I’ll admit, I’m more plot driven than character driven, but I learned early on that it doesn’t matter how good a plot might be if the readers don’t care about the characters, that book isn’t one they’ll remember or maybe even finish reading. And if I manipulate my characters so I can achieve the plot I want, I’ll really lose my readers. Therefore, even though the plot is very important to me, I must always remember to build the story so it’s one where the characters act and react in ways that are reasonable…not just ways that will get me to my next plot point.
This means, if I’ve mapped out a story line where a woman in her seventies fights a gang of young men and wins, I need to create a character who can make this is believable. She must have the skills as well as the mental determination to do battle. And I must create a believable situation where a confrontation of this nature would occur.
I’m afraid I’ve read too many stories (mostly unpublished, but a few that were self-published or even traditionally published) where the writer didn’t take this need into consideration. These writers had their protagonist, male or female, suddenly do something totally contrary to character or their abilities. They use coincident to bring people together. Miraculously provide the characters with needed weapons. Provide lucky breaks. Give the character an unexpected ability.
Where this need to manipulate the story rather than having it flow from within the characters is most evident is when the characters’ dialogue doesn’t sound realistic. When one character asks a question that is clearly a way to gain a response that will move the story in a certain direction. Or another character doesn’t answer a posed question but, instead, leads the conversation in the direction needed (by the writer) to move the story where it should go.
Plot outlines are wonderful, but when a writer is so set in how the story must go that he or she manipulates the characters so the outline can be followed (with no alterations), the result is a weak or unbelievable story. I also believe that writer’s block, for some people, is caused by trying to manipulate characters to fit a storyline rather than allowing the character’s personality and abilities to direct the story. I know that happened to me once. I wanted a love scene on page x, but to get that love scene, I had to create a situation where the male and female would be together. So I forced the situation only to find I couldn’t write the scene. For days I tried, but I always failed. It wasn’t until I thought about my male character, what his beliefs were and why, did I realize I couldn’t have the love scene that early in the story. Once I realized that, I was able to write a sensual, romantic scene where both characters learned more about each other so later, when the timing was more appropriate, the love scene flowed naturally.
Being a plotter is fine, but don’t forget it’s the characters people will remember.