Wordy Wednesday: Characters and Plot

I found out yesterday that I landed a part-time job at a local bookstore! I’ll be working there for the rest of spring semester before moving to NYC for my internship in July, and I’m super excited.

Also, I’ve got a guest post up today on Newbie Writers (which is pretty cool), and tomorrow Ch1Con is hosting our monthly live video chat at 8:00 PM eastern. We’ll be discussing world-building. You can check it out on our Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/ChapterOneConference.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

Earlier today I was working on a screenwriting assignment when I ran into a bit of an issue. I was supposed to write a two hundred and fifty word character profile for my protagonist; in theory, easy enough. I ran through all the tips of things to discuss that our prof had given us (speech patterns, backstory, character arc, etc.). I filled out one of those character questionnaires with which the internet’s obsessed. I thought I had a really good handle on my protag.

Then I tried writing the actual profile, and it kept coming out sounding like, well, plot instead of character.

I couldn’t figure it out. The entire thing was definitely about my protagonist. I talked about her defining characteristics and hobbies. I brought in her backstory to show why she is the way she is and discussed the way she’ll have to change from the beginning of the screenplay to the end in order to achieve her goal. But when I read the profile all together, it reeked of plot.

Getting desperate, I turned to a couple of my writing friends for help (which is really what I should have done in the first place, because those guys are brilliant). After reading the profile, the always intelligent and wonderful Kira replied that I was right that the character profile felt like it contained plot. But I was wrong that that was a bad thing.

Because, as Kira reminded me, for a story to work, your characters and plot need to be so tightly interwoven you can’t separate them. Your characters need to influence your plot and your plot needs to change your characters. The reason my character profile seemed so plot-heavy was because I included my protagonist’s character arc. And a character arc is literally how a character changes due to the plot.

This is important to remember. When writing a story (whether it be a screenplay or novel or something else), you need to think about not only why you’ve chosen to write that plot, or about those characters–but why you’ve chosen to write about those two in conjunction with one another. If you could change your characters without greatly affecting your plot, or vice versa, something’s off.

Characters and plot should be in a reciprocal relationship with one another. Removing one should irredeemably damage the other.

So, try some writing exercises. Write character profiles for your protagonists and antagonists, and write out the arc of your plot. If you can successfully talk about one element of the story without the other, tweak until you can’t. Make your characters and plot need one another.

Then (like I’m going to, just as soon as my screenwriting prof lets us): get writing.

**********

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

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3 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Characters and Plot

  1. I can’t use those character worksheets. No idea why. My protagonist puts her foot down and refuses to show any personality when I try. But then again, I’m not much of a plotter.

    (I swear the characters DO have personality, though and plenty of it. Just not the kind that gets along with a worksheet.)

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  2. I feel the same way about plot and characters in that you can’t separate them. There are so many cool characters floating around in my head who I know would be well-received by readers. And yet when I find myself writing my novels, I don’t end up writing those characters because they just aren’t the right ones for the plot (I’m one of those people who gets inspired by plot more often than by the voice of a particular character, and so I fit characters into plots rather than build plots around characters).

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