very useful during your creative process. These two areas of study offer insight into how people think, why people act, how people acted in the past, and what people “might” do in the future. I will break down a couple examples:
We can look to our past and see the conditions of the world (environment/atmosphere). During times of war, you will often find advancements in technology. During major financial depressions or health pandemics (Black Plague…), we can see improvements to many areas of life along side the losses. People becoming more efficient - doing more with less.
We can also understand how and why people react to certain situations (war/persecution/illness). When a tyrant warlord decides to cleanse the World of all but one genotype… we find groups of people doing opposite things for the same reasons.
~ Bad people killing good people & good people killing the bad ones back… all in anger.
~ Some people hide while others cooperate … out of fear.
~ Merchants running with what they can while others exploit the victims with higher prices… greed.
Now, even if you could afford to run out and start classes, I wouldn’t recommend it. (Of course, if you are already studying the fields of Psychology or History… Congrats! And Good Luck!) For the rest of us, I have a few suggestions…
First: You are obviously using the internet if you can read this - so, USE IT! There is very little in the way of research data that can’t be found online. True - you might find dozens of useless pages for every valuable one. School offers the same thing: Many hours of boring, redundant information in anticipation of a few priceless gems of knowledge that are of any use.
Second: Though trends indicate that many people have forgotten this… Libraries have a lot of books. Plus, you can take them home for a while - FOR FREE!
Third: Book Stores. Many stores will even allow you to sit and read the materials - FOR FREE! (note: if you find a book of interest, check your local library for a copy. often, if they don’t have a copy, they can order one or borrow one from another library. test drive your books before buying)
Fourth: Friends, family, co-workers. You will never know what areas of interests your social peers have without asking. I may be known by most as a truck driver, though I am rarely contacted for my knowledge in the trucking industry. Instead, I get calls and emails asking for advice and reference in the areas of History and Physics - my key fields of interest and study. Likewise, I communicate with a dock worker in California when I need Theology material and a farmer in Illinois for Politics. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the “job” someone does is “who” the person is. Don’t miss out on potential sources of information.
NEXT TIME: I will get deeper into the development of Plots and Characters. If you are working on a project or wishing to start one, the next blog will provide several tools and tips to refine your needs. ’Til Then…