- 2 Post By harryheart
20th June 2013, 10:10 AM #1
Lesson 10: Plotting Story & Character Development by harryheart
This month’s academy lesson is based on character development and plot flow and how the two are intrinsically linked together. We will be touching on how you develop a character, but it will not be in any way, shape or form a guide to building or developing characters from scratch etc. as that can be found here – Lesson 3 Character Development also as another point of reference, in Lesson 9 Plot Flow, there is some information in there on characters and plot flow and a ‘character driven story’. I will be using both as a basis for this lesson today, but essentially I hope to answer, or at least share some views on this question:
How do you plot and build a story in order to develop your characters?
Well first things first. What’s your story? What’s your plot? Now, I’m going to write examples as if the story you chose was a Pokémon Journey fic, however, the same principles still apply if it’s a Crime Solving novel or a Period Drama. I hope that this will help us take both our characters and our plot and lay them out, not for scrutiny, but for helpful analysis.
Throughout this post there’ll be quotes taken from a number of websites that I’ve used as helpful tools; listed below:
Source 1 - Plotting and developing the novel: A character-based approach
Source 2 - Writing.org - Character vs. Plot
Source 3 - http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-ways-to-motivate-characters-and-plot
At this stage, you will likely have a basic plot and your basic characters sorted. So for our example I’ll use a situation that is probably familiar to a lot of us; a 10 year old trainer who sets out to become a Pokémon Master. But let’s just make a few slight tweaks here. Let’s say that in your character development you decided said trainer would be female and would already come equipped with two Pokémon that her family owned. These changes are going to have massive consequences on the way that you want to build your story in order to help her (from now on known as Alice) develop.
So as you can see, this idea of plotting a story and having events that really shape and develop our characters is going to be crucial. Elements of your character building will lend scope to the way you can develop your plot and use it to carry your character forward and better establish their behaviours and their character traits.
“The ideal novel combines both elements: a plot that's strong enough to keep the reader interested, and characters who are genuine enough to make the reader care how the story turns out... You begin with a premise--an idea that serves as the foundation for both plot and character.” – Taken from Source 2
In a general journey fic, the goal is to get 8 badges and enter the league; therefore you have your end target and the method for getting there. Within that journey though, you want to include many moments that change your characters and has them grow and develop more as human beings (or whatever species they are) so that at the end of the story the readers, and you as the writer, can say:
“I took that journey with that character and I can see in what, where, why and how they grew.”
You want to think it was a worthwhile trip to write and you want any potential readers to think that too. Which is why having characters and a plot that are connected and intertwined is very important.
Now there may be occasions where the above statement isn’t correct. There are random things that occur to potentially make the story seem more realistic. This could vary from something like a terrorist attack occurring on the other side of the world from your characters to an annual festival that had a 5 minute slot on the news. Things like that can help ground your story and make it seem more like real life, except you don’t want your entire story to be made up of random events. Therefore there are some things that I’d like to suggest we can do to our plot and story to help make our characters growth realistic and meaningful.
To start us off then, Point 1, we don’t want everything to come easy for our characters. For example, we don’t want Alice to win every battle and tournament that she necessarily enters. There must be rhyme and reason for the events that happen to Alice. We don’t want her to simply cruise through a story and appear very unbelievable, we want our plot to have a big impact on the core of who she is, and even what makes her tick.
“Give a character a problem and let him or her work through it in the course of the story, leading to some sort of enlightenment.” – Taken from Source 1
The above quote is extremely important for the character and the plot to work together. The story, or plot, needs to have an impact on the character for it to appear meaningful. Now, that’s not saying that all your characters have to be impacted by it, but somehow the way that your plot plays out needs to have a driving factor for your characters.
So, using Alice, she could be facing her first Gym Leader, extremely cocky and full of herself because she truly believes that she has the battle sorted and already knows the outcome. Right there you have your character, her traits and emotions and the way that she is probably behaving too. As the writer, what can you do to change that and develop her by using your plot and story? By using Point 1 you can make the battle a difficult one to fight in and thus make her thinking and her attitudes alter by the end. You can make her as a person very different from when she first walked into that room, whether she wins or not.
“You'll be able to piece together a sequence of events that fits your characters, the original premise, and the kind of story you'd like to write.” – Taken from Source 2
Moving on, Point 2, we need to see the characters ‘real’ side. Now arguably this could’ve been first, but I felt that Point 1 was always a good place to start as it often allows you to flesh a reality into your plot and characters whilst also pushing the story forward and getting the ideas flowing.
I don’t have much input here, and I’d highly recommend you check out lesson 3 as that gives a lot of helpful tips on how we make our characters seem real and unique, and make them become 3 dimensional and impact us. And in this section I’d like to look at how we can then use this knowledge in order to mould the plot in a way that highlights our characters weaknesses, strengths and ‘normal’ side.
Something I quite like is the idea of seeing a character’s normal day to day life. If you can picture that it might then be helpful for you to imagine the basic plot and try and weave this fun and relaxing side of your character into scenes that you’ve imagined.
