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Let your Characters Create the Plot, So you Don't have to

Okay, that is admittedly a snide title. Of course you create the plot! But here's what this really means: finding a plot/story that interests you and then fitting it on to a character is usually not the best way to go about writing a story. It's like buying clothing off the rack and trying to make it fit your body. Wouldn't it be better to create the clothes from scratch based on your body itself.


In writing classes I've done the exercise where we describe the character in detail before we write. It was helpful but a bit abstract. What really worked was when I had the character interacting with other characters. What would their reactions be? Then came the "what ifs..." What if they didn't get angry but instead laughed? Or cried? Which reaction was more in line with the character I had in mind?


Once I could picture and hear their reactions, I asked myself, "What kind of mess would this particular person get into?" If they are a bleeding heart they will get involved in other peoples' lives in an entirely different way than if they are a pragmatist or a cynic. If they tend to be stubborn they will make different decisions/mistakes than if they are open minded.


In my novel, "Brooklyn Valentine," the protagonist, Sal, is 43, divorced with one son. The divorce is is old news by now but Sal can't let it go and still blames his ex. He's basically a big-hearted, family guy but he's somewhat stubborn and a bit of a know it-all. The kind of guy you just need to shake once in a while to get his attention. With this in mind it was easy to see the kinds of messes he would get into, the kinds of things he would say that could upset someone, and how his "blindness" would make his dreams unworkable.


"Plot driven" stories can be interesting, of course. Mystery/Detective is the first genre that comes to mind. WHO DONE IT is the operative factor not WHO SOLVES IT. In recent years, though, readers have come to care about the WHO SOLVES IT and often find those more satisfying.


Ultimately humans like to read about the follies of other humans. Just be sure the right folly fits your character.


(All I ask is that you think about it.)




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