the Plot-Character Interaction
distinction between plot-driven and character-driven works is useful to
academics who apply it to the finished product.
To writers, who are more interested in the process of writing, it's
likely to cause confusion because plot and character are intertwined.
We can't concentrate entirely on one or the other, because they affect
each other constantly.
you have a fuzzy idea that may grow into a novel. Perhaps you see a single scene clearly: a young woman is
chained to the altar and given a choice between betraying her lover and dying.
Before this can turn into a novel, you need to ask plot questions: how
did she get herself into this mess? What
will she choose?
these are also character questions. Her
choice depends on her character; some people would say it defines her character.
And as you decide what came before, every decision you make on her behalf
affects the picture you have of her character, which in turn affects the
decisions she will make later.
to take an example from my unpublished novel, Servant of the Bryn, I
needed my heroine to accept someone who had tried, in a fit of anger, to destroy
the world. I decided that she had
come close to destroying herself, and could therefore understand him.
led to a wealth of character development possibilities.
As I worked out why she had wanted to kill herself, I learned new things
about her attitudes, her feelings and her expectations from life and
relationships. It also helped with
the little things, the details that make a character real.
She has scars on her wrists, and when she's feeling nervous, she pulls
her cuffs down to hide the scars.
the character development led to plot development, so that her attempts to deal
with her past grew into a sub-plot. It,
in turn, tied into the main plot and influenced the direction of the climax.
same thing can happen all the way through your own first draft.
Every plot decision you make sparks a host of character decisions, and
every character decision leads to a host of plot decisions.
Let this interweaving work its magic for you, and it will help you create
more interesting plots and more believable characters.
your plot demands that a character has a certain skill.
A mercenary can repair a spacecraft.
How did he learn that? He
went to engineering school, but dropped out and became a mercenary instead.
And how does he feel about dropping out?
How does he feel about the engineers that made the grade?
Does he think he's a failure for dropping out, or does he see it as just
a step on the way to his true vocation? Find
answers to these questions, and let him act accordingly, and you've given your
character new depth.
suppose you've developed your character independently of the plot.
Your main character idealises her lawyer father.
Has she picked up any legal skills from him?
Then she'll know her rights when the police arrest her.
Does she idealise other lawyers too, or does she compare them to her
father and find them wanting? Use
this reaction if she runs across any lawyers during the story.
asking questions. The answer to
your plot question will pose character questions, which in turn will pose more
plot questions. That's good.
Enjoy it. Dig deep, and then
revel in the richness of story and characterisation that results.