Using Alice, we could take a trait like she’s very excitable and likes to give everything a go, and tie that in with her love of the outdoors. These are ‘real’ things to the character that an everyday human being might also share an interest in. With the story of a journey, this can be used to our advantage to emphasise the character’s individuality. For example, anyone that’s seen the Black and White series of the Pokémon anime, I feel that a lot of the stuff that Iris does outdoors, such as swinging from trees, is a great insight into her childhood and where she comes from.
So in our plot, we may want to include a recurring theme of tournaments that uses nature as a playing field for both trainers and Pokémon to compete together in a race. There can be awards and items that progress the story along and can make the event a worthwhile activity, yet it also really highlights something unique about your character and will help everyone get to understand (in this example) Alice more.
Whatever that thing may be, use it your advantage. Divulge time in your plot to these values in your character and make it something that will help them grow and learn. Not only may it be of use to the character, it may also really help the plot because without it a core part of your story may seem less believable, or may actually be unobtainable.
Next, Point 3, what makes your characters tick? This is fairly simple and can be answered with a bullet point list. What you want to look for are the things that anger your character or make them emotional and worked up. And it doesn’t always have to be a negative thing; it could be anger against social injustice. You could also look for things that may not necessarily provoke anger but another emotional response; I’m just using anger because it’s easier to work with in our example.
The good elements about this is that it allows you to broadly think about the why, what, where, when and how’s of your character a bit more, and then in turn, the same for the plot. Take Alice; say she gets angry when she sees a Pokémon being mistreated by a trainer. You can use this to add in some developing plot lines that tackle this issue and allow her to move forward and progress in her journey. Your plot is a key device, weapon even, in shaping Alice’s nature and outlook and giving her the opportunities to act more or have her perceptions altered.
For examples, it could be working with Officer Jenny whenever she can, or volunteering her time and efforts to be on a task force for a brief period of time while she trains for the league. Whatever it is, you can use this to not only expand the plot line more and allow for impactful events in the story (e.g. training Pokémon for the league) but you can also use it to give development to your character and allow them time to mould their character/beliefs/thoughts etc.
“The events of the story are there to make that person change, and I don't think it is too far-fetched to say that it's a bit like a course of psychotherapy for them.” – Taken from Source 1
I like this quote a lot because I think it gives weight to the more negative elements of a character, and therefore the more negative elements of a plot. It allows us greater detail into their lives and attitudes and can give us good space to explore and examine this. As another analogy, it’s as if we’re operating on a patient and slowly giving making space for things to move about, to change order and to become something completely new.
So then hand in hand with the above, Point 4, we need to see the characters challenged. Now this differs slightly from Point 1 where we’re trying not to make things easy. Here we are going out of our way to challenge our character and put them through events that will stretch them and mould them. This is where our imagination can run wild, and our plot can become the central tool that will dictate to the character the next course of action.
“Obstacles and problems of this sort really ought to have a logical connection to the person enduring them. Of course, in real life, fate is never quite so just. Bad things just happen, without reason, but in a story there needs to be a reason.” – Taken from Source 1
This would be the only catch to letting our imagination run wild, as long as whatever our big challenges are they are somehow connected with our character and will inevitably give them development.
So far, a lot of the points have been based on the character, or at least been dependant on both plot and character, but here we can give ourselves leg room to run rampant and torment our characters (or at least I like to do that).
Taking Alice again as our example, we may decide that she becomes trapped in a big chess like game played by the political bodies that operate in her region. This could be something that may play a major part in her final plot line of trying to become a Pokémon Master, or it could take a back seat and simply develop her outlooks and help her to mature. Whatever it is, these are great opportunities to use our creative juices and (sometimes) let reality fly out the window. It allows us to create a whole host of encounters with other characters, a new realm to the plot and a way of combining the two so that the story seamlessly moves forward.
“The good reader is aware that the quest for real life, real people and so forth is a meaningingless process when speaking of books. In a book, the reality of a person, or object, or a circumstance depends exclusively on the world of that particular book. An original author always creates an original world, and if a character or an action fits into the pattern of that original world, then we experience the pleasurable shock of artistic truth.” – Taken from Source 1
Then lastly, Point 5, I’d stress the importance of interconnectivity throughout the book, whether it involve plot arcs or character arcs or an ongoing arc that covers the entire span. As mentioned above with everything else, when things don’t tie in to, or have no relevance at all to the characters (that’s not including things that are met to seem random till the end when it all becomes clear) then it can often feel like a waste of time. That’s not saying, however, that these can’t be done well or sometimes aren’t needed, but in the realms of building a plot and story that develops the characters, they really don’t help.
So that’s it! I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful. Do please ask any more questions below and discuss the above points and anything else you have to say on this topic.
My only specific task to you would be to take each point and try and work your way through a story you’ve read to see if you can note any of these aspects used or whether the author does something completely different. And maybe you’d find it useful to do it for your own works as well.
Credits to Sweet May and DanChimchar from Serebii
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