Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Plot as a Direct Result of Character

I've been gone for a few weeks. I feel like I need a can of Enddust to get the spots out. I got sidetracked from the prologues, because I'm headed into finals. I also started a mentor thread at RD.

One thing I've noticed about talking to people, both in workshops and at RD, is how attached they are to "thinking" a certain way. Most organic writers start with a scene or character, then--for some reason, they create an impromptu plot. Which would be fine if they stopped to think each time they hit the wall, but if you have a certain character and a certain plot, plot needs to fit the character. They can't be two totally separate things. And they can't be forced together.

edited to add...sorry, I'm tired and this is one of my peeves. I think what I'm really trying to say with this is that if you know you're lacking in something, be open-minded. You can't fix something by doing the same thing over and over.

ie?

If you have a strong alpha male with a certain kind of background, putting him in a plot where it showcases a different kind of person and expecting him to run because you say so, doesn't work. It'd be like putting my beta, John, into an Arnold film. It simply doesn't work.

I think "John", I think Sideways or the Big Chill, or maybe--if I wanted to showcase him--Poltergeist (not as far-fetched as it sounds, think about it), Ordinary People or Revolutionary Road. All of which take John in a different direction without hurting the part of his character that makes him John.

Can I put him in Aliens? Maybe. Can I put him in Predator? No.

The emotional disconnect is too intense. Just because I "have" John doesn't make him one-size-fits-all. Can I put Matt Damon in Predator? Yes. He's Jason Bourne. I can move Jason Bourne into a movie that works for a Jason Bourne character. Jason is different from Arnold, but he's close enough so the plot would work with a few tweaks.

And yeah--up on my soapbox. But plot and character are two faces of the same whole. Plot-driven books (like plot-driven movies) don't stick with you. Character-driven books/movies do.

True Lies versus the first Terminator. The first Terminator was a cheap little movie, True Lies wasn't, but Terminator spawned a cult following, while True Lies is a penny on Amazon.

To add "spark" you add depth. A plot-driven story runs on the surface and uses FUHTs (frequently used hero/heroine types) Two dimensional versus the third dimension you get with the acknowledgment you aren't writing "characters" but people.

Characters are people. When you write, you breathe life into their world. Using a rubber stamp and glittery ink doesn't work.

4 comments:

Hailey Edwards said...

You're absolutely right. When a book ends, if it is a good book, I walk away with a couple of characters I will think on from time to time.

What they did in the book--not important. Who they are and how they act is what I will remember.

I think that's also how I shoot myself in the foot writing. I care too much about the people..er..characters and not enough about what moves them from Point A to Point B.

Unfortunately, weak plot and failed execution are also memorable. lol

jodi said...

yes it is, but if good plot flows out of good character building, then plot pretty much builds and directs itself (and can you tell I just got out of class? I think I sound a little too analytical) So one drives the other. Plot can't be imposed as an outside structure, it needs to be internal. *tired, must sleep*

Hailey Edwards said...

You work too hard, lady. Catch up on your sleep. ;)

liana laverentz said...

Matt Damon can also be a dork, and a very good one, as in The Informant :)