I’m not a plotter.
Character and dialog I’m completely comfortable with but plot is a struggle for me (hopefully less and less as a I write more and more but for now it’s tough). So, I’m always looking to learn more about plotting or hear how successful authors address plot or read things that give me ideas about how to handle plot. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for author’s blogs because they’re full of great information.
I’ve learned a lot from reading Patricia Wrede’s blog, in part because she’s a plotting writer so she’ll throw in a sentence or description that’s incredibly insightful to me whether she means it to be or not. Like today she mentioned a central problem to be solved. That’s a simple thing but a good focus to explore in stories where I’m trying to work out a plot. And even though it’s so simple, I probably wouldn’t think of that point of view on my own.
One of the things that Maggie Stiefvater references is being mean to her characters. I’ve read things like that in different plotting circles and my own critiquers have told me I need to be meaner to my characters. I always perceived it as the sort of thing you do to your characters. Put them in a vat of boiling oil or take your central relationship and make them break up or have their best friend stab them in the back – but, you know, believably.
But as I was reading through Maggie Stiefvater’s posts on writing (all of them. in two days.) it struck me that this was something more than doing something to characters. That really, this was actually a very effective way to reveal who characters are to the reader – through the plot.
And because I’m so comfortable with characters, I’m very comfortable with the idea of addressing plot as an extension of character development. I don’t know how to describe this change in my perspective, except to say that it changed – and this new idea was revolutionary to me. If I sit for a moment and ask myself what a character’s greatest fear is, then I know I have to make them face it and I can speculate the sort of scenario that would fit in this story world and now I have a plot place to go.
Or maybe there isn’t really anything they’re afraid of but there’s a secret they’re hiding, from themselves or from everyone else. Then it has to be revealed and I can see a realistic way that would be uncovered and I have a scene to build toward.
For my current story** I knew the way a character viewed life, viewed the world. It’s a sort of defining characteristic about his approach to life. I’ve known it almost since I started writing but in the context of plot as an extension of character I knew immediately the situation he would have to find himself in. I knew what he wanted most in the world and I’d taken that from him but hadn’t given him the chance to fight for it. Suddenly, this thing I’ve been grasping for, this plot, becomes clear and I have something to work with.
Because that’s what plot is for me – something to work with. For most stories I need the inciting incident in the beginning; the change that makes this story worth telling. And I need the climax. I need to know what all of this is building toward and why it matters. That and a couple of characters and I’m off to the races. But even then, plotting in between can be hard; figuring out the things I need to take characters through in order to get them to progress the way I need to so they reach the climax in the state I need them in.
That’s where this plot as an extension of character helps. It gives me a framework for the in-between-time that’s helpful.
**When I first drafted this post I was vague to avoid spoilers. I’ll say now that I was writing Enchanted Storms.
// Here there be spoilers //
In early versions I had Kieran hanging around the palace of Tarodin because that was where I wanted the story to take place but for no good reason, really. Around the time of writing this post I decided to let him out. I gave him the chance to go galivanting after Evanelle. He still decided to stick around the palace but it felt so liberating to let him go and then let him make the decision to stay. It gave focus to later scenes in the palace, what happened there and what he’d do.
// End spoilers.