Author’s Corner: Plot vs. Character

Plot vs. Character

The plot-versus-character debate is nothing new. Most indie writers struggle with it. I’ve never been one to work from a plot outline, but I’m also among the first to admit that a man sitting alone with his thoughts is a not an interesting story.

It may be a colorful character study, but it’s not a story. Story is the intersection of character and plot.

Your premise and plot twists might keep the reader turning pages, but you also need a character (sometimes several of them) to be a window into the action. Readers might pick up a book because of the premise, but they only remember it because of the characters.

Your protagonists set the tone for the conflict by the way they develop and change. As the author, you do this by making each of your characters want something that lets you send them on a journey.

That journey is your story.

The protagonist’s desire is what sets it in motion, and the change he undergoes in pursuit of his goal sustains the momentum.

There are four components to consider to making your fictional characters come to life and feel real to your readers:

  •  Appearance – this includes descriptions of how they look & act … or seem to … to an observer.
  •  Actions – this is not only things your character does, but those things he chooses not to do.
  •  Thoughts – anything the protagonist might think or feel.
  •  Dialogue – any conversation that your characters might have with someone else.
Herron sits at a table with his books displayed

Author R.L. Herron

Some writers rely on some of these elements more than others do. I like to write in the first-person, but before I type a word I prepare character studies for each individual in my story … complete with an idea of family history, education level, religious background, and occasionally even dialect.

Then I pose a “what if” question. When I begin to write, it’s based on how I think each character will respond to it. That way, each character tells his story.

Sometimes, they even surprise me with the things they do. As a writer, that can be disconcerting at times, but when you get it sorted out it is often magical to a reader. In fact, if you do it right, your characters are seen as real people.

An Important Thing to Remember

It’s simply not enough just to have a well-developed character as protagonist. That character needs to be shown to want something. That goal … whatever you decide to make it … is really what he means to change or preserve in himself, or the world around him … and it drives the story.

As you approach the climax of your tale, you should find you have developed your protagonist’s deepest motivations. You should also have included the motivations of supporting characters.

The type of supporting characters that appear could be best friends, sidekicks, mentors, love interests or villains. Some become complimentary … others create obstacles. A few might even represent more than one type … but they each affect the protagonist’s journey.

While both character and plot need to intertwine to create a compelling story, I’m a firm believer that it’s your characters who are a novel’s heart and soul.

So, breathe some life into those characters … and, by all means, keep on writing.

Next time we’ll talk about making those characters truly believable.

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, an ugly mortgage, and one extremely large cat. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.

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