When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away-even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.
Figure out who you need in the story and what they do together or to one another, and what the story does to them. Are they all pulling together in one direction? Are they pulling in six different directions? Ask yourself the critical question: Which would be most interesting to the reader? That’s the real litmus test of character development and plotting. Will the reader be interested? Will the reader care?
To be successful in character and plot development, you need to make hard choices. You need to be ruthless with your characters and your story. Who’s in, who’s out? What’s in, what’s out?
Frankly, here is where a lot of first-time novelists stop dead. They can’t bring themselves to choose. They become fascinated or paralyzed by the possibilities.
Don’t you dare do that. Be brutal. Try different choices, of course, but move the story forward event by event, bringing each character along with you. As each event unfolds, each character must react to it. Just as they would in real life.
If a child is hit and killed by a car, the driver’s life is changed forever, the parents’ lives, the lives of the brothers and sisters, friends, even the crossing guard and bystanders. You have to decide what the changes are. You must decide. This is your chance to play God – and if you’re going to write you must play that role. God is in the details, and God decides the course of the novel.
Do nothing – absolutely nothing – on your novel in terms of actual writing until your plotting (along with your characters and their roles in the drama) is complete and down on paper.
Do not fall victim to that old author line: “I just start out with a basic idea and a couple of characters. I never know where I’m going. I let the characters tell the story for me.” That may work for brilliant and experienced novelists, but most of us need a clear road map if we aren’t going to get ourselves and our readers hopelessly lost.
Prepare a rough outline of the story’s action from Chapter One through to the end.
Novelist Katherine Anne Porter put it this way, “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin.”
Write down the last paragraph of your novel and put it in the drawer. At the end of a hundred days, lets see how close you came to following your imagination.]
Writing Trick: When using characters to present clues, don’t forget body language. Nonverbal signals can communicate much more effectively than words. Ask any two lovers.
Your Assignment: In a page [or less] sketch out the general plot of the novel. (And the title) and pin it to the wall for later reference and to see how your novel has changed and developed. (And it will change in the course of the writing, which is fine.)
Writing Log: Words Written ____