Welcome back to Getting To The Heart Of Your Story! Now that we’ve taken care of those beautiful characters of yours, let’s move on to the super exciting stuff:
Let’s do this:
|(Pictures from Pinterest. Can we just ooh and ahh over this epic picture really quick?)
So you have those great characters. At this point, some people ask why bother with a great plot if you have great characters? The question should be why not bother with a great plot that will make those great characters ten times greater?
Take a look at history. Would Abraham Lincoln have been a great person if he hadn’t taken risks and had great things happen to him? Well, yeah, he probably would have been a wonderful man, but people probably wouldn’t have noticed that if he hadn’t done great things. We could leave our great characters sweeping the front steps of their homes and being good neighbors, or….
We could take them on an adventure that will make them even better people and possibly (hopefully) transform their lives.
That, my friend, is the beginning of your plot.
Let’s go deeper though. Remember those flaws your character has? This journey is either going to fix those flaws or make them worse (I would hope it fixes them, but negative arcs can be interesting XD)
Now you’ve probably heard of the whole controversy of plot vs. character. Which is better? Do you plot your story or plot your character arcs?
Together, they’re going to make your story.
Whoa, right? You thought I was going to talk about plot! But, the truth is, they’re so closely related that I can’t talk about one without talking about the other.
|(Pictures from Pinterest. I love story prompts XD)|
Character-driven vs. Plot-driven
Here’s a little review if you aren’t familiar with character arcs vs plot:
The plot is what happens to the character, the character arc is how the character reacts and changes.
So, as you can see, they are closely tied. For instance, a character–let’s call him Thomas–might have his house burned down by crazies. Before the fire, Thomas was very carefree and fun. However, in the fire, his wife is burned and eventually dies. Thomas now has a very different perspective on life, and sets out to find the men who burned his house. Let’s say he found out they were escaped prisoners, and teams up with an ex-police officer to find these men. The ex-police officer is shot by one of the men. However, the police officer forgives the men and teaches Thomas about forgiveness.
Let’s stop right here and clarify:
The house being burned, Thomas’s wife dying, the ex-police officer teaming up with him and getting shot are the plot.
The character arc is Thomas’s transformation from a carefree man to a revenge seeking husband into a person who knows how to forgive.
See how those are tied together? Now let’s change it a little. Say the ex-police officer approaches Thomas about finding the culprits of the fire, leads a foolhardy mission, and randomly tells Thomas about forgiveness after he’s shot. Sounds boring, right?
Here’s version two:
Thomas seeks out help to chase the men down, but no one accepts. Finally, he convinces an ex-police officer to help. The officer is hesitant, but Thomas makes him come along on a foolhardy mission. Through Thomas’s actions, the officer is shot, but extends forgiveness to both Thomas and the men. A lot better, right?
That’s an example of a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. What do you want?
A character-driven plot.
Remember what I mentioned last week, about not making the characters victims in the story? That ties into plot. Don’t make your protagonist get kidnapped because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; make him get kidnapped because he’d gotten into an argument with his parents and go to a shady meeting place to prove his independence. That protagonist isn’t so innocent now, is he?
A good plot is driven by the character’s choices.
That’s not to say you can’t have a random disaster here and there, but the stories that grip readers the most are driven by a character’s choices and desires.
|(Pictures from Pinterest)|
A character-driven plot is the best way to make sure your story is united.
But what if you have fantastic characters and a fantastic plot for them? Don’t you have a good story?
That’s what I thought.
Several months ago, I found myself with a strange challenge: turning my middle-grade trilogy into a YA Christian fantasy/sci-fi story. Crazy, right? But I loved the story too much to let it go 😉
My first attempt = cheesy fail. Too much inner conflict, zero plot. In other words, my characters were great, but nothing was happening to them.
Next attempts = epic fail. Great plot. Horrible characters; the plot would have been epic but the characters were too shallow.
I-can’t-remember-which attempt = good. I thought I had it. My characters felt right. The plot felt right, but….
Did they actually work together?
I started structuring my scenes, and found that the plot was happening to my characters, not the other way around. The story felt jerky and awkward.
Therefore, I had to rework everything. I was telling my mom how I did that the other day, and realized how many hours I spent working on it. I plotted until midnight. I scraped pieces of paper. I banged my head against the keyboard (no, I actually didn’t. but I was about to). I came out of that realizing that characters have to make decisions that make the bad things in the plot happen to them.
Isn’t that how it is in our own lives? We don’t just sit around waiting for a natural disaster or for someone to tell us to get to work. We make a conscious decision, and sometimes, it goes bad. In your novel, it should go bad, at least at first.
So it sounded like I just said characters are more important than plot, right? Am I finally siding in the age-old argument?
plot = character
theme > plot & character
Strange, right? Check back next week for the “finale” of my series.
– Audrey Caylin
So…what do you guys do with plot vs. character? Do you prefer plot-driven or character-driven stories?