It seems to me that just as there are two types of outliners – those who do and those who don’t, there are also two types of plotters; those who plot first and those who develop characters first.
I’m one the latter people.
I develop my characters, find out their story and then build the plot from that. Often this means coming up with a character and then living with them in my head until I finally figure out their story and what they go through.
It can take a lot of time. Some characters have been with me for over ten years and I still only know parts of their stories.
If you’re struggling with plot, you’re not alone.
This was the one part of writing that I’ve always struggled with. First, with what the plot should be, and then, as I became more experienced, making sure that plot isn’t boring and has some original surprises.
So, let’s look at the two ways to plot…
A plot driven story
This generally starts with an idea. Maybe it’s a scene or an action point, or perhaps it’s a conflict you’d like to explore.
To find the plot, you need to find the story around this idea.
The easiest way to do this is to ask questions around your core idea.
For example, if it’s a scene, then ask:
- Who is in the scene? These are your characters.
- What’s happening in the scene?
- Why is this happening?
- How did we get to this point?
- What happens next?
Those last two questions will help you to decide at which point in your story the scene is set, whether it’s in the beginning, the middle or end.
But continually asking these two questions for every scene that comes before and/or after that initial idea, you’ll begin to build up an outline of your story.
And by asking the first three questions, you’ll start to develop those characters and find out more about how their stories affect the plot.
While answering the questions of how we got here and what happens next, consider putting conflict, resolution, problems and consequences into the scenes and your characters’ actions.
A character driven plot
A plot driven by character is very similar to one driven by the idea of a scene, conflict or theme, but instead of interrogating your initial idea by asking questions around it, interrogate your character.
This is how I develop my plots, so I imagine what you do will be something along the same lines.
First of all, you’ll create a character. It probably won’t happen on purpose and over the next weeks, months, years that character will keep coming back to you, nagging at you, intriguing you.
To figure out the plot and what that character will go through, you need to know their background, who they are and what they’re up to. Then, you get to mess them up a little (it’s for their own good, honest).
Again, ask questions:
- Where are they from?
- What do they do for a living?
- Do they have family?
- What’s their personality type? Are they angry? Kind? Forgiving? Mean-spirited?
- What do they want most in the world?
- What’s happened to them in the past?
As you get to know them, a story will emerge. This won’t necessarily be the plot, but it will help to inform the plot.
Keep developing your character, and the other characters you know will be in the story, and start to see the connections. The twists and turns will make themselves known.
Their actions and decisions will be deciding factors when it comes to figuring out what happens next in a plot. Of course, there will always be moments out of their control—this is where you get to have some fun. Throw some conflict at them, toss in an obstacle and see how they react and which way that takes the story.
If you’re still struggling to figure out the story and plot, then it’s likely that you just need more time.
One hot tip, if you don’t want to just let the ideas ferment in your mind over time, is to free write.
Sit down and start writing/typing about your character, or write out the scene and then keep writing, or write about the theme.
Write your ideas as they come to you, follow a train of thought and allow your mind to wander, but keep writing.
You might discover new ideas or have an epiphany right there and then.